Drinks Whisky

Top 10 Australian Craft Spirits

The Australian craft spirit industry is undergoing a revolution. Whether it’s whisky from Queensland, sloe gin from Tasmania or rum from Western Australia, interest in local brands is growing among consumers with several bars stocking and promoting quality local craft spirits.

Here at Gourmantic, we have always been big fans of the local craft industry, be it beer, whisky, rum, gin, cider, vermouth or liqueurs. As Australian craft spirits have come a long way, so has our appreciation of the skills and dedication of the individuals behind them. We have the pleasure of featuring the Top 10 Australian Craft Spirits presented in alphabetic order.

1. Belgrove Rye Whisky

Belgrove Rye Whisky
Belgrove Rye Whisky

Belgrove Distillery was established by Peter Bignell in 2010 and is Australia’s only Rye Distillery. Located North of Hobart in Tasmania, the distillery is one of very few in the world that grows its own grain, malts, ferments, distils and barrel ages on site. It is the only biodiesel powered still in the world.

Owner/Distiller Peter Bignell runs a sustainable operation from growing his own rye to building his own copper pot still.The spent mash is used to feed pigs or cattle and cooling water from his dam. Waste water is either recycled or used for irrigation of the next rye crop.

Belgrove Rye Whisky (42% ABV) comes in a 500 ml bottle. The whisky is non-chill filtered, very smooth on the palate with prominent spice, caramel and vanilla and good length on the finish. Best enjoyed neat, but it fares equally well in an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan.

2. The Big Black Cock – Single Barrel Single Malt Whiskey

The Big Black Cock – Single Barrel Single Malt Whiskey
The Big Black Cock – Single Barrel Single Malt Whiskey

Bearing a memorable name and a striking package, The Big Black Cock – Single Barrel Single Malt Whiskey (43% ABV) hails from Mt Uncle Distillery in Cairns. The bottle wears a distinctive yellow wax seal and matching imagery and comes in a “caged” wooden box with a chicken wire screen.

The whiskey* is made using Queensland malted barley and aged for 5 years in American and French oak barrels. On the nose, TBBC has orchard fruit, banana bread, sweetness and gentle spice. On the palate, there is a little sweetness along with Christmas fruit and spice. A chewy mouthfeel leads to  a short finish. Pleasant sipping, The Big Black Cock comes in a 700ml bottle and suits a dessert/after dinner style of whisky and goes well with hard cheeses and dried fruit.

* whiskey is the spelling used on the bottle

3. Crazy Uncle Moonshine

Crazy Uncle Moonshine
Crazy Uncle Moonshine

At Whipper Snapper Distillery in East Perth, Western Australia, owners Jimmy McKeown, Tom Cooper and Alasdair Malloch are in the process of creating their first whiskey. The spirit is made in the traditional American style but cannot be called bourbon as it is not made in the USA.

While their “Australian Corn Whiskey” is currently ageing in American oak barrels, they have released the Crazy Uncle Moonshine, made from corn, wheat and malted barley. With its distinctive straight jacket label wrapped around the bottle, Moonshine is bottled at 40% ABV and has a clean, fresh taste and a creamy texture.

4. Iridium Dark Rum

FNQ Rum Co Iridium Dark Rum
Iridium Dark Rum

From Mt Uncle Distillery in Cairns, Queensland comes FNQ Rum Co Iridium Dark Rum (40% ABV), the first and only premium cane spirit rum in Australia. Triple distilled in a copper pot still, the single barrel aged rum is made from 100% Far North Queensland sugar cane syrup, not molasses.

The distillate is filtered through Cairns Highland’s volcanic rock which purifies and enriches the spirit and in turn gives it a smooth mouthfeel. The rum is aged just over 4 years in American oak casks that previously held red wine which give the rum its distinctive copper/amber colour.

The imagery on the 700ml bottle of Iridium Dark Rum depicts the tropical reef and rainforest of Far North Queensland. On the nose, there’s spice, vanilla and nutty aroma with toffee apple on the palate with cinnamon, spice, toasty oak, and a lingering caramel finish.

5. McHenry Old English Sloe Gin

McHenry Old English Style Sloe Gin
McHenry Old English Sloe Gin

William McHenry & Sons Distillery is located on the side of Mount Arthur in Tasmania and is Australia’s southern-most whisky distillery. Bill McHenry produces a traditional English style Sloe gin, McHenry Old English Sloe Gin (30% ABV) using sloe berries sourced from the hedge rows around Tasmania and macerated for up to 12 months in McHenry Classic Dry Gin. The distillery has a cool, maritime climate which gives it spirit the right conditions to mature in oak barrels.

McHenry Old English Style Sloe Gin comes in a 700ml bottle. The spirit has a faint woody character on the nose. On the palate, it is well rounded and surprisingly not as sweet as other sloe gins in the category. Sip neat as an an aperitif, or after dinner, in cocktails. It is popular in a Bramble, a Sloe Gin Fizz or simply as a Sloe Royale topped with dry sparkling wine.

6. Monsoon Gin

Monsoon Gin
Monsoon Gin

The name alone evokes the exotic. From Bass & Flinders Distillery in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula comes  Monsoon Gin (40% ABV), made with a blend of 8 botanicals including ginger, lemongrass and coriander.

