It’s now 10 years since I started specialising in what I called New World Whisky. And when it came to scoring them, I started tasting whiskies by continent after the Australian distillers expressed their disgust at the likes of Whisky Magazine for putting them in a catch all category with India, Taiwan, Sweden and anyone else who wasn’t one of the big five whisky producing nations at the time, and called it ‘Rest of the World.’ Not only did it make them sound distinctly second division, they argued, but they couldn’t see what a cask strength Tasmanian whisky had in common with a 40% Icelandic single malt.
Since then, of course, world whisky has grown and evolved, and the rest of the whisky writing world has started trying to catch up and tried to not so boldly go where myself and Jim Murray have been gong for years.
Some of the new wave of distillers – Sullivan’s Cove in Australia, James Sedgwick in South Africa, India’s Amrut, St George’s in England – have grown in to major award-winning and internationally-acclaimed businesses. Others have faced growing pains as they have expanded, and have been forced to make tough decisions about their future. And many more are in the early stages of their growth and development, and offer us years of excitement ahead.
I always thought that as the small distilleries grew I would grow with them, and having been so supportive when they were in their fledgling years, I would benefit from their support as they grew. With Australia, though, that has not been the case. What no-one foresaw was the widespread recognition of the quality of Australasian whisky in Australasia itself. What that means is that the distillers down under have been struggling to meet the demand even in their home territories, let alone in the Northern Hemisphere. And if they can’t meet the demand for their whisky, why would they create even more? Not only would that make matters worse, it might actually damage their reputation among frustrated whisky fans. To put it bluntly, the last thing they need right now is more awards, so why would they pay to enter them?
For this reason, and because of the growth of the European and American craft categories this year, the Australasian category is the weakest in this year’s Wizards.
Having said that, what is lost in quantity is made up for by quality, with the gold medal winners the best ever entered from New Zealand and Australia.
The winner of the Australasian Distiller of the Year is the NZ Whisky Company for the third tome in a row. The company is going from strength to strength as it reworks and re-casks whisky from the old Wilowbank Distillery.
The winner of the Other Grain Whisky of the Year is the cask strength version of The Oamaruvian, a single blended whisky – that is, made with grain and malt whisky from the same distillery.
Winner of the Australasian Single Malt Whisky is The Revelation from independent bottler Heartwood on Tasmania. The man behind this business is Tim Duckett, who is a fearless pioneer of slap in your face big flavoured whiskies, which he has bought from, among others, Lark distillery, and then given them the full treatment when it comes to maturation. You can love ‘em or loathe ‘em, but you can’t ignore them. They’re The Rose Tattoo of whisky, rough, ready, loud – and when the judges liked one of Heartwood’s whiskies they scored big. Trouble is, some of the more… er… lily-livered (or refined – take your pick) judges really didn’t like them at all.
Single malt whiskies
Heartwood The Revelation 62.5% Australia
NZ Oamaruvian 16 Year Old 57% New Zealand
NZ 1992 Cask Strength 56.7%, New Zealand
NZ South Island 23 Year Old, 40% , New Zealand
Heartwood Beagle 68.4%, Australia
Heartwood Convict Redemption 72%, Australia
Other grain whiskies
NZ Oamaruvian 16 Year Old 57% New Zealand 88.3
AUSTRALASIAN DISTILLER OF THE YEAR: NZ WHISKY CO, NZ
MALT WHISKY OF THE YEAR: HEARTWOOD THE REVELATION, AUS
OTHER GRAIN WHISKY OF THE YEAR: NZ OAMARUVIAN 16YO, 57%