Defining Australian Single Malt Whisky - Our Brand Ambassadors Break it Down
To celebrate the launch of Single Malt Whisky, we thought there’s no better time to chat with our friendly Brand Ambassadors to get the lowdown on some of the defining traits of Australian Single Malt Whisky. So here it is, our homegrown guide—from how we measure up to the rest of the world to what makes our Single Malt Whisky so unique.
First cab off the rank is Mitch Gurrin, representing Archie Rose in Western Australia and South Australia. Based in Perth, where he just hosted the west coast launch of our Single Malt Whisky 1st Batch, Mitch is a man of many words and a few cocktails. He was twice named one of Australia’s Top 100 bartenders, made it into the World Class Top 100 in 2018, and is the creator of quick-witted cocktails like the Flaming Galah and Jalapeno Business. Here, he takes a look at the idea of Old World vs New World whisky.
From its inception, whisky has been constantly evolving. After its mysterious and murky origins in Scotland and Ireland in the 15th century, changes in technology, ideology, resources and location saw ‘aqua vitae’ that is, whisky continuing to develop with time and place, becoming reflective and representative of a particular region or country, and reminiscent of their own whisky journey.
A bottle of whisky is a snapshot of the grain, the soil, the water, the stills, the oak and the countless pairs of hands along the way. In the modern whisky world we find ourselves at an exciting crossroads—where the old world meets the new, at a time when whisky has now become a global industry. This leads us to a common question—“But which is better, old or new world?”
The answer is…well, subjective.
Old world whisky is safe, familiar, entrenched in tradition and likely made the same way for generations. Traditionally associated with countries like Scotland, Ireland and America, methods have been developed over centuries and are fiercely protected by regulation. I like to think of old world whisky as the old timer in the corner—refined and experienced, they’ve seen it all, and are supremely confident as they’ve already learnt from their mistakes. No-one is going to tell them how to do things differently and this isn’t a bad thing as old world whisky is the bedrock upon which all other whiskies are built—whether it be Scotch, Irish Whiskey or Bourbon, they’ve earned their popularity and are deserving of their reverence.
In the last few decades a new player has entered the game. As the appetite for whisky grew around the world, countries began to look inward, with a desire to develop spirits that represented who they are. Why import or imitate? Why not make something uniquely our own? Free from strict regulations or appellations, countries like Australia are able to borrow from tradition and the knowledge gained through the experience of old world distilleries, but innovate and push the boundaries of what is considered ‘whisky’ in new and exciting ways. Ranging from endemic strains of grain and malting techniques to hybrid-styles of whisky, cask/oak, maturation and finishing, new world whisky comes with the vibrancy, energy and excitement of youth, whilst still paying respect to its elders.
Australia is at the forefront of this new wave, and at Archie Rose, we’re committed to this idea of constant evolution and experimentation at all stages of the process. Nowhere is this more present than with the release of our Single Malt Whisky, made with the uncommon use of six labour intensive malted barley varieties (four Australian, two international) producing a low-yielding but multi-layered and complex spirit. Paying homage to the iconic and highly respected Australian wine industry, we age our new-make spirit in predominantly ex-Apera (Australian Sherry) casks. We have created a Single Malt Whisky that is familiar and approachable but daring to be something different. A single malt with an Aussie accent, if you will.
We’re a progressive distillery, in a progressive country. We are not afraid to spend time chasing an idea down a rabbit hole, not knowing where it might lead, because we’re constantly striving to learn something new. And we have big plans to continue our exploration and development of the things we believe make us unique. We’re working closely with growers, producers and maltsters to cultivate our own bespoke varieties of Australian grain, for future use in the production of our whiskies—because we believe that Australian grain grown on local soil is unlike anything else in the world.
We are continually experimenting with different strains of yeast and how they influence fermentation and flavour development, with a goal to create our own distinctive strain down the line. Our desire for an extensive, experimental cask program sees us using a variety of wood types, some native, to impart bold new characteristics never before considered in whisky maturation such as 60-year-old Australian red gum casks.