Bass & Flinders Distillery is located in a wine-growing area which is which is an hour’s drive south of Melbourne. Founded by Wayne Klintworth and Bob Laing, it was initially created for producing a high end aged grape spirit similar to Cognac. A 300 litre French designed copper Alembic still is used to produce a range of spirits including the limited release, Winter Gin. Monsoon Gin is produced by vapour distilled infusion in small batches and results in a smooth, dry and refreshing spirit with pronounced botanicals. The gin comes in a 500ml bottle and has won Silver Medal the San Francisco World Spirit Competition.

Monsoon Gin is coriander and citrus forward on the nose with a ginger kick and lemongrass on the back palate. Delicious neat as a savoury palate cleanser, in a gin and tonic with lime, in a dry Martini garnished with a Kaffir lime leaf or in Asian-style cocktails.

7. Ord River Rum Overproof

Hoochery Ord River Rum Overproof
Ord River Rum Overproof

From Hoochery Distillery in Western Australia comes Ord River Rum Overproof (56.4% ABV), winner of the Champion Rum Trophy in the 2014 Royal Melbourne Fine Foods Awards.

Hoochery Distillery is the oldest legal still in Western Australia. Located in Kununurra in the Kimberley region, it is a 100% Australian owned and operated family business. Ord River Rum is made from local sugar cane, wet season rainwater and yeast that is vat-fermented, pot-distilled, aged and hand-bottled. The rum is charcoal filtered, aged in 300 litre American oak barrels which impart natural colour and flavour. The small pot distillery has the capacity to produce over 50,000 bottles of Ord River Rum a year.

Ord River Rum Overproof is full-flavoured, with notes of vanilla, fruit, dark chocolate, spice and brown sugar with an oaky and smooth finish. the rum is available in a 750 ml bottle/

8. Regal Rogue Bianco

Regal Rogue Bianco
Regal Rogue Bianco

For Regal Rogue Vermouth Bianco, Founder Mark Ward wanted to marry Australian wine with native herbs and spices from the outback. The result is a world first native Australian style aperitif vermouth created with a combination of bush lemons, finger limes, sage, oregano, basil, thyme, lemongrass and vanilla.

Golden yellow in colour, the vermouth (18% ABV) has a fresh citrus aroma with a hint of sweet floral notes. Regal Rogue Bianco goes well with Australian gin and vodka, and makes a fine Martini. To fully appreciate the flavour, sip over ice, with a wedge of lemon, lime or white grapefruit.

Like all vermouths, once opened, the 750 ml bottle should be refrigerated and consumed at its best within seven days.

9. Stone Pine Barrique Rum No. 3

Stone Pine Barrique Rum
Stone Pine Barrique Rum

Hailing from Bathurst in NSW, Stone Pine Distillery is owned by Bev and Ian Glen whose backgrounds go back to the Scottish brewing and distilling industry.

Stone Pine Barrique Rum (40% ABV) is made from blackstrap molasses which are fermented and distilled in small batches. The rum is matured in medium toasted barriques, (225L ex-American oak casks) which give a lot of contact with the wood and imparts a massive influence on its character.

Stone Pine Barrique Rum No. 3 has a complex mouthfeel with notes of vanilla, coconut and burnt caramel with a medium length and oaky finish on the palate. Sip neat to savour its complexity or top with dry ginger ale, a wedge of lemon and ice.

Stone Pine Barrique Rum is available in 375ml and 750 ml bottles. The distillery also produces Botanic Australis Gin which we featured in a previous article.

10. Tiger Snake Sour Mash Whiskey

Tiger Snake Sour Mash Bourbon
Tiger Snake Sour Mash Whiskey

From the Great Southern Distilling Company in Albany, Western Australia comes Tiger Snake Sour Mash Whiskey (43% ABV), Australia’s first legal Sour Mash Whiskey. The spirit was awarded a bronze medal at the Royal Agricultural Society of Tasmania a year before it was bottled.

Tiger Snake Sour Mash Whiskey takes inspiration from great Tennessee whiskeys and Kentucky bourbons. Made from corn, rye and malted barley, the spirit is a small batch distillation with single cask releases and individually numbered 700 ml bottles.

Strong notes of vanilla, sweetness and marzipan with caramel and hazelnuts give Tiger Snake Sour Mash Whiskey a unique flavour coupled with elegant spices and fruit.

The whiskey takes its name from the venomous Western Tiger Snake. Native to the area, the species has developed an affinity to the barrels and can occasionally be found at the distillery.

** Click HERE for the Top 10 Australian Gin.**

Photography & Styling © by Gourmantic – Copyright: All rights reserved.

About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is a drinks writer, author of GROW YOUR OWN COCKTAIL GARDEN, SHRUBS & BOTANICAL SODAS and founder/editor of Gourmantic, Cocktails & Bars and The Gourmantic Garden. She has been writing extensively about spirits, cocktails, bars and cocktail gardening in more recent years. She is a spirits and cocktail competition judge, Icons of Whisky Australia nominee, contributor to Diageo Bar Academy, cocktail developer and is named in Australian Bartender Magazine's Top 100 Most Influential List. Her cocktail garden was featured on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia and has won several awards. She is a contributor to Real World Gardener radio program and is featured in several publications including Pip Magazine, Organic Gardener, Australian Bartender and Breathe (UK). Read the full bio here.