Whisky distiller Mark Littler on why whisky isn’t just for old men anymore.
When I was a kid, only old men drank whisky. Well, that’s how I viewed it and I think that memory is not too far removed from the truth. My Dad and plenty of his mates liked single malt whisky and to me, they were old but in reality they were only aged in their early fifties. Such are the perceptions formed by a pre-pubescent teenager who was far more enamored with the social activities of his older brothers whose chosen tipple was the local Boags Red Ale (from a long-neck, no less), while their teenage better halves guzzled vodka and orange, or sickly-sweet white wine poured from a box. Back then, that was pretty cool.
Thirty something years on and how things have changed. Whisky consumption is no longer the sole domain of stereotypical old men. Single malt whisky drinking around the world is enjoying an unparalleled renaissance and this tsunami of acceptance has more recently engulfed Australia. While the traditional Scotch Whisky Brands are still revered, it is the emergence of New-World whiskies from Japan, India, Taiwan and Australia that have breathed new life into the category. I first noticed the change on a foray Hellyers Road Distillery made to Europe in 2008 to attend Whisky Live Paris – one of the world’s great whisky events.
From the outset of this event, it was obvious. There was hardly an ‘old man’ to be seen anywhere, accept perhaps me and our then chairman, John Charleston! Instead, John and I fielded enquiry after enquiry from well informed, culturally aware patrons aged anywhere from 21 to 45. And when it came to single malt whisky, they knew their stuff! In the 10 or so years since that initial foray to France, this trend has manifested even more. Grain type, distilling techniques, age, cask selection, flavour profiling – you name it and they ask the right questions.
Few industry pundits would dispute the claim that Tasmania has led the Australian single malt whisky charge in recent years and I’m really proud to say that Hellyers Road Distillery has been at the pointy end of this re-birth. Thousands of younger Australians are now enjoying the romance and social status single malt whisky drinking delivers. These people are genuinely interested in the brand story, production techniques and how they can appreciate a fine spirit.
Unlike my brothers and their girlfriends of 30 odd years ago, the new generation of consumer drinks for taste and to savour the experience a quality crafted beverage can deliver. Their knowledge of food and beverage has been stimulated by recent trends and Australian brands are delivering the experiences they crave. It seems whisky isn’t just for the oldies anymore.
Mark Littler is Master Distiller of Hellyers Road Distillery and President of the Tasmanian Whisky & Spirits Association.