Scotland and Japan are known for producing the world’s finest scotch, with distilleries in those two countries consistently earning the title of “world’s best” at the annual World Whisky Awards. In 2014, however, a relatively new distillery from the Australian island state of Tasmania has managed to unseat the reigning whisky champions. Believe it or not, for the first time ever, the world’s highest-ranked single malt is Tasmanian.
The World Whisky Awards are hosted by the U.K.’s Whisky Magazine, considered the definitive publication for enthusiasts of the popular spirit. This year’s top honor was presented to Sullivans Cove distillery in Tasmania for its French oak cask-matured single malt. The 20-year-old distillery is being lauded by whiskey lovers across the globe, especially considering that distilling was prohibited in Australia as recently as 22 years ago.
Sullivans Cove over and distiller Patrick Maguire hopes that his single malt’s big win will draw attention to the island’s burgeoning whisky market.
“Tasmania is now is becoming recognized as one of the better whisky producing countries or areas, so it is a pretty major thing,” he told ABC. “We are all very small producers, we are boutique producers and we have the luxury of being able to tweak things personally. So when we are running the still, they are not automatic systems – we actually run it from the heart, if you like.”
Maguire added that the operation produces only 20,000 liters of whisky a year. His quest for quality over quantity had made it difficult to meet domestic demand – let alone an increasing number of inquiries from around the globe.
“We’re growing, but we’ll never be a giant distillery,” he said.
The popularity of local distilleries has already led to the formation of a Tasmanian Whisky Trail, which runs from Burnie in the north to Hobart in the south and includes visitor centers and tasting bars.
The local whisky drinking scene has also undergone some significant changes in recent years.
“Years ago it was seen as an old man’s drink but our demographic is changing rapidly, it’s now the 25- to 45-year-old age group and a lot of those are women, as well,” said Maguire.
For those wanting a taste of the world’s best single malt, expect to pay a premium price for a premium whisky. Pre-orders for a 700 ml bottle of a spirit similar to the winner start at 100 pounds ($166). Only three bottles of the winning batch 525 remain and are expected to fetch well over $1,000 each.