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The Australian Whisky Trail

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I have 24 small vials of whisky sitting in front of me and only a couple of days in which to drink it all. But what would not normally be a completely unusual occurrence for someone in my line of work becomes startling by the fact that these are all Australasian.

I've long known that Australia and New Zealand produces whisky and have even done my fair share of sampling – though I never thought one might be able to gather 24 different bottlings. What astounds me more is in a nation known for its history intertwined with rum is that there are now 18 licensed whisky distilleries (all opened since 1992) the length and breadth of the country. For the record that's about twice the number of rum distilleries currently in operation.

The island state of Tasmania has Australia's largest concentration of whisky distilleries. A current count shows that there are ten operating on this island alone. That's more than Scotland's famed Isle of Islay. Quantity doesn't necessarily mean quality, but it's still one of a number of signs that Australian whisky is closing the gap on the world's best.

So these samples? Well, I've been chosen to judge the inaugural Australasian Whisky Awards – a competition aimed at promoting the great whisky now being produced in New Zealand and Australia. It's being run by Sydney's World of Whisky - Australia's first and only store dedicated to whisky. It's also in conjunction with The Whisky Show 2012. Being held at Sydney's Tattersall's Club next Friday and Saturday, show organiser David Ligoff tags it as "Australia's greatest whisky tasting event, featuring the best whiskies from the world's greatest distilleries including many Australian top brands."

With over 150 expressions of whisky available to sample and purchase The Whisky Show should prove to be a dram lover's dream. You'll even get to taste, no doubt, some of the liquid I have in these mysterious numbered bottles in front of me. To get you in the mood I thought I'd take you on a quick whisky trail of Australia so that come the show you'll be able to be a judge too.

The Lark Distillery, Hobart, Tasmania

Founded in 1992, Bill Lark, of the distilleries namesake, is considered the father of modern Australian whisky. The first licensed distillery to operate on the island state in over 150 years Bill and Lyn Lark had to overturn Tasmania's century and a half long ban on distilling to get started. And they have been distilling continuously ever since. All their offerings are aged in quarter cask barrels (200-300 litres) that once held Australian sherry or port. These casks allow plenty of interaction with wood and Bill Larks bottles them all as 'single cask' releases too meaning each bottle you buy will be special as it will most likely vary in character from the next one you purchase.

Hellyer's Road Distillery, Burnie, North West Tasmania

Established in 1997 on the site of the old Betta Milk Co-operative in Burnie, Tasmania, Hellyer's Road distillery was an all-new purpose built operation capable of some large scale production. Their whiskies are all produced from Tasmanian grown barley, peat cut from the Tasmanian highlands and local rainwater. After distillation the majority of Hellyer's malts are aged in ex-bourbon American white oak barrels (as are most Scotch whiskies). Keep an eye out for the distillery's 'Pinot Noir Finish' aged in Tasmanian wine barrels – it's an unusual yet highly appealing malt with a long cherry chocolate, vanilla and spice finish.

Bakery Hill, Bayswater, Dandenong Foothills, Victoria

The Bakery Hill Distillery was founded by David Baker – a former food scientist – back in 1999. Baker spent a considerable amount of time on the still set up for his distillery employing the skill of a number of engineering firms in the UK. Bakery Hills new make spirit is put aside for maturation in American oak barrels once housing Jack Daniels. The barrels are re-coopered in Melbourne to reduce the original 225 litre size to just 100 litres. Bakery Hill produces both peated and non peated variants at cask strength (around 60 per cent abv) and regular strength (46 per cent abv).

From around Australia

Here's a few more Australian Whisky distilleries to keep an eye out for:

Great Southern Distilling Company, Albany, Western Australia

Overeem, Old Hobart Distillery, Hobart Tasmania

Sullivan's Cove, Cambridge, Tasmania

The Nant Distillery, Bothwell, Central Tasmania

Timboon Railway Shed, Timboon, South West Victoria

Do you think Australian whisky can hold its own against Scotch and other great world whiskies?

10 comments so far

  • Having tasted whisky all over the world I think its time to take some pride in Australian whisky and acknowledge that we produce world class whisky. I am a big fan of the bottlings from the Lark distillery but they are far from the only first class product being produced locally. Will be sampling the others at the show!

    Commenter
    dee
    Location
    st ives
    Date and time
    July 13, 2012, 1:24PM
    • Totally agree! Lark, Sullivans Cove, Overeem and Hellyers Road all hold their own. Can't wait for the show to see what else they have there. Don't know much about NZ whiskies, but always keen to try something new.

      Commenter
      maltlover
      Date and time
      July 13, 2012, 3:42PM
    • Very interested to see who wins the Australasian Whisky awards. This should set some benchmarks for the makers of whisky in this part of the world. Can the NZ whiskies beat out Aussie ones? Dont think so, but with the blind tasting from the distinguished judging panel - who knows?

      Commenter
      Ive
      Date and time
      July 13, 2012, 3:58PM
  • Australian whiskey is mighty fine and heads up a blind tasting they certainly hold their own. All I want is something a little more peaty and briney like Lagavulin and I will invest more in the local drams. I am very fond of Lark and Timboon and Nant. All of them are outstanding.

    Commenter
    Dom
    Location
    in the Den
    Date and time
    July 13, 2012, 3:15PM
    • Dom, try the Bakery Hill peated cask strength - lots of smoke there.

      Commenter
      maltlover
      Date and time
      July 13, 2012, 4:08PM
    • Thanks for the tip have just ordered some.

      Commenter
      Dom
      Location
      in the Den
      Date and time
      July 14, 2012, 11:27AM
  • Maybe the bottle I got from Hellyers Road was off because it is undrinkable. I took it to a single malt whisky tasting a few months ago with another 10 experienced and ardent single malt drinkers, we had around 15 other whisky's on the table and unfortunatley the Hellyers was judged a very distant last. Until tasting it myself I was very proud to have brought along an Aussie single malt. Could it have been a crook bottle? As when I did the tasting at the distillery I thought it was quite good.

    Commenter
    Tassie Battler
    Location
    Tasmania
    Date and time
    July 13, 2012, 6:56PM
    • best I ever had was Milford from NZ

      Commenter
      mojo
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      July 14, 2012, 7:21AM
      • It's a pity that the Australian government doesn't help Australian whisky producers as much as they help wine producers with excise rebates. Every 700 millilitre bottle of Australian whisky must pay an excise of up to $30. In Tokyo we are spoilt for choice with whiskies from all over the world. I've even seen world class Indian (Amrut) and Romanian whisky but not Australian. And even if they were available in Japan, I doubt many people would buy them at the prices that Australian whiskies go for. Whisky in Japan is about a third of the price they are in Australia. Australian whiskies can be "up there" with the rest of the world but it's sad that they are neither promoted like Australian wines are nor made more available and affordable due to crippling excises.

        Commenter
        Eric in Japan
        Location
        Japan
        Date and time
        July 15, 2012, 12:06AM
        • used to drink Bonds made in Geelong I think all those years ago,
          is it still arround ?

          Commenter
          willofaustralia
          Location
          buxton
          Date and time
          July 15, 2012, 12:57PM

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