On tasting: Overeem XO Brandy, Sullivans Cove XO Brandy Single Cask, Lark Rivière du Nord XO Brandy, Black Gate Dark Rum, Archie Rose Virgin Cane Rhum, Requiem Rum SS Ferret
Australian distilleries have never followed the Old World rule book. Unlike many of the classic whisky, brandy and rum distilleries overseas, Australian producers have almost always distilled multiple styles of spirit.
I’m not just talking about recent distilleries, either. Nearly all of the significant early Australian whisky producers, like Warrenheip, Federal, Corio and others, produced either gin, brandy or rum alongside their flagship whiskies.
Joshua Brothers are perhaps the best exemplars. While the Federal Distillery they founded in Port Melbourne in 1884 became better known for its whisky production into the 1900s, most of their early success was with brandy and rum. Their Boomerang Brandy, in particular, caused a stir in the 1890s when it was favourably, and frequently, compared to the top Cognacs of the day by European critics. Against fierce competition, the Melbourne brandy even won a gold medal at the Antwerp International Exhibition of 1894, with ‘high encomiums’ on the quality of the spirit.
In Australia, our big advantage is that we successfully grow pretty much every base ingredient for the production of dark spirits (grapes from the Yarra Valley and Geelong were used for Boomerang Brandy).
Joshua Brothers also founded the Yarraville Sugar Works in Melbourne in 1873 to refine Queensland sugar cane (it’s still in operation today). It was taken over by CSR a few years later, but that didn’t stop Federal Distillery using molasses produced at the plant to create Joshua Brothers Victorian rum, which was first released in the late 1880s.
Melbourne’s Yarraville Sugar Works, 1872-3. Photo – Charles Nettleton, State Library Victoria
When whisky distillers like Lark, Sullivans Cove, Great Southern and Southern Coast Distilling started producing brandies and rums in the early 2000s, they were actually continuing a long tradition stretching back over 130 years.
Today, it’s standard practice for Australian whisky makers to produce other spirits (it’s almost odd if an Aussie whisky distiller doesn’t make a gin, right?).
For some distilleries like Archie Rose, Black Gate, Twenty Third Street and Mt Uncle, their whiskies, gins, brandies and rums are basically promoted in equal measure, which is handy if one style is on the wane (sorry brandy, but your day will come again!).
Of course, whisky is our focus here at Oz Whisky Review. But in reality, multi-spirit distilleries have always been the norm Down Under, and the story of the Australian whisky industry can’t be fully explored without paying homage to those spirits.
Besides, we can’t resist a detour now and then, particularly when our whisky distillers make so many amazing brandies and rums. In fact, one of the distinct strengths of the Australian whisky industry is just how good these side projects are.