As the founder of Adelaide Hills Distillery, Sacha La Forgia has spent the past five years encouraging local drinkers to try more distinctly Australian flavours.
The results include a Campari-style amaro using ingredients such as riberries, native thyme and quandong; vermouths with a potpourri of Australian botanicals; and its Green Ant Gin collaboration with Something Wild.
So when he turned his hand to dark spirits, it made sense he would continue in the same vein. “We're Australian,” he reasons, “so why copy the Scottish to make whisky? Let's use what we have around us to make whiskey with true Australian character.”
The result is Native Grain Whiskey (he uses the Irish spelling to distinguish it from Scottish whisky), but getting there wasn’t easy. Rather than adding botanicals after distillation (as with gin), la Forgia wanted to use native grains in the mash from which the base spirit was distilled. After experimenting with kangaroo grass, spinifex and saltbush seed, he eventually settled on the seeds of the sand plain wattle (Acacia murrayana) sourced through Something Wild.
One problem with being a trailblazer is that there’s no instruction manual, and extracting the sugars from the wattleseed presented another challenge: “no one has ever done it before,” says la Forgia. “We had to figure out how to access and convert the starch into fermentable sugars.” Fortunately, the first stage of making whisky is a lot like brewing and la Forgia admits that having a brewery on-site at Lot 100 was “hugely advantageous”.
Because wattleseed is about 50 times more expensive than regular malt, the mash consisted of barley malt alongside the lightly roasted wattleseed. A sneak peek of the spirit was released after nine months in oak as the Native Grain Project (whiskey must be aged for at least two years in Australia) and recently won Best Australian Grain Whisky at the World Whiskies Awards. Native Grain Whiskey is the same batch after another year and a half in the barrel.
The very limited release – only 142 bottles – has flavours of “dark chocolate and roasted nuts with toasted cereal and hints of citrus and dried fruit”, says la Forgia. For those who miss out, there’ll be another small release next year, and we’re told there are plenty more native-grain projects in the pipeline.
Native Grain Whiskey is available for pre-release online from 4pm today. It will be available at the Lot 100 cellar door in the coming weeks.