Unless you’ve been living under a proverbial rock, you’ll likely be aware that the world has gone completely nuts for the best Australian whiskey (or Australian whiskey) brands in the last few years, and with good reason – it’s some of the best liquid gold out there.
And liquid gold, Australian made whiskey (or Australian whiskey) has literally become, for some. When Sullivan’s Cove took out top honors at the World Whiskies Awards in 2014, where their French Oak has crowned the best single malt whiskey in the world, the world’s gaze turned to Tasmania, an unassuming island that had, for the last two decades, slowly been crawling back as an Australian whiskey-producing region of repute and renown. Though the Apple Isle’s spirits industry was outlawed in the 19th century, a one-man mission to bring back the art of craft spirits in 1992 saw the inception of Lark Distillery, a poky shed stuck in next to a winery, not far from Hobart airport.
Owner & founder Bill Lark re-invigorated a whiskey industry lost to over-regulation and zeal over a century before and, before too long, others followed. The tight-knit community of distillers that populate the island state includes some big names and seriously expensive drops, as demand has sky-rocketed in the past few years.
Tasmania now produces some of the best whiskey in Australia. This zeitgeist of top-quality whiskey production is not restricted to Tassie, however. Other distilleries that have made their mark both over the years and recently can be found all over the country – through the climate and soft waters of Tasmania are generally considered to be perfect for the revered malt liquor to age properly. Hence, why many of the top Australian whiskey brands are located in Tasmania. With other examples from Victoria and Western Australia taking particular pride of place on the selection below, this is our collection of the best whiskeys coming out of Australia, that you should definitely add to your bucket list (or liquor cabinet) while they’re still available.
So here’s a list of the Best Australian Whiskies:
Sullivan’s Cove French Oak Whisky
Arguably the drop that triggered the recent influx of international interest in Australian whiskey, this beautiful single malt was named the best in the world three years ago and has been almost impossible to get a hold of ever since. While bottles from the original cask that won were sadly all gone by the time the award was bestowed to the distillery (though a few are probably still floating out there, valued in the thousands), you can get a single bottle of the current release for $450, if you’re lucky.
While the label bears no age statement, the liquid inside is 12 to 14 years old and boats a big, fat, chewy single malt full of rich toffee and molasses, not dissimilar to a Demerara rum.
Every Wednesday, the distillery releases a small handful of bottles to the public (literally less than 10), which can be purchased by being one of the first to click on a link provided in an email that gets sent to their subscribers. You can subscribe online below – best of luck! Is it the best whiskey Australia has to offer? It’s certainly up there.
Starward Wine Cask Single Malt Whisky
Hailing from Victoria’s New World Whisky Distillery, Starward whiskeys have been favored by many for their innovative approach to modern whiskey production, eschewing the traditions that bind so many other distillers and producing consistently interesting whiskey. Their products are all made from Australian barley, aged in Australian barrels and reflect the terroir with subtlety. This is their Wine Cask release, finished in Australian red wine casks, which lends itself to a unique, tannic quality. It was awarded the best Australian single malt at the 2017 World Whiskies Awards and has earned its place on this best Australian whiskey list.
Lark 9yo Bourbon Cask Whisky
Lark can unofficially be credited as the place where it all began for modern Tasmanian whiskey. It was, after all, when founder Bill Lark was trout fishing with his father-in-law Max in the Tassie highlands that the two scratched their heads and said: “I wonder why there isn’t anyone making malt whiskey in Tasmania”. The climate, access to barley, natural peat bogs and pure, soft water were all in abundance, but nobody had connected the dots for over a hundred years due to archaic licensing laws.
Since then, Bill has worked tirelessly to promote the Southern island as one of the world’s best whiskey-producing regions, all the while expanding his eponymous distillery from a small apparatus in his kitchen to a huge copper still which gets put through its paces to keep up with demand. The operation is still a family affair.
This is their highly sought-after 9yo Bourbon Cask release. At $450, it’s an undeniably luxury product, but it’s the price some of these distilleries have to charge to keep stock on shelves to some extent. A little richer than their other products, it’s a very complex liquid, layered with many different, almost conflicting flavors, which are all tied together with a subtle sweetness and a beautiful mouthfeel. Whiskey in Australia doesn’t get much better. Expensive? Sure. But worth every cent.
Nose: Inviting aromas of rose and freshly cut grass weave with lemon, orange and grapefruit. The citrus gives way to nutmeg, licorice, oak, and wood smoke. A delicate nose with layers of complexity and lots to find.
Bakery Hill Cask Strength Single-Malt Whisky
About a half-hour drive from Melbourne’s CBD to Balwyn North will find you at Bakery Hill’s distillery, which has been in production since 2000, with whiskey first made available to the public in 2003. The selection on offer includes single cask malt offerings in peated and non-peated versions, which are both available at cask strength if preferred. We like the non-peated cask strength as the perfect example of this highly celebrated distillery’s capabilities. It’s a big whiskey, a little hot on the palate initially, but that’s only complemented by the sweet notes that develop throughout. If it’s too much to handle, add an ice cube or a few drops of water and you’ll be good to go.
Hellyer’s Road Slightly Peated 10yo Whisky
Started by a group of dairy farmers, The Australian whiskey brand, Hellyer’s Road Distillery sits at the top of Tasmania, in the town of Burnie. Northern Tassie is famously home to the cleanest air in the world, and some of the best products money can buy – this whiskey is no exception. A highly celebrated drop in both the Japanese and European markets, Hellyer’s Road is one of Australia’s best booze-based exports and can be found in over 20 countries. Their four main expressions also include a Pinot Cask Finish, Original Single Malt, and a hard-to-get 12yo Original Single Malt, but here we’re featuring the 10yo Slightly Peated whiskey, which is one of the most interesting you’ll taste. Hellyer’s Road is a well-oiled operation with an output higher than some of the other minor distilleries in the region, so it won’t break the bank either. Hellyer’s Road Slightly Peated 10yo might be on the best Australian whiskey on the market.
Limeburners Director’s Cut Single-Malt Whisky
Their $700-a-pop, 122-proof Heavy Peated Whisky took out the top accolade, Australia’s Champion Whisky Trophy, at the 2016 Australian Distilled Spirits Awards, putting the Great Southern Distillery on the map in terms of Australian whiskey excellence, but here we’ve decided to feature something else from their catalog. This is the Director’s Cut, a cask-strength single-barrel whiskey that’ll only set you back $550. The current offering won gold at the 2017 awards and still has some availability through their website if you get in quickly.
Overeem Port Cask Matured Single-Malt Whisky
Overeem isn’t the kind of distillery to experimentally stray too far from the staples that gave them their stronghold as one of the country’s best, with only four products in their portfolio (including one XO brandy). Each of their three signature whiskey expressions (Sherry Cask Matured, Port Cask Matured & Bourbon Matured) are also available in cask strength versions if you like the unrestrained intensity of a 60% spirit, but here we’re looking at the 43% Port Matured, one of the best examples of Aussie whiskey’s ability to take traditional methods and still pioneer new flavors. This is a big Australian whiskey, with a rich palate and mouthfeel and a spicy finish. Perfect for a nightcap, possibly with a cigar.
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