There’s some awesome whisky coming out of Australia right now, there’s just no denying that. The industry’s booming at breakneck speed and if we think we’re spoilt for choice now, just wait 10 years once all the new guys have caught up with production. But why Australia? Where did they all come from so suddenly?
It all started over 25 years ago in Tassie when Bill Lark decided it was time. An avid whisky drinker himself, on a fishing trip with dram in hand he dared to ask “why not here?” A dream was born, the government was lobbied, archaic laws repealed and 20 years later Sullivans Cove was named “World’s Best Single Malt” over the Scots and Japanese. Tasmania is the birthplace of the modern Australian whisky industry and remains the epicentre, with over 30 distilleries located on the island, among them some of Australia’s foremost including Sullivans Cove, Lark, Overeem, Hellyers Road, Belgrove and the infamous Nant.
The mainland’s not been backwards in coming forward however, with Starward, arguably the most popular and ubiquitous Aussie whisky, located in Melbourne. Melbourne also boasts Bakery Hill, one of the original five Australian whiskies of the modern era alongside Tasmania’s Lark, Sullivans and Hellyers and WA’s Limeburners. Despite being one of the originals, it’s remained small and their exceptional malts are very hard to find outside of Melbourne. New boys Tin Shed Distillery and Black Gate Distillery have both established cult followings as has Old Kempton Distillery (formerly known as Redlands).
We’ve rounded the twelve essential Aussie malts to kick start your collection. Get your hands on these bottles, you won’t be disappointed, and the best news… as the rest of the guys come into production this list will just keep growing! Here they are, in no particular order.
12. Overeem Sherry 60%
Matured in ex-sherry French-oak quarter cask barrels, the Old Hobart Distillery’s Overeem Sherry Cask is Christmas cake in a bottle, Tasmanian style. The cask strength 60% packs an extra punch and is the one to go for!
11. Hellyers Road 16 Year Old Single Malt Whisky created exclusively for The Whisky Club
One of the First Five modern distilleries in Australia, Hellyers Road in Burnie, north-west Tasmania, showcased their absolute best with the Club in January 2019. The 16 Year Old bottled exclusively for the Club from specially selected casks was one of the oldest, most delicious and exclusive Tasmanian single malts ever released. Club Members snapped the bottles up in no time and came back begging for more.
10. Bakery Hill Classic Single Malt
Another member of the First Five and producing exclusively single cask releases, Melbourne’s Bakery Hill is the one you’re least likely to have heard of. Despite being around for so long, they’ve remained a small operation, so their whisky can be hard to find. Hunt down a bottle though, it’ll be very rewarding to say the least. Bottled at 46%, the Classic Single Malt scored an impressive 93/100 in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.
9. McHenry’s Single Malt
A world away from Melbourne, and back in Tasmania, you’ll find McHenry Distillery – Australia’s southern-most whisky distillery, located on Mount Arthur, high above Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula. Aged for 4 years in American Oak, then finished for one year in a French Oak blood tub, which isn’t as gruesome as it may sound – it’s a 40 litre cask.
8. Fannys Bay Sherry Cask Strength
What are you planning for retirement? How about moving to the seaside, setting up your own micro-distillery with a homemade still and producing artisan whisky. That’s exactly what Mathew and Julie Cooper did, and since 2014 have been putting down barrels of truly handcrafted whisky. Our pick is the 63.7% ABV Sherry cask, amazing stuff!
7. Lark Classic Cask
It’s impossible to talk about Australian whisky without talking about Lark. It was Bill Lark, after all, who got the ball rolling in Australia, and his lightly peated Classic Cask spends 5 to 8 years in 100 litre oak casks. All good things take time, and they don’t bottle their whisky until the spirit and wood have done their magic. Grab a bottle while you can.
6. Sullivans Cove French Oak
Lark started it all, but it was Sullivans Cove who made the world take notice of the Australian—and more specifically Tasmanian—whisky industry when the legendary French Oak cask HH0525 was named Best Single Malt Whisky in the World. Aged in 300 litre French Oak ex-tawny barrels and bottled as a single cask bottling, you can expect spice, chocolate, dried fruit and plenty of oak. They just keep on winning too, with the French Oak picking up World’s Best Single Cask Single Malt at the World Whisky Awards again in March 2019.
5. Belgrove Rye Whisky Ex Heartwood Cask
Surely Australia’s most unique distillery, Belgrove was the first rye distillery in the country. Almost an ongoing science project, it’s truly a sight to behold, and well worth a visit if you’re ever passing through Tasmania’s southern midlands. The rye is grown on site. The grain is malted in a re-purposed industrial clothes dryer. The home-made copper pot still is also the only biofuel-powered still in the world. Biofuel also powers the tractors, forklift and truck. This biofuel is used cooking oil, sourced from the roadhouse near the farm. This is craft whisky at its peak, and the whisky is mighty good too – we’re big fans of the ex Heartwood “Release The Beast” cask, bottled at a stonking 65.3%.
4. Old Kempton Distillery Port Cask
Just down the road from Belgrove in the town of Kempton is Old Kempton Distillery, taking up residence in a grand old coaching inn built in 1842. The distillery itself is in the convict brick stables, and what they’re turning out is nothing short of magic. With a range of premium small cask whiskies, our pick is the Port Cask at cask strength.
Since 2013, Tin Shed’s Iniquity produces artisanal whisky from South Australian ingredients. Quality and flavour come well before efficiency, the team producing the whisky they actually want to drink, not what the beancounters want made. Living up to its name, the whisky is sinfully good.
2. Black Gate
Established in The first distillery in central west New South Wales, Black Gate recently released their second port cask – an incredibly well balanced 50% ABV dram that shows just how far the distillery has come in such a short time.
1. Starward Charred Red Wine Casks created exclusively for The Whisky Club
Unlike Tasmania, Melbourne’s a place not really known for whisky production, but it’s surrounded by some of Australia’s best wine regions. So it was only natural for Starward to make the most of this with their Wine Cask—now known as NOVA—a move that’s proven rather successful. No surprises we’ve got this at number 1, it is our April Whisky of the Month after all, but the team have really taken it up a notch or three for Club Members with the Charred Red Wine Casks, featuring a more traditional charred cask treatment and bottled at a cracking 48%.
It’s been created exclusively for The Whisky Club, so to get one of these on your shelf, make sure you Sign Up to the Club free today.