What a year it's been for the Australian spirits scene. The distilling industry has boomed, and there's now around 100 distilleries operating throughout the country.
In 2016 alone, a plethora of new Aussie spirits hit the shelves of bars and retailers. So, if you know a curious imbiber with a penchant for the local stuff, here are some of the best new spirits to look out for this festive season.
I tasted so many new Aussie gins this year that if you sprayed me with a little vermouth and garnished me with olives, I would've made a passable martini most weeks.
But one of my favourite releases of the year was the Hippocampus Gin from Perth. A more traditional London Dry style gin, it eschews native botanicals and is built on a solid juniper foundation.
Bartenders and gin enthusiasts have been on the hunt for more juniper-heavy styles of late. The Archie Rose Distillers Strength and Poor Toms Fool Proof gins answered the call. If you know a gin-fiend, put one of these bold expressions in their stocking.
Two Victorian gins released this year also rate a mention. The Weaver from Loch Brewery & Distillery is an aromatic and savoury Australian-style gin, which utilises native myrtles, wattleseed and strawberry gum. And the Artemis Gin, distilled by respected bartender-turned-distiller, Sebastian Raeburn, will work brilliantly in a celebratory martini.
In a year of such political upheaval, The Canberra Distillery Gin was an interesting addition to the market, as was the Hobart No. 4 Gin from Tassie, which was released to almost immediate acclaim.
And it's hard to leave out the Prohibition Bathtub Cut Gin, produced in collaboration with the Applewood Distillery. Disclaimer – it's 69 per cent ABV, so keep your wits about you.
Basically, wherever you live in Australia, there's now a gin being distilled near you. So get amongst it.
Time for whisky
It was another strong year for Australia's whisky producers. Tim Duckett's Heartwood Malt Whisky bottlings led the way, and with releases like 'Dare to be Different' and 'Mediocrity be Damned', it's no wonder.
The Black Gate Distillery also released some cracking single malts this year. Stocks of their latest single cask offering, Cask 008, are still available, so get in quick.
If you're a bourbon lover, the Whipper Snapper Distillery's new Upshot Whiskey was another popular 2016 release.
And for the single malt tragics, the McHenry Single Malt Whisky from Port Arthur is worth investigating. While The Fleurieu Distillery in Goolwa, South Australia have just put out their very first release – Fleurieu Single Malt: a rich, oaky and malty experience. It's a pricey drop, but will certainly appeal to collectors.
And a bottle of rum
We make some great rum in Australia, but one rum producer really impressed this year. Since 2012, Husk Distillers have been making quality rum from freshly juiced sugar cane grown on their northern New South Wales property.
Look out for their newly released 1866 Tumbulgum – a blend of four barrels of their paddock to bottle rum. Or try their Pure Cane New Make Spirit – perfect in a Daiquiri or Mojito. In the same vein, the Archie Rose Distillery in Sydney just released their Virgin Cane Spirit, which I highly recommend.
And if you haven't heard of The Gunnery Australian Spiced, consider yourself informed. Created by Sacha La Forgia at his Adelaide Hills Distillery, The Gunnery takes a blend of distillates derived from sugar cane and molasses and infuses them with native botanicals and other spices. It's utterly unique, and seriously tasty.
Some intriguing Aussie vodkas also came out this year. Old Young's Smoked Vodka from the Swan Valley – made with wheat smoked with peat, cherrywood and eucalyptus – got a lot of people talking.
The French Oak Whey Vodka from the Hartshorn Distillery in Tasmania was another revelation, with maturation in French Oak casks adding a spicy depth.
And to round things off – brandy. The drink of heroes is slowly making a resurgence in Oz, and the impressive Twenty Third Street Distillery that opened in Renmark this year was symbolic of the growing confidence in the Aussie spirits industry. Brandy will be the distillery's focus, and their Prime 5 Brandy is a glimpse of what's to come.
Likewise, this is only glimpse of the many amazing Aussie spirits now available. Seek them out, you won't be disappointed.
Check out the gallery above to see the top 20 Aussie spirits from 2016.
A professional barman in one of Australia's most revered whisky establishments, Luke McCarthy has also travelled the world to learn more about the spirits he serves. The result is two parts drinks culture and one part global trends, served with a dash of critical assessment. His book, 'The Australian Spirits Guide', was recently published by Hardie Grant Books.
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