Whisky galore: More and more distilleries are opening around the nation.
Whisky galore: More and more distilleries are opening around the nation. Photo: Shaiith

Bryan Martin

This is one of those natural progressions, a story as old as time. Like when mankind first organised itself to walk upright and communicate, we no doubt thought: "Well, that seemed easy enough, what's the deal with distillation ..."

No, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm sure they wondered, looking at a cow, or whatever a cow looked like back then, what it would taste like. And surely the next thought would have been well, that was a little tough, what would happen if we could create heat and, what's the word, cook it, and then perhaps add a little bearnaise sauce? 

Years later this progressive endeavour can be seen happening in the alcohol industry. It's a known fact that the first thing we did after working out how to effectively eat a regular diet, without having barely a 50-50 chance of survival, was to look for something to drink.

We domesticated grain to make bread, which was needed even though all the paleos, who were much more dominant and annoying in prehistoric times, thought we'd be fine foraging. Pretty soon we had excess grain, so making grog became paramount in our progression as a species. After all, the carpenters had already perfected the home bar, and just needed some craft beer and small-batch rum to fill the shelves. 

I know, I might have this out of whack, but I reckon I'm close to the spirit of civilisation's time line.

As you are probably aware, the Australian alcohol industry has boomed during the past 40 years. We've gone from a nation that made mostly port, KB & Corio whisky to one that now has no boundaries and we can make just about anything.

Just look at the top shelf in your local bar - gin, whisky, vermouth, everything you need to knock together a late-night manhattan is there and domestically made.

Every time you turn around there's a new urban distillery, pumping out a botanically laden gin and juice from their spanking new Carl still.

Sure, we don't need alcohol in our lives. The same could be said for music and art. They are luxuries indeed: if you want to see what life would be like without them, pop into an Amish community. They all look happy but is making barns and uncomfortable furniture enough for a fulfilling existence?

My aforementioned man sitting in his cave, trying to get his fillet perfect medium-rare from the cow, could not have envisaged the future, but we would never have got here without this progressive spirit I speak of.

Whisky production has skyrocketed locally and internationally. We used to just talk of the Scots, a couple of Irishmen and legal moonshiners as the extent of production worldwide. Now just about anyone that has access to grain, a peat bog and a brewery is pumping this through a pot still and into an old barrel to add value and make something amazing.

Australian whisky has come a long way from the time when all that was available was this one dusty bottle of Corio Bay whisky from Geelong. Tasmania, as you would expect being a long time producer of beer, has many like Bill Lark's and recent world beater, Sullivan's Cove.

You see them coming out of every state, and I wouldn't be too surprised to see a local (legal) still pop up. All you need is a good water supply, barley and rye, a heap of cash and the time.

Whisky, and I'm including whiskey here too, is a great cooking tool. Maybe save your Yamazaki, Macallan 1824 and Michter's American Whiskey for sipping over a ice cube.

Sour mash, raisin and hazelnut mud cake.

Photo: Getty Images

Sour mash, raisin & hazelnut mud cake

2 nips (60ml) whisky, bourbon or rye whiskey
½ cup raisins
200g 70 per cent couverture
125g butter, diced
3 extra large eggs, separated
120g sugar
100g ground hazelnuts
30ml espresso coffee mixed with 30ml cold water

Soak the raisins in the spirit overnight. Set the oven at 160C with a large tray of hot water, deep and large enough to sit the loaf tin full of cake batter in so the water comes at least halfway up the sides.

Over a pot of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter. Whisk the egg whites to a thick mousse with a tablespoon of sugar. Mix together the rest of the sugar with the egg yolks.

Now you have five components that need to become one. Combine and mix the raisins and whisky with the egg yolk/sugar then fold through the hazelnuts and coffee.

Once this in amalgamated, gently fold this through the egg whites.

Pour it Into a lined and greased loaf tin and sit in the simmering bain marie you didn't forget to set up first. Bake for 40-50 minutes until just set.

Let the cake cool in this tin, it's a fragile thing and needs to fully set.

Meanwhile, here's a rye whiskey cocktail for you:

Smokin' manhattan.

Photo: Getty Images

Smokin' manhattan

1 tbsp smoking chips
30ml rye whiskey
30ml chinato - Italian bitters
15ml dark aged rum
15ml Campari

Have your glass ready, set the chips on fire and let them burn down, cover with the glass. Leave for a minute or two. Quickly add six large ice cubes and pour over the alcohol, stir gently for exactly 30 stirs. Drink.

Bryan Martin is the winemaker at Clonakilla and Ravensworth