A dram fine whisky
Picture: Max Brearley

Cameron Syme is, if anything, a man of confidence. The lawyer turned head distiller, and owner of Great Southern Distilling Company, talks about the single malt which it produces with a belief that the Aussie dram from Albany "can rival the best of Scotland".

It's a bold claim. Some would think that it's a case of sampling a little too much of his own wares but it's not such an outlandish statement.

On the edge of Princess Royal Harbour, the distillery reminds me of those of Islay which, for my money, are the standard to which I hold single malt the world over.

The maritime location and climatic benefits of Albany were carefully chosen when deciding where to base the distillery, and add further to the sense of deja vu.

The area may not have the name of Margaret River, where you may expect to find such a business, or the number of tourists but Great Southern Distilling is more than just a tourist trap.

According to Mr Syme, those climatic factors "lead to less evaporation which, for a distiller, is all-important and our ingredients and process are true to what we do".

"Quality is all important," he said. "We are small-scale but the best quality. Barley is sourced locally from the southern Wheatbelt, making Limeburners a truly West Australian whisky."

It's not just single malt that the distillery excels at either. With Tiger Snake, a sour mash whisky (using corn rye and barley again from the South West and northern WA), it is taking a cue from the Southern states of the US, where the sour mash process is used for the production of most bourbon.

As Australia's first legal sour mash whiskey, it hints at the moonshine past of this type of whisky.

Looking at the operation Mr Syme has set up, you feel that his Scottish forebears would be proud.

They themselves ran illicit stills, so goes family legend. It's a fact that clearly tickles the Albany distiller and adds a little mystique to the company history.

Mr Syme is quite serious when he tells me that it is his mission "to make the best whisky in the world. Not Scotch. Australian whisky".

"Here in Australia, we make great wine and beer. Why not whisky," he says. It may take a few more years but the name of the Great Southern Distilling Company is sure to be one that is known far and wide. Possibly in the same breath as my own single malt heroes, Bruichladdich, Lagavulin and Ardbeg."

Mr Syme knows that the whisky business is a long game.

Very much a family business, it has fended off the advances of investors, not wanting to get embroiled in the push and pull of opinion that can mire a business of fractured ownership. It's the tougher route but one that sits well with both the distiller and lawyer in him.

Asked by his young daughter why he worked long hours, he recalls the answer: "To keep the business going".

On being asked who would take the reins in the future, he told her he hoped that she and her siblings would maybe take it on. Her answer - "I don't mind if you work Dad" - points to another generation of canny Syme distillers.

The West Australian

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