Despite having been several times, it's fair to say the flight to Australia is possibly one of the longest flights you can take from the UK, but it's the size of the continent that is staggering. Once you reach the northern coast, if you are travelling to the south, you can get a decent sleep in before you arrive.
The distilling scene in Australia is pretty amazing and vibrant. It feels like people out there are doing what they want to and how they want to. Calling the industry there nascent or fledgling I think is slightly missing the point, but there are a lot of distilleries opening up and taking advantage of this global rise in interest in whisky. I think a little like the Japanese industry, it is us outside the country who are now discovering what is being made there; and there are some superb whiskies and projects to be uncovered.
One thing that is easy to spot is that there is also a great feeling of camaraderie here. This was brought home to me in a visit to the Wirra Wirra winery. The original founder of the vineyard had installed a huge bell tower in part of the building. His idea was to ring the bell and call in all the wine makers in the McLaren Vale region to sit, eat and share what they were making. Also to talk about production method tips, basically to help each other out.
This spirit of cooperation and friendship has made it out of the wine industry and into the whisky world. I had the honour of comparing the first Whiskies and Spirits Conference in Adelaide recently and to meet some of the movers and shakers creating some astonishing whiskies.
I really hope that this conference, and the one we hold in London, become a beacon of cooperation in the industry. A safe place where distillers, blenders, ambassadors and marketers can come together and chat, share ideas and generally catch up.
There are some great tales to tell from the Adelaide conference and whiskies that might not see the light outside the continent but should. Trust me, there are whiskies being released in Australia at the moment that are beautiful. Also there are some projects on the go that, when matured (some in casks that have held the same fortified wine from the same fields for more than a century) and ready, could be really interesting to explore.
A couple of stories, briefly if I may, from my travels. I met one distiller who is truly a field to glass operation, all on his own farm; and you could tell he worked the land as his hands were the size of shovels. His story is not dissimilar to that of the early distillers in Scotland and Ireland. He told me that he had rye left over that he could not sell, needed to make some money so what else would you do - start distilling it.
Then you have the former industrial distillation worker who left the industry to follow his dream of distilling, small batch this time. My favourite tale of his is how one of his spirits came about. Essentially a friend of his was visiting and had brought a huge batch of tea and then left it at the house. Not going to get through that much tea, he chucked it in his still and a new spirit was born - as you would if you had your own still.
It's not just in South Australia were we are seeing a boom in distilling. In the traditional hub of Tasmania, long the preserve of Australian whisky, we are seeing growth too. If you take into account distilleries currently making gin (and like the UK there are a lot of gorgeous gins being made here), that might also move on to whisky, the whole island is thriving. Considering the industry only dates back to 1992 (Lark in Tasmania taking the title of oldest distillery in the state) it has come on leaps and bounds since then. Going back to tales from the island, while I don't normally mention features in the magazine, I feel The McLaren Vale Distillery's distilling plans are worth mentioning. When I first saw the matrix of barrel fillings in the distillery it was pretty eye opening. The variations that could come out of the Bloodstone project are huge. It is a wood maturation scheme on the scale of the Buffalo Trace experiments in Kentucky. It's these stories that remind me how rich, diverse and fascinating the whisky industry really is.