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Editor’s Letter by Master Distiller, Dave Withers

It's just one man’s opinion, but whisky is pretty great, right? It’s a drink that can enliven an occasion and create memories. Whisky can provoke conversation and should always raise the taste buds. Yet one of the most interesting things about this chameleon of a beverage is its ability to sum up the place and culture that made it. All in a single glass.
I did not come by this idea by chance. If you will permit me a detour in explaining, my upbringing was a pretty strange one by most people’s standards. Being raised in a family of winemakers, I was given an unusual education on alcoholic beverages, one that was instilled in me from an age well before I could legally consume the stuff. As a child, instead of fairytales of knights and dragons, I recall my father regaling me with stories of legendary winemakers. Perhaps they were heroic figures who were so in tune with the land that they could predict the exact time the rain would come that afternoon. Or maybe they were mysterious hermits who guarded their secretive vineyards and techniques closely like witches and their cauldrons.

These enchanting, not quite fictional characters all had one aspect in common: they were craftspeople dedicated to expressing the purity of the place and the personality of their process. Each and every one had a duty to their raw materials, which ultimately meant engaging with their provenance. At the heart of the idea of an epic winemaker was the idea that wine is a product of its environment, honed by the land, the hands and the quirks of the artisan. When I became a distiller I found it hard to dismiss the idea that whisky, just like wine, is a snapshot of the place and culture which produced it. If treated well, the ingredients should have soul and charisma borne of an authentic origin. Likewise, the distiller(s) must also be seen in the final spirit. As every single choice is made in the forging of spirit, a certain imprint is made on whisky. Honed circumstance, there is an unmistakable and indelible fingerprint left on whisky, which reflects the forces that crafted it.

Were I to reflect on the start of whisky distillation at Archie Rose 2014, so many of the decisions we made about how to distil our spirit, as well as the materials selected, mirrored the place and sort of people we are. Almost unconsciously, but certainly effortlessly, we focussed on creating whiskies that tell the story of who we are as Australians, to Australians and the world. Whether it is the use of local and Australian malts, the deployment of Australian fortified wine casks, the exploration of native timber to smoke our grain or the discovery of historic casks of native wood, our whiskies have fluently told the story of who Archie Rose is as a group of people and where we come from.

The use of local raw materials to forge our whiskies has been an intersection of choice, chance and opportunity. These fantastic ingredients have always been right in front of us, and we are willing (as well as eager) to ensure they get the platform they deserve. Perhaps, the use of local ingredients reflects a sense of pride in who we are as a nation and a sense of duty to honour the long history of distilling we have in this country. Some of the most spectacular ingredients to make whisky are right on our doorstep (did you know we grow over a third of the world’s malting grain barley in Australia?). Searching for the very best grain available, whether heritage, custom malted or exceedingly rare, has always felt natural to us. Doing anything else would almost seem to snub the wealth of distilling riches convenient to us.

After a decade of whisky distillation at Archie Rose, we have offered up as much commentary as possible on what a truly Australian whisky could look like. But the best is yet to come…