Over the last several years in Australia the craft spirit movement has been gaining momentum, as locals take on centuries-old traditions to produce new and exciting spirits. In this vein, two passionate whiskey drinkers, Alasdair Malloch and James McKeown, have opened the first dedicated whiskey distillery in the Western Australian city of Perth, called Whipper Snapper Distillery. In an inventive move, this distillery has decided to incorporate a coffee shop into its industrial space, creating a unique experience for customers, and an unlikely marriage of industries.
Whipper Snapper has found a home in an old warehouse in East Perth, a formerly industrial area that has been redeveloped to accommodate Perth’s growing inner-city population. Inside the front entrance there’s a simple but elegant coffee shop, advertised simply by the sign out the front proclaiming ‘Whiskey and Coffee’.
In the corner sits a three-group Synesso Sabre espresso machine and a pair of Mazzer Robur grinders. Whiskey bottles line the shelves above a long bar table made of beautifully polished local wood—perfect to drink a morning espresso at. The coffee of choice here is the Crompton Road blend and a rotating single origin from Five Senses Coffee, a Perth institution that has successfully expanded into Melbourne and Asia in recent years with a large catalogue of specialty coffee. James explains that Whipper Snapper partnered with Five Senses to focus on offering a high-quality coffee experience, so that both coffee and whiskey drinkers could enjoy spending time at the distillery. The big bold flavours of the Crompton Road blend are a perfect match for a hard-hitting whiskey.
The journey for Whipper Snapper unexpectedly began nearly 60 years ago, when an Australian WWII bomber pilot named Vic bonded with his American colleague over their love of whiskey. After the war, Vic decided to distil whiskey in his back shed the suburbs of Perth, until one day he struck up a friendship with neighbor Alasdair Malloch, eventually teaching Malloch and his mate James McKeown the craft. After these initial lessons, Malloch and McKeown made a pilgrimage to the United States to track down a relative of Vic’s whisky-brewing American colleague, and came across Tommy Cooper. Cooper had recently sold his acclaimed Colorado distillery in preparation for retirement, but took the time to help when the two young Australians asked him for guidance in opening their own distillery. Together with Scotsman Frank McHardy they set about perfecting the recipe for a premium Australian whiskey.
In the main part of the warehouse the distillery is in full swing—the majestic copper whiskey still takes centre stage as the sweet and sour smells of the distilling process waft throughout the massive space. The secret to Whipper Snapper whiskey is the local ingredients: they take care to source high-quality corn, malted barley and wheat grain from regional Western Australian farms.
The whiskey-making process begins with corn and wheat being ground through a burr grinder into sand-like particles, with the ingredients then combined with water and boiled in the mash tank at a high temperature to release starch. The substance is then cooled in preparation for the introduction of the malted barley—this mash mixture is subsequently pumped into fermentation tanks before yeast is added. Then, over a period of about four days, the active yeast feeds on the sugars released by the malted barley to produce carbon dioxide and—yes!—alcohol. Once the yeast is done doing its thing, the distilling process can begin.
It’s here that Whipper Snapper has a distinct advantage over American bourbon producers, who are required to follow strict rules to be able to call their product ‘bourbon’. While American producers can only distil their whiskey a few times to produce 80% alcohol, Whipper Snapper is able distil its whiskey about 20 times to 90% alcohol—the result being an incredibly light, clean and pure drink. The distilled product is then cut with reverse-osmosis water to about 40% alcohol before it is barreled in white American oak.
The Whipper Snapper boys say two years in the barrel should hit the sweet spot, with their first bourbon-style whiskey scheduled for release in 15 months' time. In the meantime, Whipper Snapper has released a couple of preliminary products to get the punters salivating, such as ‘Moonshine’, perfect for mixers and cocktails. The name takes inspiration from the prolific Prohibition era, when alcohol-starved Americans distilled illegal whiskey in the moonlight so as to avoid being caught by the police.
In the future Whipper Snapper have a single malt whiskey in the cards, and also plan to expand their coffee shop. For now, the distiller is already challenging traditional concepts of whiskey to produce quality craft spirits that are the talk of the town. Some unlikely friendships, a bit of know-how, and quality local ingredients have set Whipper Snapper on a steady path towards hopefully becoming one of Australia’s leading craft distilleries in the coming years. In the meantime, Whipper Snapper is already a great place for a flat white and a sip of some experimental whiskey.
Photos courtesy of Onkie Chen & Whipper Snapper Distillery.