Although whisky has been manufactured in Australia since at least the 1820s, the rise of artisan distilleries has just lately begun. Prior to 1990, the Distillation Act of 1901 prohibited distillers from operating stills smaller than 2,700 litres, which posed a significant barrier to entry for small-scale companies. After the Act was revised in 1990, numerous small distilleries in Tasmania and Victoria began to open. Since then, the whiskey business has grown significantly, and today, there are more than 300 distilleries, many of which have only recently begun distilling.
Despite this significant expansion in the whisky market, Australian products are just beginning to attract the attention of whisky lovers around the globe, as interest in ‘new world’ whiskies, from countries not traditionally associated with the spirit, is growing. Conveniently, this coincides with a number of Australia’s distilleries reaching a level of maturity that will see them able to reach beyond just local distribution. One of these distilleries is Archie Rose in New South Wales. Founded in 2014 and reportedly Australia’s most highly awarded distillery, Archie Rose Distilling Co. is based in Rosebery, just a few kilometres south of Sydney, and offers a broad range of whiskies, gins, vodkas, rums, speciality limited releases, and spirits experiences.
During his time at Sydney University, Archie Rose founder Will Edwards explored his passion for spirits and experimented with homebrew, spirit-based infusions and oak maturation whilst reading up on the chemistry and engineering that underpins distillation. After an early career in management consulting, Will left his corporate job at Deloitte in 2013, before travelling to New York and Tasmania to answer the questions that had intrigued him for many years: why weren’t there more distilleries in Australia, specifically in the cities, and could one be established? In particular, he wondered why Sydney, with its unique history of distillation, craft breweries and an incredible bar and restaurant scene, hadn’t had a distillery since the mid-1800s.
After six months of research, Will found nothing he considered an absolute roadblock, so committed to starting Archie Rose and opening the Rosebery Distillery. In 2020, the company opened its second distillery in Banksmeadow (though it’s often referred to as the Botany Distillery). Designed from the ground up by Will and master distiller Dave Withers, this distillery features several custom-designed and, in some instances, globally unique production elements, which demonstrate the company’s commitment to meaningful innovation. Significantly expanding production capacity, the second distillery will enable the team to share more of their award-winning spirits with the world.
“We have an incredibly talented team who are all passionate about distilling. They are also innovators. They’re inspired by Australia’s illustrious distilling history but driven by innovation and progression, and by utilising the incredible crops and produce available in Australia,” explains Will. “This understanding of the relationship between grower and land has really meant our team can have fun experimenting and creating, from using different botanicals in distilling to creating amazing cocktails to hero the flavour profile of our spirits.”
A key member of this team is senior distiller Lisa Truscott, who was Australia’s youngest female chief distiller when working at Old Kempton Distillery in Tasmania. Prior to that, Lisa worked as the visitor experience manager at Summerhall Distillery in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 2022, she was named as one of three Distillers of the Year at the Australian Whisky Awards. Not only is Lisa in charge of supervising the other distillers, but she keeps the operations running smoothly, is involved in the process of creating new products and oversees the Tailored Whisky program, which allows consumers to create a cask of their ideal whisky via Archie Rose’s website.
“Archie Rose is anything but an ordinary distillery. We don’t follow the rules that older distilleries do,” says Truscott. “We are truly free in the creation of our products, especially our whisky. For example, we’re experimenting with different types of yeast right now and working on creating our own.”
True to its daring spirit, the team has also patented what it calls the ‘individual malt stream’ system of spirit production, which sees each speciality malt type in its six-malt recipe mashed, fermented, distilled and matured individually, before being combined to make the most complex single malt whiskies possible. This system aims to create optimised flavour creation conditions for each malt type, which the team contrast with the traditional method of distilling a bill using parameters that generally suit (but aren’t individually tailored to) all the grains in the mash.
“Take our chocolate malt, for example. We mill, ferment, pitch different yeasts, distil, and mature all with individual parameters that will ensure the extraction and flavour profile that is best represented from the chocolate malt. We can derive different sensory points such as nutty, fruity, cereal, floral and more per each individual mark,” explains Lisa.