All in all, it’s an amazingly exciting time to be a part of the Archie Rose whisky journey as it continues to unfold. Through collaboration, trial and error, and sometimes, happy surprises, we find ourselves on the frontline of a burgeoning Australian industry that is a mix of the old and new, with ties to tradition and heritage, however not afraid to forge our own path.
NEXT UP, PAUL SLATER SCHOOLS US ON ALL THINGS MALT. HE’S CURRENTLY OUR LOCKDOWN MAN IN MELBOURNE, RESPONSIBLE FOR SHEPHERDING ARCHIE ROSE THROUGHOUT VICTORIA AND TASMANIA. IT MUST BE MENTIONED HE’S A BIT OF AN EXPERT ON THE MATTER, WITH A WORLD WHISKY AMBASSADOR OF THE YEAR AWARD UNDER HIS BELT FROM THE AUSTRALIAN ICONS OF WHISKY.
I always look at single malt as an identity. It represents a sense of place, a mindset, the environment, the raw materials, and a culmination of a whole range of decisions made along the journey from grain to glass. For us, this process begins in the field, not the distillery. Sounds strange, right? Why would that be? Well, maybe that’s because few whisky producers pay as much attention to the raw materials—the grain, the malting process, the place it was born from and adapted in, dare I mention the word, ‘terroir’?
It would be a whole lot easier to use a high-yielding barley variety engineered for whisky production. If we take a look at the industry norm, we’d likely get the sense that it’s the best way to go—after all, that’s what the Scots have been doing for centuries. Here’s where we take a lesson from tradition, throw in a dash of experimentation, a tonne of patience through trials, a hit to the bottom line of our spreadsheets and an unwavering persistence to achieve a specific goal; a unique six grain Single Malt Whisky that speaks to all the elements that have gone into it. And it’s a damn tasty one!
We use four local malts: Australian pale, amber, caramel and chocolate. Each of these contribute their own flavour profile and personality, albeit a personality that can sometimes be a challenge to our brewers. There’s a rewarding feeling when you can trace these grains back to the field, to the Australian landscape that offered these up to us, and to the conversations with the growers and maltsters that nurtured these precious pearls for our benefit.
The effects of the dry Australian climate and ancient soils produce a barley grain unlike those you’d find in contrasting landscapes, particularly Europe. Couple our unique grain with the relationship with our maltsters, and you’ll often find the less conventional malting regimes employed means we typically sacrifice spirit yield to gain flavour.
Next, we add to the mix two international malts: aromatic roasted and peated pale. Until the day we can produce these commercially at home, we’ll continue to source these from the best available growers abroad. As you may have guessed, flavour and complexity are the key drivers here and the key to individuality.
“But hang on a moment buddy, you’re rambling on about SIX grains when the whole conversation is about SINGLE malt!? Sounds like a contradiction to me.” Well thanks for the reminder, I’m glad you asked. We’re blessed with some fairly malleable whisky laws in Australia (let’s save that essay for next time), though you’ll find Archie Rose’s method of making Single Malt Whisky will qualify us pretty much anywhere in the world.
When chatting to folks, I think defining single malt is best kept simple; we are talking about a whisky made from a mash bill of malted barley produced at a single distillery. In Australia it must be aged in wood for a minimum of two years. Of course there’s more detail…why don’t you let us buy you a dram sometime and we can chat through it in depth?
I must admit it’s pretty damn cool to be part of a rare outfit that pays such attention to each nuance of a very time consuming, intricate and costly process. It’s an uncommon path we are treading here and an extremely rewarding time to be part of the global whisky industry, representing Australian whisky in an innovative style that speaks to our sense of place beyond anything yet seen, or more importantly, tasted.
How much does a cask influence the final flavour of a whisky? We all know the best whisky is the darkest one, right? Daniel Hutchins-Read, Sydney’s local Ambassador and 2017 winner of Icons of Whisky Australia Scotch Whisky Brand Ambassador of the Year takes a deeper look at these questions, led by the notion that if half of your whisky’s flavour comes from the casks, mature with the best.
