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Eucalyptus red gum whisky and pine soda anyone?

Archie is the Glenmorangie of Down Under. Archie Rose’s Red Gum Smoked Single Malt Whisky claims to be  a “true Aussie single malt” with  pronounced smoke. notes of bacon, a strong floral presence and a salty edge. Without any lingering Les Patterson overtones.

It’s the fruit of trials, in partnership with NSW-based company Voyager Craft Malt, to discover how native Australian trees -especially eucalyptus- can lend their unique qualities to Aussie whisky.

“We had been using peated barley from the west coast of Scotland in our whiskies and dragging this grain halfway across the world to be used in an Australian whisky which just didn’t feel quite right both from a provenance and sustainability perspective,” says Archie Rose founder, Will Edwards.

“When we started out, many of the unique malts we wanted to use in our whiskies were either not grown and malted in Australia or were not available in sufficient quantities.

Although the industry only took off in the 90s  Australia is rolling out some barrels of impressive, high quality and justifiably award-winning premium whisky. Sullivan’s Cove’s 2014 Single Cask French Oak was awarded world’s best single malt whisky at the World Whiskies Awards 2014. Last year,  Sydney’s Archie Rose was declared the world’s best rye whisky.

The first legal distillery in Australia opened in Tasmania in 1822. But, because of oppressive restrictions, no whisky was produced in the state between 1838-1990. Most Australian whisky was made in Victoria. Sydney had two distilleries in the nineteenth century but was more rum-orientated.

Large scale whisky distillation began in 1863, with John Dunn’s Warrenheip distillery. In 1930, the Distillers Company of Edinburgh (now Diageo) opened the Corio distillery near Geelong. But Australian whisky was universally regarded as universally very low quality until Bill Lark revived the artisanal tradition in a shed near Hobart airport in Tasmania – Australia’s apple isle.

Berry Bros & Rudd, the  family-run London wine and spirits merchant founded in 1698,  released a £250 limited edition of 2016 independently bottled in 2021.

Tasmania’s Hellyer’s Road in Burnie was started by a group of dairy farmers. It makes 15 year old single malt and single malteds as well as Twin Oak single malt. Tasmania now has twenty-two distilleries, including the excellent Cradle Mountain Distillery. Formerly called the Darwin Distillery, Franklin Distillery and Small Concern Whisky Distilling Co, a bottle of Cradle Mountain costs A$500 ( US$386)

In Victoria, about a half hour drive from Melbourne is Bakery Hill’s distillery, founded in 1999 by biochemist David Baker. Its whisky is one  of the few Australian whiskies that is made in the peated style.  Most Australian whisky is matured in ex-bourbon and port barrels.

Starward was founded under the name New World Whisky distillery in an old Qantas Airlines hangar. The distillery’s wine cask edition whisky exclusively uses ex-wine casks from the Barossa-wine producing region. Many Australian whiskies use brewing barley instead of traditional distilling barley.

Overeem’s signature whisky expressions (Sherry Cask Matured, Port Cask Matured & Bourbon Matured) are also available in cask strength versions. Its 43% Port Matured is a superbly made Australian whisky.

Victoria also boasts Josh and Caitlin Walkers  Timboon Railway Shed  Distillery,  makers of Christie’s Cut Whisky named after Detective Inspector Christie, the bodyguard to Prince Alfred who was hired by the government to stamp out the illegal distilling practices of bootlegger Tom Delaney in Timboon.

Western Australia has Cameron Syme’s Limeburners  which uses peat from the Valley of the Giants and grain from the Great Southern Region. Its Darkest Winter retails for A$335/ US $260 and Director’s Cut Peated US$282. The Great Southern Distillery also makes  sour mash cask strength  64.8% “Tiger Snake” whisky which is sadly not available in the US although  the raisiny, sticky date pudding and crème brulee “Peated Port Cask” made on the edge of Princess Royal Harbour is worth finding.

Whipper Snapper is based in Perth and run by brother-in-laws Alasdair Malloch and Jimmy McKeown. Their most popular whisky is “Upshot”.

Most distilleries in Queensland are dedicated to rum production. Mark Watkins’ Mt Uncle Distillery is perhaps the best.

Whisky has to spend a minimum of two years in barrels in Australia, compared to Scotch which has to age for a minimum of three years. Whiskies mature more quickly in Australia as opposed to Scotland due to the warmer climate which “makes the barrels breathe more”. This leads to Australian whisky developing more complex flavours at a younger age than its better-known Scottish counterparts. Down under is the place to seek the  top whiskies.

Especially the Barmah-Millewa red gum forest and the most authentic reflection of Australian provenance yet.

“Our  Trial and Exceptions series is a way for us to share the research and development we do every single day in the distillery and get the general public involved in the process. Our Sandigo Heritage Rye Malt was sourced from  a landrace rye grown by fourth-generation New South wales  farmers.

The series features whiskies like A Whisky In Every Port and  the Hunter Valley Shiraz eau de vie spirit. The distillery also makes Blasphemy coffee whisky liqueur.

“The series is a ‘prime example of how we strive to work with Australian farmers to create really special releases driven by innovation and challenging the status quo,” says Edwards. ‘In what is still a typically traditional industry, we’re having lots of fun seeking out new ingredients and raw materials and developing production techniques to push the boundaries and show what’s possible in distillation.”

He describes the new gum tree whisky as “a distinctly Australian whisky not for the faint-hearted”.