Spirits of the West: A Whisky Tour of Perth

 

 

I get the feeling the World of Whisky tour is popular with blokes. There are twelve of us on the tour tonight, standing in the broad plaza outside Perth’s former General Post Office. Presumably women enjoy whisky too, but they’re somewhere else on this Wednesday evening.

No matter, we’re men with a mission – to learn more about the many and varied varieties of whisky. This doubles up as a bar tour, courtesy of the thriving small bar scene in the Western Australian capital. Over the next three hours we’ll be visiting three bars on foot, each with its own speciality spirits.

The first bar our red-shirted guide Rusty leads us to is Varnish, within one of the attractive old buildings on King Street. It’s sporting a classic interior with wood panelling and dim lighting.

This is no pub crawl, we realise, as we’re handed over to barman Yan for an educational session on the history of alcoholic beverages. Leading us from the first fermented mead to the development of distillation, Yan reaches the era of moonshine and bourbon. As he says, it’s a simple calculation: “Moonshine + barrel + time = whisky.”

And American-style whisky is what we’re here for, as we sample three in turn: a bourbon, a Tennessee whisky and a rye. As we sip, Yan shares the intricacies of each type – including the curious fact that rye whiskies always include a green stripe on their labels.

The good thing about the structure of this visit is that we’re not knocking back the spirits, but taking the time to understand and enjoy them. There’s something appealing about tapping into the expertise of professionals as we go, adding a dash of science to our beverage preferences.

Leaving Varnish, we walk through Perth’s Central Business District (CBD for short), ending up on St George’s Terrace. This high-rise office zone used to be dead after dark, but in recent years new bars and restaurants have been added, lending it a livelier vibe.

Rusty shows off some of the new nightlife as we go, taking us through the Brookfield Place development with its numerous places to eat and drink. Then we head down an alleyway off Howard Street, to reach our second stop: Helvetica.

 



Upstairs in a candlelit lounge, we settle into sofas and learn that the bar is indeed named after the ubiquitous typeface. Helvetica specialises in single malts, and has 300 whiskies in stock from around the world.

As we sip four samples, a barman with a fine Irish accent explains the single malt distillation process. Here we’re tasting Australian whiskies produced in Western Australia, Victoria, and Tasmania, each of which have distinctive flavours.

Our final stop of the evening is Canton, an upstairs bar which used to be a Chinese restaurant of the same name. It’s kept the décor of those days, with red lanterns and Chinese-themed artwork.

Given the Asian vibe, it seems apt that we’re going to taste Japanese whisky. As a preliminary, barman Steve takes us through the history of Japanese beverages, including sake. He then explains how the secrets of whisky-making were carried east a century ago by a Japanese man who learned the craft in Scotland.

Then we sample three interesting Japanese whiskies, between bites of prawn crackers and other snacks on the tables.

We’re in a cheerful mood, and tasting these relatively exotic spirits adds a mellow note to the end of the tour. It’s been a good night out… and an education.

 

 

The World of Whisky Tour is offered monthly by tour company Two Feet and a Heartbeat. Fee A$100. For bookings, visit twofeet.com.au

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Great Southern Rail.

You can get Perth included as a stopover on a Navigator round the world or on our Discoverer round the world