Let’s be honest, marketing departments have a lot to answer for when it comes to misconceptions in whisky. How often have you heard the old adage that 70-75% of a whisky’s character typically comes from the cask and only 25-30% actually comes from the spirit? Well in case you haven’t noticed, we’re pretty excited about the malts we use to make our whisky (and the characteristics we get from them) so when it comes to maturing our whisky, we’re aiming for more of a 50/50 split between cask influence and spirit influence. Developing the right balance between oak and spirit my friends, is the very definition of maturity in whisky.
Knowing how much time and effort we put into sourcing and distilling our exacting six malt mash bill, you’d better believe we aren’t maturing it in just any old casks. Spanish Sherry casks are probably the best-known cask type when it comes to traditional Single Malt Whiskies but, as you can imagine, we were not content to simply follow tradition.
Archie Rose is a proudly Australian distillery and as our founder Will says: “our vision for whisky has always been to speak of our experience as Australians.” This led us to instead look to Australia’s long and rich history in fortified wine production and locally produced Sherry, now known as ‘Apera’. By maturing predominantly in the highest quality Apera casks, we ensure that the resulting whisky speaks further to our Australian home. The natural sweetness from the Apera, on the other hand, perfectly compliments the more savoury characteristics of the spirit. Back this up with a small portion of ex-bourbon and our own first-fill ex-rye malt whisky casks for added depth and complexity and you just know you’re in for a good time.
All of us at Archie Rose have been aching to share our Single Malt Whisky with the world for years now. Let’s be honest, the distilling team has taken their sweet time in getting us a finished product! And thank goodness for that. This is in part because we are using a range of cask sizes, from 100L to 300L and beyond. The larger casks are some of the largest casks in use in the Australian whisky industry. And, generally speaking, the larger the cask, the slower the maturation (think surface area to volume ratio).
Maturation, remember, is not all about the addition of oak influence, there is also subtraction and interaction at work—a longer maturation allows more of these other processes to come into play, ultimately resulting in a better whisky. We reckon it’s worth the wait!
Last but not least, Nick Baxter takes the stage. He heads up our Ambassador team from Sydney and really just wants us all to chill out—when it comes to filtration, that is. That’s where we’re wrapping this series today, with a word on chill filtration. What the hell is it, exactly? And why was it so important when it came to creating our Single Malt Whisky?
There are some staunch, ingrained beliefs, or opinions on chill filtration. You’ll often find NON-CHILL FILTERED proudly stamped on the front of bottles. However, when it comes to filtration, I think we should not only all chill out, but also take another look at what chill filtration actually is—and crucially, how it impacts the final flavour profile of your dram.
In our minds, chill filtration is just another tool, that if used deftly and correctly, can be hugely important to assist in producing the best possible expression of a spirit. After all, running a spirit through a sock in a minus-five degrees Scottish winter will surely give you a far colder chill filtration than using the same process on a 30 degree day in Sydney or Kentucky!
In all seriousness, we like to think of filtration as a process to generate flavour or to highlight other specific flavours within a particular spirit, with the flexibility to use it as a tool, where applicable, to make better spirits.
In the recent past, we have released whiskies that are completely unfiltered (containing both flocculant and fine cask char like our Ironbark Rye Malt Whisky); right up to those that are non-traditionally cool-filtered (our World’s Best winning Rye Malt Whisky). This decision is made based on the style of the whisky, ABV and the objectives of our production team.
As a young, Australian distillery, we feel that to commit to only one form of filtration—whether that be none, ambient, or chill-filtration across all whiskies—is too simplistic and does not respect the varied nature and production demands of differing styles. Hence, we aim to make an informed decision as to the style of filtration that we adopt for each of our whisky releases.
We think there’s a lot more nuance to the specifics of chill filtration, differing degrees of filtration in general, and of course, various levels of impact on the final character. It’s something we’re very keen to start talking about in more detail, such as when we use it, to what degree and why. That’s because transparency is core to our values at Archie Rose. You can sift through it all, from malt source to cask seasoning, on the Spirit Data section of our website. For now, grab a glass, pour yourself a dram, and chill out.
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