A Beginner's Guide to Australian Craft Whisky
BY EDWIN WISE
The world of whisky (‘whiskey’ if you are American or Irish) is quite the complicated affair. Between the locations, ingredients, and the different distilling processes, everything can seem a little daunting to a beginner. Unless you already happen to be a whisky aficionado, the various intricacies of different blends may elude you. Nonetheless, every expert must start somewhere; and with a little reading, you should be able to cover all the fundamentals, and shift from the rank of novice, to amateur whisky enthusiast with ease.
- Australian Whisky
- Single Versus Blended
- New Make
- Drinking Guide
- Whisky Recommendations
Having remained under the radar for many years, whisky from Australian distilleries has only recently come under the headlights, after Sullivan's Cove's French Oak Cask variety was awarded best single malt whisky in the world. With all eyes focused on Australia, many superb distilleries will soon be recognised by connoisseurs around the world, and their signature blends a staple in all reputable liquor cabinets.
Alongside Sullivan’s Cove, the list of notable Australian distilleries includes; Lark Distillery, Overeem Distillery, and Nant Distillery. All of which produce world class single malt whiskies that each possess a range of unique flavours and characteristics. In the future, we plan to expand upon these distilleries and highlight what makes them great.
Single-Malt Versus Blended Whisky
Rather than bombarding you with the many varieties and intricacies of single and blended whiskies, at this stage we will aim to clearly define what aspects of whisky production they relate to. The term ‘single’ and ‘blended’ often generate a great deal of confusion for whisky novices and seasoned drinkers alike. To keep things as simple as possible, these terms relate to how many distilleries were used in the production of a whisky. Single-Malt, for example means that the whisky is the product of a single distillery, whereas blended would mean that the blend contains a mix of whiskies from two or more distilleries.
Generally, the confusion starts when terms such as ‘single grain’ and ‘single malt’ are introduced into the budding whisky aficionado’s vocabulary. It is easy to assume that single grain simply means that a single grain is used in the production of the whisky. But, this would be inaccurate. In both cases, the ‘single’ implies the whisky came from a single distillery. For example, let’s look at a single grain whisky and a single malt whisky. A single grain would use two or more grains, whereas a single malt whisky will have been produced using 100% malted barley, but both examples would have been produced in one, single distillery.
A standard blended whisky is likely to contain a combination of various single malt and single grain whiskies from two or more distilleries. Brands like Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal are some of the most renowned blended whiskeys in the world.
‘New make’ is the foundation for what will eventually become whisky. After being produced in stills, new make will then be barrelled, specifically in an oak cask, and aged for a minimum of 3 years, as per regulatory standards, before it becomes whiskey. The overall quality of the final product largely depends on the quality of the new make, alongside the quality of the oak barrel that the batch will be aged within.
The distiller plays an immensely important role in the craft process, as it is they who ultimately decides what new make goes into the barrel and what will be recycled for future use, also known as ‘the cut’. The distiller takes the cut from the ‘heart’ of the new make, found in the middle of the still, and is responsible for deciding when the heart is ready.
The distillation process is only half the battle when it comes to producing a fantastic blend of whisky. The majority of flavours and aromas develop throughout the aging process, which will last for years, or even decades. Over the course of the process, the charred or toasted barrel will filter away unwanted tastes while imparting its own signature flavour into the blend.
While bourbon is required by law to be aged in new oak barrels, Scotch is typically aged in barrels previously used for bourbons, sherrys, ports, whiskies, or any number of other potential wines. This is just one of the many differences that help the two types of whisky develop their own distinct flavours.
In addition to the type of barrels used, the amount of time that the blend is aged for, and the climate in which it was aged, has a huge impact on the final product. In climates that have extreme temperature shifts or are high in humidity, the blend will age at a considerably faster rate than those found in the cooler Scottish regions. For this reason, a good bourbon may be aged between 6 to 10 years, whereas a Scotch Whisky may reach its prime at around 20 years old.
Due to the complexity of the ageing process, this will be covered in far greater detail in future articles.
Now that we have moved our way past all the nitty gritty information we can get to the fun bit. What is the best way to drink the whisky.
Keeping things simple, ‘neat’ refers to drinking whisky at room temperature without any form of additives. The logic behind this, is to experience the drink as the distiller originally intended it to be tasted. This may however be a little harsh for someone new to drinking whisky and should maybe be left to seasoned veterans. To get the best from a whisky, it is recommended that you warm the glass with your hands, thus releasing different flavours and aromas with each sip.
Adding a few drops of distilled or spring water will do two things to your whisky’s flavour: soften and open. Most noticeably, the water will soften the drink enough to be a little more palatable for those who want to avoid the harsher flavours involved when drinking whisky neat. However, it will also open the flavours and aromas within the whisky, allowing you to experience everything the blend can offer. Many experts believe this is the best way to truly appreciate whisky.
On the Rocks:
While adding a few drops of water may bring the best out of a whisky, ice frequently causes too much dilution. If you still wish to cool your whisky down, it is best to either use larger ice cubes that will defrost slower, or consider using whisky stones.
By far the least traditional way to drink whisky, but who doesn’t enjoy a good cocktail every now and then. If this is the route you take, we recommend that you use a mid-range, blended bourbon whisky, and try making an Old Fashioned.
OLD FASHIONED COCKTAIL RECIPE
1-2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Orange Peel Garnish
Place sugar cube in an old fashioned glass.
Soak with a few drops angostura bitters and add a few drops of water.
Add 60ml of whisky/bourbon and stir until the sugar dissolves.
Add 2-3 large ice cubes and stir until chilled.
Garnish and enjoy.
Australian Whisky Recommendations
Mid Range: Under $100
Starward Wine Cask Single Malt Whisky 700mL
Hellyers Road 10 Year Old Original Single Malt Whisky 700mL
Smith's Angaston 12 Year Old Whisky 700mL
High End: Under $200
Lark Single Cask Whisky 500ml
Tiger Snake Australian Whisky 700ml
Nant Single Malt Whisky 500mL
Sullivans Cove Single Cask French Oak Whisky 700mL
About the Author
Edwin Wise is an aspiring writer. He has a keen passion for men’s fashion, travel, and a good Old Fashioned. (Follow him on Instagram)