For so many people whisky is an old man’s drink, accompanied by an obligatory cigar.
However, this image has been slowly changing over the past few years with designated whisky bars opening up all over the country, boutique distillers finally releasing the products that have been ageing in their barrels for so long and all the closet whisky drinkers coming out of the woodwork. Slowly but surely Australian whisky is developing its own identity and the world is making way for it in a big way with Australian distilleries winning awards at some of the world’s most prestigious competitions.
So, more people are drinking whisky and more people are making whisky and you may have noticed or maybe not (if you have been living under a bloody rock!) that more people are drinking and making gin too. While the two are very different drinks this is no coincidence. What few people know is that many distillers begin by making whisky and then go into gin production while it ages, as the turn-around is much quicker (think hours rather than years). William Ravenscroft, distiller McHenry Distillery in Port Arthur, says, “People generally start making whisky but are still sitting on it now while watching the bank account go backwards. They realise that they gotta get some cash-flow happening, so they make gin.”
Many of Australia’s up and coming distilleries may have recently made names for themselves with their gins but guaranteed if you keep an eye on them, a few years down the track you will see them releasing barrel-aged single malt whiskies.
What is it that makes Australian whisky unique though? Whisky is such an old, traditional drink that it is hard to drift from the traditions that so many distillers have held close to for so long. William declares that nearly all Australian whisky is “made completely within Scottish and Irish traditions.” Though similar to our thriving food culture, the exciting aspect of Australian whisky is the produce and provenance of every ingredient that goes into each bottle. Take McHenry’s home, Tasmania, for example. Clean water and expertly grown barley crops are rife and it will come as no surprise that Tasmania is the state with the highest number of distilleries. The cold, wet and rainy climate make Tassie Australia’s answer to Scotland, and these cool conditions are perfect for making whisky, as in warm weather the liquid can evaporate through the porous barrels.
William also attributes the rise in popularity of whisky to women. He said, “Whisky is no longer a drink for old men. Women are starting to drink and produce their own whisky, adding a new perspective to distilling and opening up the market.”
He goes on to credit local industry trailblazers, Lark Distillery, Sullivans Cove Distillery and Old Kempton Distillery with putting Australian and Tasmanian whisky on the world’s radar. He places particular emphasis on Sullivans Cove after they won Best Single Malt Whisky at the 2018 World Whisky Awards, the second time they have won this prestigious award in four years.
For now, while the whisky ages watch this space. Currently, distilleries all over the country are seeing their stock fly out the door, with whisky selling out constantly. Whether you like it peated or not, neat or shaken up into a cocktail, whisky sure isn’t going anywhere and recent years have shown that Australian whisky can certainly compete on the world stage.
Thirsty? Check out our list of Best Distilleries Around Australia.