Thanks to this method, Archie Rose has total control over the flavours that can be created when using each type of malt, which enables it to fully highlight the characteristics of the outstanding local grains the team works with. Although it is a more involved method of producing spirit, it enables the team to utilise every grain to the fullest.
Since Will opted to patent this method in 2018, it has sparked some controversy and fuelled debate within the Australian distilling community. According to him, there was a dearth of knowledge about the patent within the industry, which worried some other distillers. In the spirit of transparency, Will took various steps to inform the people who decided to grant the patent and explained his point of view in a post on the Australian Distillers Association (ADA) website – even going so far as providing his personal phone number to anyone who wished to contact him personally with concerns.
“At the request of a small number of members, the ADA agreed to fund, to a cap of AU$6,000, an independent attorney to review the patent and provide their advice. This independent advice was received in early 2021 and distributed to all members; since then there has been no further discussion of the patent nor any further action taken by any member,” explains Will.
However, yeast, malts and innovative patents aren’t the only components Archie Rose’s team likes to explore. “During the pandemic, we had no choice but to experiment with casks, because it became difficult to get them,” adds Lisa. “So, we said yes to everything they could give us. I’m really looking forward to seeing the results of these whiskies once they are matured enough.”
As with any distillery, cask selection plays a major role at Archie Rose. The aim is that its casks reflect an Australian perspective and draw down on the unique heritage of the country’s winemaking traditions. For example, the casks used for its Red Gum Smoked single malt whisky were laid down in the 1930s and used for Apera, a sherry-like fortified wine, at that time.
According to Will, Australian whisky is also re-setting the pricing expectations of the category and expanding the definition of ‘premium’ in a similar way the age of Australian wine has done. “The only thing that is stopping locals from not adopting Aussie whisky is the limited volume. It’s our mission to solve this and bring more local whisky to Australia and the world,” he adds.
The team also remains very invested in Australia’s bounty of responsibly grown raw ingredients, as Truscott explains: “We work closely with producers and wholesalers who focus on sustainability and understand the impact of their growing, harvesting and processing methods, rather than working with ingredients that are commoditised for the masses.”
To this end, Archie Rose currently utilises 100 per cent Australian-farmed grain in its whiskies and cooperates with Australian maltsters and farmers to develop grains for special releases that aim to challenge the status quo.
Archie Rose’s Heritage Rye is a perfect illustration of this: it’s mellow and inviting, with a personality that makes the drinker want to hang out with it and enjoy it with friends. To create this spirit, Archie Rose utilised malted rye and malted barley from progressive malt houses, along with virgin American oak casks made from staves that were air-dried for 36 months. It was then matured in the marine air of coastal Sydney to create a unique whisky. “It’s been awesome to watch these all come to life at our new Botany distillery,” declares Will, “as part of our goal is to showcase Australia’s incredible ingredients... and to give more people the opportunity to drink quality, local spirits. Everything we do is to support this.”
Among the many goals being pursued by Archie Rose, the team wishes to connect with the global scene of whisky enthusiasts. “We’ve put our energy mainly into opening the new distillery,” concludes Lisa. “But now that we are almost settled, we certainly want to sell our spirits in other countries. We know that what we produce is unique and we are proud of it.”
Red Gum SmokedSingle Malt Australian WhiskyArchie Rose Distilling Co.
STYLE: Single Malt
AVAILABILITY: Limited to 2005 bottles (Sold Out)
Nose: Liquorice stick, raisins, five spice (cinnamon, fennel seed, star anise, and cloves), ripe nectarines and smoky beef jerky. Cranberry juice, pomegranate molasses. Mossy forest floor.
Palate: Medium. Smoked biltong, over-ripe strawberries and baked banana, toffee, espresso and more nectarine. Black treacle, five spice and capsicum.
Finish: Long, smoky with that umami and sweetness lingering.
Comments: Quite simply, superb. A uniquely Australian whisky, this expression was made by distilling a mash of five different unsmoked malts (pale, amber, light crystal, dark crystal, and chocolate) and red gum wood-smoked malt. It was then aged for two years in Australian Apera casks.