Taste Scotland's finest in a hotel bar, sip Japanese whisky or sample Tasmania's new whisky creations at the cellar door.
By Paul Chai
Whisky distilling has risen sharply in popularity in Australia in recent times, which means there's plenty of choice for visiting whisky lovers. You can party to live music with a shot of bourbon in Brisbane, have a special bottle kept for you in a Perth speakeasy, or try to choose between 800 types of grain spirit in a basement bar in Sydney. Here are some of Australia's best places to enjoy a wee dram.
Great spots for a drink in Australia
LARK DISTILLERY CELLAR DOOR
Bill Lark is the godfather of Tasmanian whisky. He was the first person to challenge an 1839 ban on distilling by then-governor John Franklin, who was trying to curtail public drunkenness. Lark Distillery was started in 1992 with barley borrowed from the nearby Cascade brewery. It also uses local peat and pure Tasmanian water. On the Hobart waterfront you can taste the whisky (and gin) that helped revolutionise distilling in Australia, at the Lark Distillery Cellar Door, a wood and corrugated iron bar with oak barrels for decoration. It also offers a wide range of overseas tipples, but when in Tasmania…
NANT WHISKY BAR + KITCHEN
In the back lanes of Hobart’s historic Salamanca, Nant Whisky Bar + Kitchen is more than just a cellar door operation for the Nant Distillery, located in the Tasmanian Highlands. Here chefs prepare dishes from prized Tasmanian produce designed to match the range of Nant whisky on offer, or shake up cocktails such as the signature Black Ray Whisky Espresso Martini. You can have a tasting flight from the dark-lit wooden bar and a cheeseboard from the blackboard menu. Nant also has whisky bars in Brisbane and Melbourne.
THE BAXTER INN
With a dimly lit wall of whisky so large that it requires ladders to access all the bottles, Sydney's underground bar The Baxter Inn takes its love of whisky seriously. This well-hidden basement bar has the biggest list of whiskies in Australia, with more than 800 types on offer plus a range of whisky-based cocktails. The decor is historic Americana, with dark wood, posters from the 1920s and '30s and low lighting that mimics hurricane lamps. Serious whisky lovers can be found in the hidden whisky cellar, where all the top shelf stuff is kept.
The name of the bar in Sydney's Four Seasons Hotel, Grain, says it all. This is an impressive collection of Japanese, Scotch and American whiskies set in a classy bar of dark wood and glass. Winner of the Australian Bartender 2016 hotel bar of the year, Grain has a particularly impressive range of US bourbons such as EH Taylor Small Batch, Four Roses and Buffalo Trace. Grab a seat near the George Street window and do some people watching while you sip.
A neighbourhood bar in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy, Bad Frankie is not strictly a whisky bar but does celebrate the new wave of Australian distilling. Named after James Franklin, the Tasmanian governor who outlawed distilling in the 19th century, this bar has 100 percent local spirits behind its bar, which is decorated with a collage of pictures sourced from local distillers and their families, as well as a curtain of knotted nautical ropes. An inventive drinks list celebrates the local spirits in creative ways, such as the Whatever It Takes: Starward whisky, lemon juice, egg white, sugar and a dash of fig bitters.
WHISKY AND ALEMENT
This bar in the centre of Melbourne not only has an enviable list of wee drams (more than 800 whiskies with 10 added each week) but it boasts a whisky school. Students at the Whisky and Alement school learn to appreciate whisky and attend masterclasses on the various types of whisky around the world. In the whisky bar itself – a brooding space with wooden shingles and decorative oak barrels – everything is available as a 15ml (0.5 US fl oz) tasting size and staff are as knowledgeable as the drinks list is long.
Introducing a world of whiskies to Brisbane's city centre, Malt has a well considered selection of malts from all over the world, including the home of whisky, Scotland, whose whiskies are divided up by region. The room is as warm as that first sip of Scotch, with vintage brickwork and wood panels, while food – roasted pork belly and lemon-braised lamb shoulder – is made for sharing. Have a local whisky at the bar, which is made from pure Tasmanian oak.
LEFTY'S OLD TIME MUSIC HALL
This is the place for a fun shot (or two) of American bourbons while you listen to some live music. Lefty's Old Time Music Hall in Brisbane has sultry dark red walls, leather booths and plenty of taxidermied beasts hanging around the room. It likes its music live and loud, and the bar runs a great range of craft beers and whiskies, particularly from the United States.
On first appearance, Gondola Gondola is a bustling South-East Asian diner with wooden bench seating and gaudy Asian posters for decoration. But this inner city Adelaide favourite also has an extensive range of Asian whiskies for you to enjoy after you have finished sharing your coconut milk mussels, salt and pepper bean curd and pork rib rack. Pull up a chair and ask your waiter for “the other menu”.
This elegant two-storey bar has a neighbourhood feel with comfy couches, calm colours and friendly bar staff, yet it is right in the centre of Perth. Helvetica also has 115 types of whisky by the bottle, whisky flights and a special “rare and limited” whisky list. It was one of Perth’s first small bars to open a few years ago. Adding to the friendly vibe is the bottlekeep service, in which you can buy a quality bottle of whisky that will be kept in Helvetica's whisky cabinet for your next visit.
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