Whisky Connosr

Australian whisky reaches maturity

By Jason Cook

Australian whisky reaches maturity

Whisky enthusiast Jason Cook hails from Hobart - capital of the Australian island state of Tasmania - you'll know him as jdcook, a regular contributor to the Connosr community with more than 60 whisky reviews under his belt.

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The Australian whisky industry is growing in leaps and bounds, but is still less than two decades old. Whisky distilleries are popping up all over Australia, but most are still in Tasmania, the small island state South of the Australian mainland. The mainland distilleries include Great Southern in Western Australia, Smith's Angaston in South Australia & Bakery Hill in Victoria. The Tasmanian offering includes the Nant, Hellyer's Road, Tasmania Distillery (also known as Sullivan's Cove) and the Lark.

To talk about the Australian whisky industry, you have to start with one man, Bill Lark. Apparently on a fishing trip whilst enjoying a dram, he looked around and realised that Tasmania has excellent barley, beautiful soft water, and peat bogs in the Central Highlands and wondered 'why was nobody making whiskey in Tasmania?'

Unfortunately, it turned out that Australian Law dating back to 1901 didn't allow for small stills (apparently the government of the day wanted to discourage the production of moonshine), and that meant that starting up a whisky distillery was a huge undertaking.

To talk about the Australian whisky industry, you have to start with one man, Bill Lark.

However, after successfully lobbying the local member of parliament the law was changed, and the Lark Distillery was born.

Most whisky distilleries in Australia have a boutique style, offering either small batches or even, as in the case of the Lark, single barrel bottlings. The only exception I'm aware of is the Hellyer's Road distillery which have a range of four different whisky's - the single malt, the 'slightly peated' single malt, the 'peated' single malt and the single malt finished in pinot noir casks.

In my opinion, one of the main reasons why boutique distilleries are the rule rather than the exception is the current system of taxation applied to Australian whiskies. For a 700ml bottle, Australian distilleries are paying an excise to the government of up to $30 (about £15-£20). This has to be passed on to the consumer, so Australian whiskies are that much more expensive, which means they must be of fairly good quality. Unfortunately (and I stress this is still just my opinion - I haven't got any inside knowledge into the financials of any Australian distilleries), this means that most distilleries cannot afford to create large batches of product, because if even one such batch is received poorly, it would result in too large a financial burden.

I have no doubt this will change, as currently both beer and wine producers, below a certain threshold, receive a rebate on the excise they pay. Given that most distilleries are lobbying to the government for change, eventually the laws will change allowing the Australian whisky industry the same treatment as the beer and wine producers.

Until then there will probably continue to be few large-scale batch producing whiskies in Australia, but several excellent boutique producers.

A few noteworthy malts

Lark Distillery LD39

Lark Distillery LD39

Awarded Best Australian Whisky by the Malt Whisky Society of Australia. Produced by the Lark Distillery, Tasmania www.larkdistillery.com.au

Lark Distillery LD100

Lark Distillery LD100

Awarded Best Other Single Malt Whisky (no age) in the 2009 World Whiskies Awards. Also produced by the Lark Distillery, Tasmania www.larkdistillery.com.au

Limeburners Single Malt Whisky

Limeburners Single Malt Whisky

Awarded a Bronze Medal at the 2008 International Wine and Spirits Show in London. Produced by Great Southern distillery, Western Australia www.distillery.com.au

Sullivans Cove Port Cask Maturation Single Malt

Sullivans Cove Port Cask Maturation Single Malt

Awarded Gold Medal 2005 Malt Whisky Association of Australia. Produced by the Tasmania Distillery www.tasmaniadistillery.com

Sullivans Cove Bourbon Maturation Single Cask

Sullivans Cove Bourbon Maturation Single Cask

Awarded 1st Place 2007 World Whisky Awards - Malt Whiskies from the Rest of the World. Produced by the Tasmania Distillery www.tasmaniadistillery.com

Bakery Hill Distillery

Bakery Hill Distillery

Awarded Best Small Distillery Whisky of the Year, Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2005 www.bakeryhilldistillery.com.au