Claiming to have liked something before it became fashionable isn’t usually something I do… even if it’s true. It’s irritating when other people do it and always seems like you’re trying to show off. I have a confession to make though: I loved whisky before it was popular – that is, as wildly popular as the movie Frozen is for 5 year olds (ask a parent of young children). As I quietly sipped my single malt alongside the more traditional whisky set, shall I say distinguished gentlemen of a certain age, we began to notice whisky everywhere. The last six months have seen Whisky bars opening, Whisky festivals arriving and specific Whisky retailers operating – even in Australia. There are now Whisky bloggers and Whisky Clubs (sounds more exciting than a book club, doesn’t it?) It isn’t just about single malt either; Rye Whiskey is now well-known and Tasmanian and Japanese distilleries are very, very cool. It’s increasingly clear that a younger, hipper market has rapidly evolved for Whisky, both in large global markets like China and India and here at home. Why the explosion in demand for this drink and what does it mean for Australian Whisky lovers, new and established?
Like anything that suddenly becomes red hot, one can only speculate as to why it is so… although Whisky is certainly more worthy of the mania than the Macarena or rollerblading. Perhaps Whisky’s time had just come again, as younger drinkers looked for ‘new’ experiences. Maybe it was due to the world’s recent obsession with ‘Mad Men’ and the glamour of 1960′s hard liquor and cocktails. Innovative marketing also had a major part to play, especially with the success of blended Whiskies. If the causes are uncertain, the effects of the Whisky craze are clear: demand is currently outstripping supply, particularly for aged stock, which is escalating prices and increasing the scarcity of certain brands. Some aged whiskys have now literally been drunk out of existence. Prices for prestigious Single Malts around the $200 to $300 mark have have tripled, sometimes quadrupled; a Macallan 30yr that was retailing for $1700 a bottle a few years ago will now cost you $3000 – if you can find it. As with any long-term investment, some avid Whisky collectors have done very well and some are mourning lost opportunities. However, the rarity of aged Whisky is just one element in this story. Distilleries are increasing their output of younger Whiskies to attempt to meet demand. Small distilleries are also popping up everywhere, producing their own Whisky and cultivating a local market in a similar way to the boutique brewery movement. Western Australia boasts Albany’s Limeburners and Australia’s first Bourbon-style distillery, Whipper Snapper in East Perth.
Although Whisky is nothing new, there’s no need to be shy if you’ve come to the party a bit late – let me introduce you to the basics. Each Malt distillery has their own house style, so if I’m trying to establish which Single Malt a customer might enjoy, I’ll try to place them on a spectrum between a Highlands and an Islay Whisky. The Islay region produces big and bold Whiskies, with peaty, smoky, seaweed flavours. Highlands Whiskies are characteristically soft and fruity, sweeter in style and lighter in body. Between these extremes lie regions such as the Lowlands. If you’re looking for something a bit less traditional I might steer you toward the typically fruitier Japanese Whiskies or, my current favourite, an Indian Whisky (let me know if you’re interested in this surprising drop, I have some bottles arriving in-store soon). I encourage you to taste and experiment, just as you would with a wine variety or region, to find the Whisky you enjoy. I’m really more than happy to have extra company as I sip my Single Malt – I may be a Whisky drinker from way back but I’m secretly thrilled that I’m finally in fashion!