Why gin is suddenly so popular again
Australia's cocktail renaissance has spirits up for gin. Produced by Tim Martin
What liquors should we be on the hunt for in 2016?
Expect 'the dark side' of the spirits category to continue to enthral us. Aged whiskies, brandies, bourbons and rums are well placed to capitalise on our new-found obsession with provenance, heritage, terroir – a concept you'll hear more about in spirit land.
Local spirits of both white and dark persuasions will continue to muster our support (even Noma's Rene Redzepi has enlisted). Expect to hear more about 'craft', 'hand-made' and 'small batch' but also to hear more people question the relevance of these terms. The big boys in the spirits business are starting to muscle in on the crafters and their crafty independence, so there's plenty of new releases to look forward to on the global front, too.
For more interesting starting points, check your local guide below.
Gin has gone berserk. Around 60 Australian expressions will be available this year. Not satisfied with making one quality gin, distillers are taking their cues from the dining and cocktail realms and getting seasonal with their offerings. The Stone Pine Distillery in Bathurst recently released its seasonal Orange Blossom Gin (which was bought up by Noma Australia), and the Lark Distillery's Forty Spotted seasonal gins are also worth keeping an eye out for.
As the whisky market gets more crowded and expensive, curious punters will look beyond the dominant makers. Irish whiskey is going to get even bigger this year, with the old boys being joined by new distilleries and new brands. Our love affair with Japanese whisky will also deepen, as long as we can actually get some into the country, such is its scarcity.
And after a certain influential critic named a delightful, but somewhat uninspiring Canadian whisky the best in the world, expect more from this forgotten North American whisky nation. Beyond Wiser's and Crown Royal, try Forty Creek or the Caribou Crossing Single Barrel.
Vodka's second coming?
Yes, some commentators are predicting vodka will make a comeback, mainly because of the growing popularity of small, artisanal producers that choose quality over spin. There are some ripping local examples out there at the forefront of the trend.
Hippocampus, Fire Drum and Tasmania's Sheep's Whey Vodka will show you how tasty vodka can be when it's made with passion and care.
Non-Scottish single malts
Australian single malt whisky is on the world's radar. Tourists want a bottle of Aussie malt to take home, malt distilleries are popping up all over the place, and everyone wants to try some of the whisky that won the award.
Further afield, Indian single malts from Amrut and Paul John are worth trying, as are Mackmyra from Sweden and Kavalan from Taiwan. Even US single malts like Balcones and Westland should be on your 2016 list.
While Cognac is kept busy by China's burgeoning middle class, alternative brandies offer serious value and intrigue. Armagnacs from Delord and Maison Gelas are rewarding and relatively easy to come by. Historic Australian brandies like St Agnes and Black Bottle should also be sought out (the Black Bottle Distillery is set to open this year in Renmark, South Australia as well). Or try some Tasmanian brandy in the Calvados style: Wilmot Hills (Pomadoros Apple Brandy) and the Belgrove Distillery (Apple Hatchet) produce tasty interpretations of the genre.
Move over Campari
Well, maybe not just yet. But the Applewood Distillery in the Adelaide Hills recently released Red Okar, its first batch of Australian amaro liqueur in the style of Campari. Bring on all-Australian negronis! Or mix up an Aussie boulevardier (substitute gin for whisky) with our next must-try this year.
Oops, I made a naughty. Only corn whiskey that's born in the USA can wear the bourbon title – it's a protected appellation. But the Whipper Snapper Distillery in Perth will this year release its much anticipated Australian Corn Whiskey, which closely follows the bourbon style. If you can't wait till then, try the Tiger Snake Sour Mash from another renowned Western Australian distillery, the Great Southern Distilling Company.
Many of us are curious about moonshine's illicit past. The recently-released Melbourne Moonshine plays on this curiosity, even going so far as to conceal the identity of its distillers (don't worry, though, your trusty correspondent investigated their operation. It checks out). But their creamy, sweet and delicious sour mash corn spirit is a world away from the potent Appalachian ruckus juice of old. If you're after a more robust Aussie shine, the Ironbark Distillery's Moonshine will definitely take care of that.
The other Australian rum
The recent opening of the sleek and modern Beenleigh Distillery south of Brisbane signalled a growing confidence in the Australian rum industry. Beenleigh rums are certainly worth examining, as is the distillery itself, because the foundation story of Australia's oldest registered operating distillery has to be heard to be believed.
Baijiu, China's most consumed spirit – and therefore, the world's largest spirits category – is currently undergoing a revaluation in the US. And with Chinese New Year less than two weeks away, now is the perfect time to get acquainted with this very old (it's got a few hundred years on Scotch) but polarising clear spirit.
What's on your radar to try this year? Let us know in the comments section.
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.