Sydney's Archie Rose Distilling Co. has joined the growing number of independent whisky distilleries outside Tasmania, which has dominated the Australian market since it was restarted in the early 1990s.
The Rosebery-based independent distillery released its first aged rye malt whisky on Thursday, having previously only sold vodkas, gins and other spirits.
When Archie Rose was founded in 2014, co-owner Will Edwards said it was believed to be the first whisky distillery to open in Sydney since 1853.
Drinks writer and Drinks Adventures podcast host James Atkinson said Archie Rose's aged malt rye was "maybe the most important Australian whisky release of the year" both because of the drink's quality and its significance as a marker of resurgent distilling in Sydney.
Strict regulations effectively prohibited the establishment of boutique distilleries in Australia until 1992 when the "godfather of Australian whisky" Bill Lark and his family lobbied to have the laws overturned and set up Lark Distillery in Hobart.
Lark's daughter Kristy Booth-Lark, who worked for the then-family-owned distillery before establishing Killara Distillery in 2016, said Tasmania's whisky industry had prospered because of the concentration of experienced distillers working together and the state's cool temperatures.
"Tasmania does have similarities to Scotland ... That really helps with the maturation of the whisky. We don't lose too much like you do in warmer climates to evaporation," Booth-Lark said.
While prominent distilleries have since set up in other capitals, including Starward in Melbourne and Limeburners in Perth, Sydney has been slow to produce its own whisky, which must be aged for at least two years before it can legally be sold under that name.
Market trends suit Archie Rose's release. James Caldwell, a senior industry analyst from business information firm IBISWorld, said demand for locally-made whiskies had risen strongly over the last five years.
"There is an ongoing trend in Australia towards the premiumisation of food and beverage products. As a result, Australians are increasingly willing to spend more money on whiskies they feel are premium," Caldwell said.
"Domestically produced whiskies, particularly Tasmanian, are developing a reputation for quality, allowing them to benefit from rising demand for premium products."
But Caldwell cautioned that whiskies from Scotland and Japan were still perceived as being the highest quality by many consumers and tended to command higher prices.
Despite its overseas competition, Archie Rose has chosen not to ape imported whiskies. It uses rye, like many American whiskies, but unlike those spirits, Archie Rose's rye is malted.
Atkinson said that showed Archie Rose was "daring to try really new things".
"They've really just announced that they're not going to follow how whisky is being made in Scotland or America," he said.
The company's chief distiller Dave Withers said that gave his drink a different flavour.
"The American ryes are known for giving this big, spicy sort of hit whereas we wanted to make something a bit softer, a bit smoother," he said.
Archie Rose's spirit will be priced at $119 a bottle, less than some Scottish, Japanese and Tasmanian high-end whiskies but more than whiskies from competitors including Starward in Melbourne.
In late 2020, Archie Rose's whiskies will begin to face local competition from Manly Spirits Co, which will release its own single malt whisky.