Australians were once strictly importers of mass-produced spirits, making the emergence of a whole new industry so exciting – the boutique distillery.
The spirits industry in Australia is in the middle of a revolution. As consumers have become more discerning in their consumer choices overall, so too are they becoming more astute when choosing their favourite tipple.
Boutique: ‘Any small, exclusive business offering customized service’. Whisky, vodka, gin, rum and even the slightly obscure (and often overlooked and misunderstood) vermouth have been tackled head-on by a merry band of passionate, knowledgeable and thought-provoking distillers, many of whom have come from backgrounds far removed from the distilling industry.
They have arrived on the scene via a labour of love, and have learnt their craft on the job whilst putting their money where their mouths are and venturing out on their own to set up boutique labels.
The rise of the boutique distiller in Australia can trace its roots back only 20 years ago to the backwaters of Tasmania following a change of legislation which had previously prohibited small-batch distillation. In the ensuing 20 odd years the change in the sprits landscape has been vast – and the spirit drinker has never had it so good.
The common themes running through this new, exciting and invigorating industry often sees small-batch distillation coupled with the use of native ingredients, organic raw materials, cool, classy and quirky bottling, a deep understanding of the history of the various different spirits in question, and a personal touch and enthusiasm that you can only get when the chaps and chapettes behind the labels are truly in love with what they do.
And it really translates to the products themselves. The boutique spirits that are flooding the market today have a boisterous energy as well as a fun and frisky side, but they are always executed with a heightened level of skill and expertise, and an intimate understanding of the market that each distiller is trying to tap into with each release. And thankfully, the proof really is in the pudding as we see time and time again that not only are these mavericks releasing technically sound spirits, they are releasing sprits with personality, complexity and sheer drinkability in spades.
Over in WA, the crew at Hippocampus Metropolitan Distillery is a classic example of the success story of the burgeoning boutique distiller. The team behind this fascinating new vodka producer come from diverse backgrounds (wine making and beer brewing for example), but came together to realise their common goal of producing small-batch, high quality vodka made by utilising locally-sourced wheat. The story is captivating, the packaging is classy and the product itself is taking the vodka world by storm. It’s clean, vibrant and a great sipper – far removed from the generic style of vodka that’s usually beefed up with the addition of cola to make a long, sweet drink.
Sticking in WA, one of the major success stories in the ever increasing world of boutique distilling in Australia is the incredible team at West Winds Gin. Their story is similar to so many: a group of friends came together with no real plan, other than to make the best quality product they could with the incredible produce that they had at their disposal, right on their doorstep. By being bold and brave and sticking to their guns, their two gins, The Sabre and The Cutlass, are both mainstays on the cocktail lists of every respectable bar, club and restaurant country-wide.
And heading back to where it all began, in Tasmania, whisky production is really taking the spirits world by storm. The crystal clear water of Tasmania and top-class whisky distillation seem to go hand-in-hand with a number of high quality boutique producers who are not only challenging the more established Scottish producers in international whisky competitions, but regularly winning the Best in Class and taking out the top gongs. For 20 years, Hellyers Road have been blazing a trail with their range of incredibly complex and delicious whiskies, now titillating the taste buds of whisky drinkers the world over. Their 10-year old Single Malt is a lesson in restraint and highlights that whisky doesn’t need to be rich and powerful to deliver oodles of drinking pleasure. Next time you begin to reach for that time-tested brand name spirit, remember that there’s a whole new world waiting for you explore.