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AGIC 2022: Whisky’s ‘new guard’ puts spotlight on grain

Emma Alsop, August 1, 2022

Archie Rose Distilling Co. founder Will Edwards in discussion with HFW’s Carolyn Chudleigh at the Australian Grains Industry Conference last week.

ARCHIE Rose Distilling Co. is part of a wave of new distilleries transforming the perception of consumers on what makes an exceptional whisky and promoting local grain production in the process.

Archie Rose Distilling Co. founder Will Edwards told the Australian Grains Industry Conference (AGIC) last week that this “new guard” is recognising the importance of local high-quality grains in the production of spirits.

“There is a bit of an old guard and new world thing in whisky,” Mr Edwards said.

“The new guard, for a lack of a better description, is very focused on grain, on provenance, on the manufacturing story, and it is starting to evolve from just the cask side and age.

“The grain is critical; it is where it starts its life.”

Mr Edwards said in terms of gin production, the story behind an individual product is “very botanical focused” because the flavour comes from botanicals used rather than the wheat base.

He said this is not the case for whisky, despite the traditional conversation behind the distilling process.

“With whisky…most of the conversation historically has been on casks, you know it’s got the sherry cask, wood cask or some special 50-year-old cask got from a winery or whatever it may be.

“The cask does have a super important influence on the character of the whisky, but at the end of the day, if the new-made spirit is terrible, no cask will make that good.

“It is not going to be good whisky and the new-made spirit, which is the unaged whisky spirit, is the underlying character of the finished product.

“The cask can only shape that, it can’t change it.”

Barley varieties paramount

Mr Edwards said his company has found that concentrating on the barley varieties and types of malt can make a profound difference to the quality of the whisky.

“If you taste that new-made spirit with those heavily roasted malts and if you taste what you call traditional new-made spirit…you can absolutely taste the difference.

“Anyone who says the malt doesn’t matter when it comes to whisky has never had a spirit in their life.”

Switch to Australian rye

The company uses New South Wales-grown and processed wheat as a base for its gins and Australian barley and rye for whisky.

“When we started, I think we could get three and the two most challenging had been for obvious reasons, a peated malt replacement.”

Mr Edwards said the company pivoted from peat, which provides the smokey flavour, to using wood to create a similar taste.

He said rye was also a challenge due to specification issues, and the quantity needed to service the operation.

“We switched from Canadian rye to Australian rye amount 18 months ago, so that was a big move for us.

“We have also been experimenting with different varieties.

“We have done a black and purple hull-less barley, which was interesting.

“We are also trying to create what would be Australia’s first native grain whisky using Mitchell grass, of which there is effectively no…research on it.

“We are going to develop that on our own in-house.”

Sandigo Heritage Rye Malt Whisky is based on rye grown on one farm in the NSW Riverina. Photo: Archie Rose Distilling Co.

He said the aim was to give consumers a more authentic Australian whisky product.

“We are about not only looking at alternative varieties of raw materials…but also looking for grains that are more what we deem to be more authentically Australian.

“So, more drought tolerant grains, grain that reflects the land that it is grown on.”

Mr Edwards said focusing on Australian-grown grains has created opportunities for Archie Rose to manufacture smaller lines highlighting local varieties.

He said one example was the Sandigo Heritage Rye Malt Whisky, a product which was based on a specific crop of rye grown near Sandigo in the NSW Riverina.

He said the rye, which has been grown at the site for over 60 years, has adapted over time into its own distinct strain.

“It was this very unusual parcel of rye that we then distilled into rye whisky.

“The great thing about it was it gave us the opportunity to at the consumer level have this really in-depth conversation around the malt itself, the grower, the region and engage consumers on a topic of raw materials that historically in whisky they haven’t been that interested in.

“It has always been cask and for us we are now pushing it to be more about the grain and the malt and then the last frontier, which is still a bit of a challenge, is talking about yeast.”

Founded in 2014, Archie Rose is based in Sydney.

 

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