Australian whisky has achieved some incredible feats in its short lifetime, but its availability and pricing has largely put it out of reach as an everyday dram.
With very few exceptions – Melbourne’s Starward Whisky being the obvious one – local whisky is still produced on a relatively small scale, with eye-watering prices are driven by its rarity, collectability and to some extent hype.
Pricing upwards of $200 for a 500ml bottle is routine for most Australian single malt distillers, which release whiskies in bottles individually numbered to denote the cask they were from.
Sullivans Cove’s remarkable achievement of being named world’s best single malt on two separate occasions has underpinned its pricing of between $220 and $450 for its standard release whiskies, and $750 for a recent one-off limited edition bottling.
But 27 years after pioneering distiller Bill Lark set up shop in Tasmania, there are signs that the industry is entering a new phase.
Kathleen Davies, from Australian spirits distributor Nip of Courage believes prices are about to start sliding south and become somewhat more affordable.
"I think as people increase economies of scale, they'll be able to afford to bring the price down," she predicts. "We'll start to see whiskies sitting between $120 to $200 in the near future (and) I think that's really important to make it more accessible for Australians to try."
All the whisky distillers she represents are currently scaling up their operations, while Sydney's Archie Rose has already announced plans to build a second, much larger distillery.
It all points to 2019 being a landmark year for availability of Australian whisky. In the meantime, you'll need to part with a bit more of your hard-earned to get your hands on a bottle.
Here are some of the current and upcoming releases that are getting me excited.
Bakery Hill Distillery Peated Single Malt Cask Strength: Matured in American oak and bottled at 60 per cent ABV, this release from Victoria's Bakery Hill scored 93/100 in Jim Murray's Whisky Bible. Offers an exotic mix of complex smoky peat, tobacco leaf earthiness and sweet, fruity notes ($210 for 500ml).
Belgrove Distillery Rye Whisky Shiraz Cask: The ex-Shiraz casks soften the trademark spiciness of the rye, but it still packs a heck of a punch at 60 per cent ABV. More adventurous drinkers can from October 2018 sample ‘Wholly Shit’, an upcoming rye whisky from Belgrove that has been smoked with sheep dung! ($210 for 500ml).
Great Southern Distilling Company Tiger Snake Australian Whiskey: Australia's first bourbon-style whiskey is made from a classic grain bill of corn, rye and malted barley, sourced entirely from Great Southern's home state of Western Australia ($130 for 700ml).
McHenry Distillery Single Malt Whisky Barrel 13: Tasmania-based McHenry plans to launch some age statement whiskies next year. In the meantime, look out for its latest single barrel release due in October 2018, aged for five years in ex-Heaven Hill Bourbon American Oak and finished in ex-Port French Oak ($270 for 500ml).
Timboon Christie's Cut Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky: This new addition to Timboon's core range was aged in ex-Port casks and bottled at 60 per cent ABV. It's a big and bold malt offering notes of raisins, smoke and spice ($225 for 500ml).