What even is Australian whisky, anyway?
What even is Australian whisky, anyway? We ask Archie Rose’s Master Distiller, Dave Withers.
Archie Rose whisky has been in the works for a long time now. Why has it taken so long?
As the saying goes, nothing worthwhile in life is ever easy, but more importantly, we subscribe to the belief that the whisky is ready when it is ready. We do not aim for a particular age and decant it precisely on that day or to a strict production schedule, rather we will monitor the whisky as it approaches maturation and decant it from cask when we feel it is at its absolute best - balancing the flavour and influence of the malt, spirit and cask.
What kind of whisky are you hoping for when it’s ready?
Our vision for whisky has always been to speak of our experience as Australians. We want to craft a distinct, charming and flavoursome spirit which showcases the regional character of the malts it is made up of, complemented by great quality oak. We’ve spent an enormous amount of time in research and development, looking at how we can create a rich and engaging, complex yet affordable whisky. And we believe we’ve made something really special.
What part of the Archie Rose whisky journey excites you the most?
Australia provides the world with an enormous amount of malting grade barley. It’s grown right here in our backyard in conditions unlike any other, and with varieties that aren’t used anywhere else on earth, so we’re tapping into that wherever possible and highlighting the incredible quality and diversity of this malt. We also have a fantastic wine industry which has produced extremely high quality fortified wines for well over a century; and we have a climate which promotes rapid extraction of flavour from oak during maturation. These are just some of the tools we’re using to craft an interesting and innovative whisky.
What are Archie’s main rules for making whisky?
With summer days that reach well over 40 degrees, our whisky matures significantly faster than in Europe, so rather than fight against the natural climate, we ensure we produce a flavoursome but clean spirit that doesn’t require decades to reach maturity. Furthermore, we ensure we keep a close eye on maturation to ensure balance between the malt, spirit and cask.
How does the Archie Rose approach differ to how more traditional distilleries make whisky in Scotland, the USA, Ireland or Japan, say?
Many of the principles of whisky production are the same throughout the world. But where other more traditional distilleries might be constrained to operate a certain way because ‘that’s the way it’s always been done,’ Archie Rose is not. We’ve trialled different yeasts, fermentation conditions, mashing regimes, cask treatments, malts and distillation techniques, just for starters. In short, I’d say Archie Rose is different because of our desire to challenge tradition where appropriate, long-term commitment to R&D, and willingness to work with difficult raw materials, processes and production techniques, that others would likely not persevere with, all in search of flavour and quality.
What are some of the biggest challenges in producing whisky in Australia, and in Sydney specifically?
Definitely public perception. Most whisky drinkers are still unaware that great quality whisky can be made in Sydney or even Australia. We have a really long history of distilling and manufacturing quality spirits as far back as the 1700s – and it’s a big shame to me that we don’t talk more about Australian distilling and its roots in Sydney, in particular.
Does Australian whisky have its own special characteristics?
Our grain has origins very different to that grown in the wet and cloudy conditions of the UK. It’s grown in the dry red earth, under big blue skies and shares the fields with gum trees. So that, coupled with a very different maturation environment, really make for a spirit with unique character. It’s fundamental to us as distillers to understand the place a whisky, and its components, are made. The two things really can’t be separated.
Ten years from now, do you think the Australian whisky landscape will have changed from what it is today?
Absolutely! It’s changed so much in the last few years alone. No doubt we’ll see an increase in the number of whisky distilleries in operation – but more importantly, we hope to see an increase in awareness for the Australian whisky industry as we continue to produce some of the world’s very best whiskies.
What’s the one thing you’d like people to understand about whisky?
I think great distilling sits at a really interesting crossroads, somewhere between science, art and business. Even when you understand all of the scientific principles of whisky production, it only explains so much. There’s still a strong element of mystery in creating whisky – an intangible complexity which can catch you off guard.
And if you had to convince a staunch Scotch drinker to try Australian-made whisky in one sentence. What would you say?
No words. Slides glass of Archie Rose across the table. . .