A Whisky Lover’s Guide To Perth And Beyond
Perth has always loved whisky, but small-batch distilleries and greater access to micro-brands has made the market stronger than ever.
No longer a tipple associated just with the suits, the whisky market in Australia is stronger than ever. Driven by consumer trends towards more premium spirits, the range of local and international whiskies available at market is tenfold that of a decade ago.
Reserve manager for Diageo’s single malts and blended whiskies, and brand ambassador Kevin Clark, says that Perth’s whisky market has always been there, but a high level of access has created an even stronger market.
“We are quite lucky as we have access to so many high-end whiskies and limited whiskies that really aren’t available in a lot of other markets around the world,” Clark says.
Distilled in Scotland and Ireland since as early as the 15th Century, it is only in the last 20 years that Australia has begun its own foray into whisky production.
“Official numbers from 2015 say there are about 360,000L of whisky produced in Australia each year. 200,000 of that is from Tasmania,” says Clark.
Since Lark Distillery in Tasmania opened its doors in the early 90’s, some 29 more registered whisky distillers have popped up around the country. With several international accolades awarded to West Australian whiskies in the past few years, the winning distilleries firmly cement themselves up there with the best.
“The freedom that Australian and West Australian whisky distillers have is that they can make their whisky whatever they want it to be’ says Clark. ‘They are not necessarily going to go for a typically peaty style like Islay, or a heather note, honey flavour with viscosity; essentially it comes down to what the individual distiller wants.
“Generally, you will find most Australian whiskies are quite easy drinking. They are not too intense. I don’t think I have ever had an Australian or West Australian whisky that I didn’t like.”
Western Australia’s best whisky distilleries
“Limeburners is probably one of our more popular whisky distilleries in WA,” says Clark. With just under 15 single malt whiskies to their name, Limeburners’ multi-disciplinary distillery in Albany is WA’s largest whisky producer, and most awarded distillery.
Named the ‘Best International Craft Whisky in the World’ by the American Distilled Spirits Awards, Limeburners’ Darkest Winter Single Malt Whisky is distinctly West Australian. Its smokiness comes from peat collected in the iconic Valley of the Giants. Experimenting with other flavours, Limeburners is also known for their sherry, port and American oak cask finished whiskies.
“Finishing in sherry casks, helps the flavour quite a lot,” says Clark.
“It is more expensive to do that way, but it is the trend. It has been like that for a little while now – even ageing in sherry.”
Fellow South West distillery, The Grove Distillery, dabbles in production of both American style whiskies and limited edition single malts; as well as beer brewing and liqueur making. Established in 1995, it was the first distillery to pop up in the Margaret River wine region.
On the fringe of the CBD, Perth’s Whipper Snapper distillery may be young, but they sure know what they are doing. Starting with the production of moonshine in an East Perth warehouse in 2014, they now produce 3 drams from 100% West Australian sourced ingredients – traditional moonshine, barrel aged moonshine, and a distinctly Australian, bourbon-style whisky that launched just last year.
According to Clark, “It is a great place to drop by and visit. Being a distillery in the CBD it is quite accessible, and a good place to learn about the process of making whisky in the Whipper Snapper style.”
Perth’s best whisky bars
Tucked down an alleyway in the CBD is the much-loved whisky den, Helvetica. Their extensive whisky list includes 31 Australian whiskies (10 of which are from WA), a Macallan 24yo Silver Seal whisky at $205 a nip, and everything in between.
“The staff at Helvetica are continually learning about whisky and they are more than happy to help you with your selection of whisky when you are in there as well. It depends on the night you go down there – earlier during the week on a Wednesday or Thursday night, you can usually have a good chat to the staff about the whisky you are drinking and learn a little bit as well”, says Clark.
Across the city lies Dominion League; a bar that opened its doors on the back of Perth’s whisky boom.
“The range that these guys have is phenomenal – they have spent the extra money to purchase the products,” says Clark.
“At any one time, they have $20,000 plus on the back bar. Obviously, they have invested in it to hit a certain market.”
With a dedicated, speak-easy style whisky den beneath the main bar, Dominion’s collection of over 260 bottles shows serious dedication to a good tipple.
“Outside of these bars, there are still a lot of other bars that hold a good range of whisky”, notes Clark.
“It seems that with all the new hotels opening up, there is a trend of having more back bar products. In the past, hotels have usually only stocked the basics and lobby bars haven’t been a really popular thing. But I think they are trying to push that with all the 5-star and 6-star hotels that are opening up; giving people more options and keeping people there. Crown’s new lobby bar has just opened, and they are pushing a lot of products through there. We have used their venues for the launch of the rare malts – which are an annual release from us – that you can’t get anywhere else in WA.”
Perth’s best whisky retailers
‘There is a good range of local bottle shops in Perth that specialise in the higher end products. There is Mane Liquor, DeVine Cellars, The Re Store, Cellarbrations Superstore and even Gangemi’s in West Perth. They’ve got some stuff there that even I can’t get hold, from the brands that the company I work for own. You can get your hands on some really cool stuff from them.”
Best Western Australian whisky events
“The big yearly event held in each state around Australia, is Whisky Live“, says Clark.
Held at the Pan Pacific at the end of March each year, tickets are $110.00.
“I think that is one of the best opportunities to get out and try whisky. It is good value for money because you have pretty much every single supplier of whisky at your fingertips. Majority of vendors are showcasing single malt whisky, but there is also some American whisky, even sometimes gin or rum.
“There are tastings and sometimes something more adventurous like virtual reality. You get to taste something like 100 whiskies in a day. It is a really good way to open up your world to whisky.”
“Venues are also open to doing whisky dinners and introductory sessions to help teach the market and customers that you can drink all these different types of whiskies in different ways.”
Hosted by individual bars and venues, these events are intimate whisky showcases, often paired with a three-course meal. Advertised privately by the bars, the best way to keep up to date with scheduled whisky events is via their e-newsletters and social channels.
(Lead image: Helvetica’s Japanese whisky selection. Photo: Helvetica)
Published 22 September, 2017