From the tasting team

Another Round: Distinctive drams

By Mike Bennie

4 Jul, 2023

With Australia’s whisky cred firmly established, forward-thinking producers are pushing boundaries.

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The Australian whisky industry has come on in leaps and bounds in recent decades. Though Australian whisky production stretches back to the 19th century, it’s effectively only since the 1990s that local drams have had serious currency. More so, it’s only particularly recently that the variety of creative styles available has exploded to a point of kaleidoscopic excitement. 

One of the great pioneers of Australian whisky is Bill Lark of Lark Distillery. His petitioning to change the laws regarding small-scale distillation in Tasmania in the 1990s helped pave the way for the modern Australian whisky industry. Through a dogged vision and persistence, a focus on diversity of grains, the influence of Australian terroir and increasing inclusion of local ingredients, whisky in Australia is now a strong reflection of not only quality, but the nous, experimentation and innovation that has seen it rise through the global ranks. 

It’s easy to cite the likes of Lark Distillery, Nant Distillery and Sullivan’s Cove gaining prominence through international acclaim. In 2014, Sullivan’s Cove French Oak Cask was even named ‘World’s Best Single Cask Single Malt’ at the World Whiskies Awards, catapulting Australian whisky into the global spotlight. But what’s exciting me lately are the lesser-sung efforts, and the unique thinking that surrounds that spotlight.  

Lark Chinotto Cask II Cask StrengthLark's Chinotto Cask II Cask Strength.

Archie Rose’s 2018 Single Paddock Whisky Harvest is one such highlight. Its paddock-to-bottle traceability and focus on supporting single-site heritage rye grain provide a unique talking point for whisky in Australia.

This conceptualises a new order of distilled spirits where, like single-vineyard wines, single plots of land are connected by grower, maker and drinker. While Archie Rose has leaned deeply into this concept, it joins the ranks of only a few whisky producers globally that use single locations for their whisky production. 

An additional favourite of mine is Belgrove from Tasmania. Belgrove’s Peter Bignell is a true pioneer of paddock-to-bottle production, farming his organic grain farm right next to his hand-built distillery, while making his own biodiesel to power it all from spent cooking oil. A remarkable producer! 

Considered thinking has likewise led Adelaide Hills-based 78 Degrees Distillery into the realm of native grains. Distiller Sacha La Forgia looked to local ingredients, particularly native cereals and grains, to use in his whisky distilling. His 2023 Native Grain Whisky uses indigenous Weeping Grass, bringing a resonance of Australian flavours boldly to the foreground. 

Mike BennieMike Bennie.

While distinct flavour may be fulfilled through native grain and single paddock sources, originality also emerges from considered use of casks for maturation. Returning to Lark, two whisky products that have wowed me for ingenuity are the Amaro and Chinotto Cask releases. These releases lean heavily into bitterness, botanical input and herbal complexity to deliver compelling drams. It’s great to see such left-of-centre thinking rewarded. 

Reward doesn’t just come from how the whisky is made, but from who created it. Wet Canteen Bottling Company tells a compelling story through the lens of collaboration – not just from its founders – five veterans with a collective 80 years’ service in Australian law enforcement, military and defence roles, but with Chief’s Son Distillery as their teammates. Chief’s Son is one of Australia’s leading small-batch distillers, located in Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. They are known for their artisanal approach to distilling with reverence for high-quality grains and malting. 

While the crew from Wet Canteen make whisky with their colleagues in mind, there’s a broader reach in fundraising models for veterans causes and commemorative releases for fallen comrades. The whisky, aged three years in second-fill sherry barrels, is sensational.

Three to try...

Lark Chinotto Cask II Cask Strength 500ml

Exceptional whisky of depth, spice, mellow honey and caramel characters and all that wrapped up in this sluice of bitter orange piquancy with woody and gingery spice in tow. Complex, compelling stuff. RRP $350.

2018 Archie Rose Single Paddock Whisky Harvest 700ml

Quite a floral whisky with char, smoky spice, hazelnuts and fresh citrus meshed to preserved lemon and chamomile notes. It’s smooth, but the spice elements certainly add some chew and pucker to the palate. RRP $249.

Wet Canteen Bottling Co First Parade Whisky 700ml

It’s a malty, toffee-led whisky with lavish stone fruit, wild honey, sea spray and light, smoky notes in the mix. Super smooth, almost creamy in texture, with generous spice and gentle smokiness through the long finish. A session whisky.  RRP $130.

This article appears in issue #71 of Halliday magazineBecome a member to receive the print publication as well as digital access.