By Richard Thomas
When Australian whisky became famous, it was really whisky from a single region that got the attention: Tasmania. This is because Australia’s big whisky breakout was led by Sullivan’s Cove, when they won Best Single Malt at the 2014 Word Whisky Awards. Most of the other Australian distilleries that had attracted wider, global attention at the time or since have been from Tasmania as well. Most, but not all. Although Tasmania has certainly become the heartland of Australian whisky-making, it is not the sole reservoir. Distillers have been busy in other parts of the country, so it’s the continent of Australia as a whole that is worthy of attention from enthusiasts.
Two interesting distilling features set mainland Australia apart from Tasmania. First is that many of the distillery scattered across the country are first and foremost tourist attractions, combining a restaurant into their operations. Second is how the Scottish model of whisky-making is a universal, and some outfits are following the American model instead by making bourbon-like whiskeys.
Bakery Hill Distillery: This distillery is found in a suburb of Melbourne, making it convenient for most tourists in Australia (much more so than anything in Tasmania, where you have to make a point of at least going to the island region in the first place). They make a range of single malts relying on Australian barley and imported, peated British barley aged predominantly in ex-bourbon barrels. They also have some French oak stock, for use in their Double Wood whisky.
Baldwin Hill Distilling: Baldwin Hill is a serious odd duck in Australian whisky-making, or indeed whisky-making in newcomer countries in general. This is because they have adopted an American style of production, not the more usual Scottish model. They are up in Canberra, the capital of Australia, making Australian sour mash bourbon!
Great Southern Distilling Company: This is one of the better-known distilleries in Australia, having one major regional awards and their Limeburners brand being one of the names that you will encounter from time to time at global whisky shows. They are found in Western Australia, pretty far removed from the usual visitors track unless you’re traveling out of Perth. However, with their success, Great Southern Distilling opened a second distillery, Margaret River Distilling, as a tourist attraction and eatery located amid the state forests and parks due south of Perth.
Joadja Distillery: Nestled between Sydney and Canberra, this distillery has a single malt and a malted barley based new make.
New World Whisky Distillery: New World is another example of a recognizable Australian distilling name outside of Tasmania. Much like Great Southern, this is because their brand, Starward, is well-marketed and occasionally appears at festivals and shows.
Timboon Railway Shed Distillery: If you thought new distillery stories based on moon shining legends was a strictly American thing, guess again. Timboon Railway Shed is basedon the story of local 1890s era moonshiner Tom Delaney. Other than being in the same area though, the distillery doesn’t claim any direct connection to the illicit booze-maker. The railway shed part is authentic enough, however. The distillery is also restaurant, and part of the Timboon to Camperdown Rail Trail some 130 miles west of Melbourne. The rail trail is exactly that, open to hiking and biking, but is not a scenic railway.
Whipper Snapper Distillery: The story for this Western Australia distillery begins with two wartime bomber pilots, one American and one Australian, who met and shared a love of whiskey. The Australian, Vic, went on to illicitly produce some hooch of his own after the war. Vic’s neighbor Al, who also helped him prepare his memoirs, picked up that mantle and took it to Colorado. There Al got some pointers from the original founder of Colorado Gold Distillery, before heading to Scotland and getting more advice from Frank McHardy, a veteran of Springbank and Bushmills.
Whipper Snapper is the Australian distillery that most resembles an American craft outfit. For one thing, they are making whiskey with an “e,” using a column still and a mash bill of corn, wheat and malted barley that sounds an awful lot like wheated bourbon. It’s also aged in American white oak barrels. For added measure, to have a colorful back story of the type that would make the marketeers behind many an American craft distillery proud.
Wild River Mountain Distillery: Located in the mountains near Cairns, this distillery opened only earlier this year. They represent a mix of what is going on in Australia, since they are working on both an American-style, bourbon-like whiskey and a Scottish style single malt.