A growing number of acclaimed single malts have been coming out of the state that remains the country’s leading wine producer.
An Australian identity
Twenty Third Street Distillery is the latest to join this cohort, having recently launched its first line, which has already won gold in its category at the 2019 World Whisky Awards.
The distiller, in the mostly wine producing Riverland area in the east of the state, near the border with Victoria, joins a growing list of South Australian distilleries to release single malts after building up their brands through other strong performing spirits, such as gins.
This year alone, new releases have included Adelaide Hills Distillery’s Native Grain Whisky and debut whiskies from Rochfort Distillery. Goolwa-based Fleurieu Distillery took out Champion Whisky at the 2019 Australian Distilled Spirits Awards in April with its Fountain of Youth.
Adelaide Hills Distillery’s latest line was released in May and is one of the first to be made from Australian native grains, as its name implies. The 142 bottles put up for sale have been selling fast, despite their A$450 (US$314) price tag. It took three years of intense focus by head distiller Sacha La Forgia to develop.
“It took ages to actually figure out how to do it—and then we had to actually make it,” La Forgia said.
“We had to figure out how to use wattleseed, because no one’s ever used it before. So trying to access the starch and convert it to fermentable sugars took a bit of work.”
The master-distiller hopes Native Grain Whiskey will help push the Australian whisky industry away from its roots mimicking the Scottish style and toward creating an identifiable Australian identity in the global market.
Gin and beyond
There are also more established players in the South Australian whisky business. Last month, Adelaide-based Tin Shed Distilling released Batch No. 016 of its Iniquity single malt whisky, while iconic Barossa winery Yalumba has been producing its Smith’s Angaston whisky on and off since the 1950s.
The rise of South Australian whisky follows the craft gin boom, which has resulted in the number of gin brands in the state going from fewer than five to more than 20 in the past decade.
Other popular South Australian gin producers currently maturing their first whiskies include Applewood Distillery, Barossa Valley Distilling and Kangaroo Island Spirits.
Renmark’s Twenty Third Street Distillery launched in 2016 in the former Renmano winery. Its parent, VOK Beverages, is owned by Bickford’s, which was established in South Australia in 1874 and is known for its cordials and syrups.
VOK produces a number of well-known Australian spirits brands, including Beenleigh rum, Black Bottle brandy and Vickers gin. Until now its Twenty Third Street craft distilling brand has focused mainly on brandy and gin.
Bickford’s had previously focused on making brandy cool again, to appeal to millennials with a growing appreciation for boutique spirits.
It bought the Black Bottle Brandy label from Accolade Wines in 2011 through VOK and initially made it out of its Beenleigh Rum distillery in Queensland. With Vickers Gin and the premium Black Bottle Very Special Australian Brandy, it is produced at the Renmark distillery, which is about 260km northeast of the South Australian capital Adelaide.
Bickford’s also bought the Renmark site from Accolade in 2014 after receiving more than A$2m (US$1.4m) in Riverland Sustainable Futures Funding towards the establishment of a spirit distillery in the region.
Made from a Queensland-sourced, single-variety Australian barley, Twenty Third Street Distillery collaborated with Byron Bay’s Stone & Wood Brewing to develop the whisky wash, specifically seeking a light and fruity style.
After malting, mashing and fermentation, the liquid was copper pot-distilled and then matured in majority ex-bourbon oak barrels for three years.
The result is an amber-hued whisky with a layered palate of citrus peel, spice, warm toffee and a lingering buttery finish, topped with floral and vanilla aromas and an underlying dried fig, cedar wood and ex-bourbon oak barrel influence.
Only 4,200 700ml bottles are available in the first release for $150 a bottle. The Twenty Third Street Distillery’s master distiller, Graham Buller, said the 43% ABV Single Malt Whisky was a non-replicable blend.
“Being in the Riverland, we’re in an advantageous position for producing superior whisky, with our warm climate and unique ageing techniques, we’re able to gently accelerate maturation and character development to produce exceptional spirits,” he said.
Twenty Third Street Distillery opened two years after the Renmark site purchase with an A$6.6m (US$4.6m) transformation and rejuvenation of the former Renmano winery in the town’s 23rd Street.
Bickford’s group sales and marketing manager Chris Illman said the Renmark distillery planned to produce more of the all-Australian single malt.
“We’re seeing steady growth in the whisky category, attributed to strong consumer trends towards premium spirits,” he said.
“We’re very proud that Twenty Third Street Distillery’s single malt whisky was one of only three Australian single malts to be awarded gold at the World Whisky Awards.”