Award-winning distillers Archie Rose release their first range of whiskies

Archie Rose has finally entered the whisky game, after five years of trading in gin, vodka and other spirits.

And the distiller that brought you ArchieMite has made it clear from the outset that it will not be making its name on any conventional sort of whisky.

Its debut Chocolate Rye Malt Whisky released last week combines chocolate roasted rye and rare malted rye, the former of which master distiller Dave Withers believes has been scarcely used in any grain-based beverages to date.

"These malts are special order, no one's even giving them any credence except for like really weird breweries," he says.

"When's the last time you heard about a stout made using a chocolate rye?"

Experimenting with tastes

Released under its limited release Archie Rose Concepts label, the Chocolate Rye Malt Whisky is the outcome of the distiller's earliest experiments with unusual malts, which Withers says will define its approach to whisky production.

"The traditional canon says that 70 per cent of the flavour of a whisky comes from the cask," he says.

"That just doesn't seem real, because rum, tequila, cognac and all these other products taste so different to one another. 

"Surely the oak is not the bulk of what is delivering flavour… Surely the most important thing to the flavour of whisky is what you start making it from."


A statement dram

That manifesto determined the distiller's decision to come out of the gates with the offbeat Chocolate Rye Malt Whisky as its first release.

"We wanted to make a statement. We wanted to tell people that malt matters and start the conversation about malt," says Withers.

"It's a slightly more challenging whisky in the sense that it's up at 52 per cent [ABV], but it's rich and deep, more of a rainy Sunday afternoon whisky.

"We've used sherry casks, so it's got that nice dried fruit profile but it's also got some floral, sort of stone fruit character as well. 

"And then it finishes light, with a really nice chocolate character."

Numbers game

With the Chocolate Rye (RRP $149) and the follow-up Rye Malt Whisky (RRP $119), the first in its core range, Archie Rose has also revealed its approach to pricing.

All 1148 bottles of Chocolate Rye made available to the public were sold within two hours of release on July 27, suggesting Archie Rose could easily get away with charging more.

"We had a line outside at 12 o'clock when the bar opened to buy bottles," says Withers.

"We had to have someone standing on the door and everything. That kind of drove it home to me a little bit – people have been waiting five years for this.

"[But] we weren't going to go out and launch our first batch at some obscene price.

"Whisky is in a 700ml bottle because you have to share it, and we want to share it with as many people as possible. So we've tried to be as equitable with the price as we possibly can."

A change of luck

The distiller has taken the same egalitarian approach for the hotly anticipated release of its Rye Malt Whisky.

There will be 2071 bottles available of the first batch, and several different avenues for fans to try their luck at getting hold of one. 

A ballot will be drawn on 29 July for access to a pre-sale allocation, with direct sales from the bar and the Archie Rose website to follow on the official launch date of August 1.

Or, they can purchase tickets to a series of special launch events hosted by Withers and Archie Rose founder Will Edwards.

Winner's sip

Work-in-progress cask samples of the Rye Malt Whisky have already been awarded Best Australian Whisky at the IWSC Awards in London 2018 and Best Australian Rye Whisky at the consumer-voted 2019 Spirits International Prestige (SIP) Awards in California. 

Using selectively sourced rare malted rye and the finest malted barley, it was matured in virgin American oak casks that have been air-dried for 36 months.

"After a three year period, when we get the barrels it's a very soft, mild-mannered kind of oak expression that we get. It's not as full-on, you don't get those big vanilla hits," says Withers.

"American styles of whisky use unmalted rye, which means you get quite an intense spicy character.

"Using a malted rye, it's less about that sort of chilli heat and more about baking spices and restrained herbal character."

Looking to 2020

Following in the footsteps of Melbourne's Starward, Archie Rose is helping usher in a new era for Australian whisky, to date largely defined by single cask releases with heady price tags.

Withers says there is a pipeline of innovative releases on the cards, along with the 2020 release of its debut single malt, which will once again challenge traditional production methodologies.

"We've used six different malts; barley strains that haven't been commercialised and production methods that have never really been used before," he says.

The sold out Chocolate Rye Malt Whisky and all upcoming Archie Rose whisky releases will be available for tasting sales at its distillery bar.