Australia may conjure up visions of endless beaches filled with bronzed beauties enjoying bland beer, but it’s also home to some of the most innovative, cutting-edge bartenders in the world.
The country even boasts several distilleries producing spirits of great individuality. Here are a few bottlings that are well worth hunting for if you are lucky enough to visit the land down under.
Rum is integral to Australian culture, as well as intertwined with its history. My favorite is the excellent and storied Inner Circle. It dates back to 1901 but was resurrected in 2002 and is now made at the country’s oldest licensed distillery, in Queensland. While there’s a Red Dot and a Black Dot, the Green Dot is both the best and most versatile, with a huge, funky aroma of overripe bananas. It will bring any punch or tiki drink to life.
The West Winds is a new gin brand produced in the picturesque Margaret River wine region in Australia’s southwest. It has two lovely varieties: the London dry-style Sabre and the swaggering monster The Cutlass (pictured above). Thanks to coriander seed and native bush tomato, The Cutlass is peppery, spicy and, at 100-proof, high-octane. Try it in a Gin & Tonic garnished with bell pepper, or paired with mint and basil in a citrusy cocktail.
There is certainly no shortage of vodka in the northern hemisphere, so why make it on sleepy Tasmania? Well, this is one liquor with a real sense of place: It’s created from barley harvested and milled on the island and then blended with rainwater from Cape Grim in Tasmania’s wild northwest. Complex with a lingering taste of grain, it brings to mind whiskey as much as vodka.
Eccentric English ex-pat Michael Ward and his wife Alla have been running an award-winning distillery since 1998, and now they offer eaux-de-vie, liqueurs, vodka and schnapps. While you can find some of their bottlings in the US, you’ll need to come to Oz to taste the more exotic ones, like the Lemon Myrtle Liqueur. It has a flavor similar to eucalyptus leaves with a bright, green perfume.
Former biochemist David Baker started distilling whisky in suburban Melbourne in 1998 and has been winning fans ever since. For this bottling, he starts with peated malted barley, and the alcohol is aged in small 100-liter American oak barrels, which allow for a lot of wood contact. Cask 14 has an Islay-like nose of salt and lemon with a huge, endless smoky flavor.
Jacob Briars is the global brand ambassador for Leblon Cachaça and loves obscure spirits that tell great stories.