whisky whiskey spirit

Just as the craft beer movement took over Australian shores, craft whisky is now having its moment — and it’s capturing a whole new market.

Gone are the days of whisky being a mature-aged man’s drink. According to Kathleen Davies, founder of Australian craft spirit distributor Nip of Courage, 24- to 34-year-olds are the largest age group interacting with Australian whisky, but they’re interested in more than just what it tastes like.

“Millennials like to know who made the whisky, what ingredients it was made with, the mash bill, what sort of barrel the distiller has used and the story behind the distillery,” she says.

There are currently more than 130 craft distilleries across the country, many of which are trying their hand at whisky and creating small-batch releases with plenty of character.

“There’s a lot of innovation coming out of Australia, and Australian [distillers] are experimenting a lot with different grains,” says Davies. “Whipper Snapper distillery in Western Australia made a quinoa whisky recently and Peter Bignell from Belgrove Distillery in Tasmania is going to release a rye whisky that’s been peated with sheep’s poo, called Holy Shit.”

With demand surging, the price points of Australian craft whisky remain relatively high, but Davies says that could be about to change.

“More and more distilleries are coming on board and putting their products in the market, which is going to drive better price points and competition,” she says.

Witnessing the movement first-hand, Sydney whisky bar The Wild Rover jumped at the opportunity to satiate enthusiasts, forming the Whisky Co-op where members can try the hundreds of whiskies on offer at the bar and attend monthly tastings.

“Every single day we get someone who doesn’t know a lot about whisky and wants to learn more,” says group manager Kim McDiarmid.

“The stigma behind whisky has changed a lot now, but it used to be about old men sitting at a bar sharing a dram. Our whisky club is made up of about 30 per cent females and it’s more of a younger crowd who want to learn about it.”

The Wild Rover stocks around 250 whiskies, among them a range of small-batch varieties. While there aren’t specific guidelines to determine what is or isn’t considered small batch, the general consensus is that it’s a more premium product, and something customers are willing to pay more for.

“We want to appease everyone from beginners to the whisky buff,” says McDiarmid. “Stocking a small-batch whisky they may not have heard of adds a bit more interest to the menu and gives credibility as well.”

Davies says customers are also drawn to small-batch whisky for its imperfections.

“A lot of commercial whisky producers chill filter, so there’s no fogginess to the whisky and they will also add colours and flavours to make their batches consistent,” she says. “Craft distilleries leave their whisky as is, as raw and pure as possible, which gives it a lot more flavour complexity. Even if it’s a notable brand releasing a small-batch line, people like the imperfection and want to try them.”

Davies also stresses the importance of rewarding customers who choose a premium or small-batch whisky. “If they’re spending $20 or $30 for a nip of really nice whisky, serving it up in nice glassware is a good idea,” she says.

Offering a tailored menu to complement the whiskies on the menu won’t go astray either. “Cheese is an easy option to match with whisky and could just be simply offering a cheese and fruit board or adding different cuts of meats,” says Davies.

The key to capturing the new-age whisky drinker is to make it personal — so get to know your customers and reap the rewards.

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