Our country may have been built on rum, but it’s whisky that’s stealing the spotlight these days. Australia recently became one of the top 10 export markets for Scotch Whisky in the world, while our booming craft spirit industry currently boasts more whisky distilleries than Scotland.
The Drinks Business reported in March: “Scotch exports to Australia have been growing steadily for several years now, but 2020 marks the first year that the market has made it into the top 10 most valuable markets, signalling its growing importance going forward.”
Meanwhile, Dan Murphy’s saw a 150% increase in sales of Australian whisky in the second half of 2020.
What’s driving our passion for the spirit? Drinks Digest got the lowdown from Katie Nagar (below), National Whisky Ambassador for Diageo.
Do you have a theory regarding why Aussies love their whiskies so much?
Australians love exploration of flavour. Whether it be the pursuit of the perfect coffee, checking out the newest Italian bistro hotspot, or trying to recreate a recipe from one of their favourite chefs – Australians seek out the new and exciting when it comes to the world of drinking and dining.
Whisky is all about flavour, so it comes as no surprise that as this spirit continues to grow in popularity that Australia would be one of the leaders of this trend. We saw a huge rise in the popularity of gins a few years back that continues on even now. Nearly everywhere you turn, there are new gin distilleries popping up all across Australia, as well as new gin innovation products being imported from international producers.
While gin and whisky of course have many differences, they both are highly characterful and flavoursome spirits. It makes sense that Australians would embrace discovering the next big flavourful spirit, and today that spirit is whisky. But make no mistake – whisky isn’t a passing fad — it is here to stay.
What whisky trends have you noticed in Australia in the last 12 months?
Well first off, that whisky is ‘trending’ itself. Never before have there been so many different whisky products available from nearly every whisky-producing country around the world. A decade ago you would likely have only seen well-known whisky brands from Scotland, Ireland and North America, perhaps a handful local Australian offerings. Now you can find a myriad of selections in almost every backbar and bottleshop, with bottles coming from Japan and emerging whisky markets like Taiwan, India and even Italy. It’s an exciting time to be a whisky aficionado!
In terms of the trends in Australia in the last 12 months, I’ve noticed a big shift in attitude towards drinking whisky ‘your way’. For a long time, many people have been under the perception that you have to drink whisky neat, particularly with Scotch whisky. That sort of approach is extremely restrictive and limits whisky-drinking occasions, not to mention just plain boring and inaccurate. Thankfully though, the tides are turning. Some of the best bars and restaurants are putting whisky into delicious cocktails that are much more approachable and suitable to the warm weather months. Serves like the whisky highball are unlocking a whole new world of flavour, combining whisky with fresh, seasonal produce and unexpected ingredients.
Diageo announced in January that its Scotch sales were up 17% in Australia, driven by Johnnie Walker. What makes it so popular?
Johnnie Walker is the world’s number one selling whisky; with 200 years of tradition and experience to draw upon to create phenomenal liquids enjoyed the world over. Johnnie Walker has unparalleled resources from which to make its blends – nearly 11 million casks of whisky at its disposal – not to mention 200 years of tradition and experience to draw upon. This means that we can create phenomenal whiskies and offer them at competitive prices.
Is there an up and comer that whisky fans should try?
An up and comer that whisky fans should try is The Singleton of Dufftown. It is one of our Speyside single malts that is beautifully balanced and smooth. It’s a single malt that experienced whisky drinkers can appreciate, but also is suitable for new whisky drinkers. Singleton is priced incredibly well, and works great on its own or mixed in cocktails. It’s a fantastic all-rounder.
Do you have any predictions for the whisky market in Australia in 2021?
My prediction is nothing wildly new per se, but just continued forward momentum in the right direction. Australia will stay strong on its journey of whisky exploration. We will see more and more new products arriving in the local market, particularly some big-ticket luxury offerings.
The world’s most highly sought after whiskies are collectable because they are so rare. Supply is extremely scarce and new releases may be limited to just a few hundred bottles available globally. Now that Australia is one of the leading export markets for Scotch whisky, we have a higher chance of being one of the lucky few countries that gets to receive these precious, limited releases. Collectors should keep their eyes out for some incredible, once-in-a-lifetime Scotches landing on our shores in 2021.
Diageo recently unveiled its 2020 Special Releases Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection. Are the special releases collections well received in Australia each year?
Absolutely. Any whisky collector worth their salt is in the know about Special Releases and cannot wait for it to land. Each year brings forth an exciting and completely new collection of 8 to 10 natural cask-strength whiskies. These whiskies represent some of the most rare and collectible in our portfolio. There simply is no other collection like it.
