On tasting: 23rd Street Distillery Single Malt Whisky, Smith’s Angaston 15 Year Old, Iniquity Batch 14 and Gold Batch No. 1, and Fleurieu ‘Whisky Kisses’ and ‘Atlantic Crossing’
South Australia is no stranger to the whisky game. But as one of the heartlands of Australian wine, the whisky side of the equation has, understandably, remained in the shadows. But there’s serious heritage here. Thebarton Distillery in Adelaide was distilling grain in pots and columns as far back as the 1890s. Later, it produced huge amounts of malt whisky under the stewardship of Milne and Co. and then W&A Gilbeys.
One of the world’s greatest wine regions has never been short of stills. It’s little wonder, then, that winemakers are responsible for South Australia’s cult whisky, Smith’s Angaston. Smith & Son’s Yalumba winery has been firing up its pot still since the 1930s. In between making brandy, they even released Smith’s whisky or ‘Imperial Vat’ from the 50s through to the early 1970s.
But in 1997, the Smith’s Angaston whisky story began, when Yalumba ran charges of wash from Coopers Brewery through the old pot. The spirit was then filled into red wine, white wine, apera and tawny casks. Consider how significant wine cask matured Australian whisky might become in future, and it’s baffling Yalumba hasn’t pushed the experiment further. Sporadic malt distillations have been carried out by Smith & Sons over the past two decades, but through the intervals, a thriving South Australian whisky scene has emerged.
Ian Schmidt and Victor Orlow were the first brave newcomers, with Southern Coast Distillers and now Iniquity single malt whisky. Gareth and Angela Andrews then turned Steam Exchange Brewery into Fleurieu Distillery, and the single malts they’ve created in Goolwa are some of the best you’ll try anywhere. After them, McLaren Vale/Rochfort Distillery joined the gang with their complex whiskies and even more complicated antics (I do hope we see more whisky on that front in future).
The inimitable Sacha La Forgia’s been dabbling in whisky up in the hills, basically throwing out the rule book to create his own Australian ‘whisky’ using native seeds and cereals (more on that soon). Then there’s Renmark north of Adelaide, where the 23rd Street Distillery have offered up their own South Aussie whisky, a fresh and vibrant single malt matured in, shock horror, ex-Bourbon casks. And up the road, St Agnes, Australian’s finest brandy producer, are quietly letting their malt whisky slumber until it’s absolutely perfect (and that’s a team that knows a thing or two about perfection).
If you were placing bets, it’d be hard not to back in South Australia as a future leader in Australian whisky production. It’s got all the ingredients (all those wine casks…), all the skills, and plenty of people who know how to create, market and sell great booze. And best of all, they seem fairly incapable of making bad whisky, as you’ll find out below.