Do you have a favourite in the new collection?
I hate to pick favourites – they are all so good in their own way. If I have to choose just one, I’d say the Pittyvaich 30 year old. Pittyvaich is one of our ghost distilleries as it has been closed since 1993, meaning the remaining whiskies from this distillery are extremely limited and precious. This particular release of Pittyvaich is a great demonstration of experimental maturation techniques. The whisky spent most of its time resting in refill American oak casks, but then for the first time ever has been finished in first-fill bourbon casks. The results is marvellous, creating a whisky that has all the depth and elegance of an older age statement single malt, yet is still lively and bursting with creamy vanilla spice and tropical fruit.
The 2020 Special Releases Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection
The 2020 Special Releases Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection – Rare By Nature – has been curated by Master Blender Dr Craig Wilson and is comprised of eight cask strength single malt Scotch whiskies, drawn from some of Scotland’s most beloved distilleries.
The highly anticipated annual collection once again explores unusual age points, experimental maturation techniques, and welcomes our first-ever release finished in pot-still Caribbean rum casks.
“I’ve created this year’s Special Releases Collection, from some of my favourite distilleries across Scotland, with whisky enthusiasts in mind,” Wilson said. “For those who enjoy spicy flavours, my recommendation would be to try our Cardhu, and for those who favour rich, intense and smooth flavours my choice would be Mortlach 21 year old. If you are curious about discovering something very rare, the Pittyvaich – the single ghost distillery in our Special Releases Collection this year is an unforgettable dram.”
For those curious to discover the very last drops from unique casks or savor a little taste of history, the collection includes: Pittyvaich, from the Speyside ghost distillery, finished in first fill ex-bourbon casks, a rare Highland expression of Dalwhinnie matured in refill hogshead casks filled in 1989, the best of Isle of Skye, Talisker, finished in pot-still Caribbean rum casks, and the stalwart Lagavulin, a perfect expression of this Islay distillery’s character.
Cardhu 11 Year Old (56% ABV) $159.99 AU RRP: A small batch from refill, new and ex -bourbon American oak, for floral sweetness and spicy intensity. At natural strength, creamy-smooth in texture and a sweet then juicy taste with traces of fondant midpalate; deliciously buttery, hot and spicy, recalling toasted hot-cross buns.
Cragganmore 20 Year Old (55.8% ABV) $239.99 AU RRP: An age never before released from the distillery, matured in refill and new fresh-charred casks. The texture is creamy-smooth, while the taste is rich and sweet. With water, smoother and longer; sweet-spicy, still with a lingering and now more mellow chilli pepper aftertaste.
Dalwhinnie 30 Year Old (51.9% ABV) $970.00 AU RRP: Some of the last drops of this elegant and lively Highlander, matured in refill hogsheads filled in 1989. At natural strength, smoothly creamy and slightly astringent in texture, the vibrant taste richly sweet overall, with a drying, gradually building peppery-spicy warmth. Water cools the heat, yet leaves some warm spice in the aftertaste.
Lagavulin 12 Year Old (56.4% ABV) $214.99 AU RRP: Soaring and intense, a small batch of single vintage Lagavulin matured in refill American oak casks. A clean, fresh Lagavulin that is very lightly drying mid-palate. The sweetness is more prominent with water, when the tastes are reduced yet broadly unchanged.
Mortlach 21 Year Old (56.9% ABV) $1,100.00 AU RRP: Rich in smooth intensity, from a small batch finished in Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso-seasoned casks. Seemingly endless and deeply impressive, with the fruit and savoury notes in perfect agreement and a warming glow spreading across the palate.
Pittyvaich 30 Year Old (50.8% ABV) $690.00 AU RRP: A 1989 ghost, the first release ever to be finished in first fill ex-bourbon casks. The taste is rich and creamy vanilla-sweet overall, with some balancing fruity acidity, drying lightly in the finish. With water, smooth and sweet still, and just gently spicy at the end.
Talisker 8 Year Old (57.9% ABV) $169.99 AU RRP: A big taste, the first-ever release of Talisker finished in pot-still Caribbean rum casks. A soft, smooth texture and a big taste; salty and lightly sweet, before the full-on Talisker pepperiness takes over.
The Singleton of Dufftown 17 Year Old (55.1% ABV) $209.99 AU RRP: Pure character from a first-ever release matured only in refill American oak hogsheads. At natural strength the texture is creamy-smooth, the taste intense and sweet overall, and both drying and slightly coating as that hint of beeswax re-appears.
The 2020 Special Releases Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection is available in limited quantities across leading airports and specialist retailers Australia.