Black Label

A Brave New World: Diageo invest in Australian distillery

Posted by: Ted

The whisky scene in Australia, by its very nature as a young and emerging industry, has hitherto always been gloriously independent. Brave and adventurous souls carving out their own mark in this new frontier of whisky making, men and women free to pursue their own ideologies and dreams. Very different to the crusty, entrenched old world, where the multitudes of distilleries are weighed down by centuries of tradition and the idea of a truly independent producer is hard to come by in the face of hungry multinationals.

Diageo

It was always going to happen you know. Never a doubt. You can bet your bottom dollar that ever since Bill Lark emerged from the Tasmanian Highlands as an enlightened being, the big boys have been keeping a very close eye on developments in the antipodes. If the Australian whisky scene succeeded in its ambitions, and my word it most certainly has, the sharks were always going to be circling ready. There have been a few nibbles here and there over the years, but finally someone has taken a proper bite.

Diageo, global spirits bigwig and owner of globally renown brands such as Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff and Baileys, has decided to take a chance navigating by the southern constellations and bought a minority share in Victoria’s New World Whisky Distillery, makers of Starward whisky. Starward, with excellent releases such as the Apera cask single malt or the quirky ginger beer cask, has been making waves both at home and increasingly overseas, so it is no wonder that Diageo has considered it to be a worthy venture to invest in.

How this moment changes the landscape in Australia is yet to be seen. It is only logical that as the industry increases, the big boys will continue to invest in distilleries they consider to be appropriate extensions of their brand. To be honest this is actually a really good thing for Australia, as it will allow for much greater growth within the sector, solidify the local market, give better extension into new overseas markets and help whisky in this country mature and gain further acceptance as an world class product.

New World visit 5

But… at the same time we have to hope that this evolution doesn’t come at the cost of the attitude and culture that makes Australian whisky unique. It would be sad if that spark was lost through homogenisation and the finance-driven whims of corporate overlords. The whisky produced by Australian distillers is exceptional, a sentiment backed up by a slew of prestigious awards; if the quality of the spirit was diminished through bottom-dollar bean-counting it would be a slap in the face to the ideals of the men and women who have worked hard to bring this industry to life. Then again, even the hardest-boiled rager-against-the-machine has to admit somewhere along the line that these guys seem to have some vague idea about what they’re doing, so hopefully good stewardship and passion for the product will win the day.

Actually, come to think of it, something quite extraordinary may emerge out of all this. As we all know, Diageo’s flagship whisky is the Johnnie Walker, the highest profile blended whisky in the world. If Diageo keep adding Australian cup winners to its stable, who knows, maybe we’ll see the release of a true-blue Aussie blend! Strewth, prepare ya cakehole for the dinky-di Jonno Walkabout “MAAAAATE” travel-exclusive series, featuring the likes of the ‘Bronze Surfie’, the ‘Flamin’ Pink Galah’ and of course, the ‘Blue Bogan’.

The future is here and it’s a Brave New World. Watch this space.

Blind tasting: Johnnies Night

Posted by: Nick

I like to consider myself somewhat clued up about whisky. Over my time I’ve had a dram or two. I dare to think of myself as an experienced whisky drinker. And I would like to believe that just maybe, I could tell a $200 bottle from one costing pocket change.

But then there was one night. One terrible night. One awful night when everything I knew about whisky hung in the balance. I am referring to: Johnnies Night.

Spooky Johnnies Whisky Waffle Nick and Ted

DRAMATIC MUSIC!!!

Johnnie Walker is the best selling maker of blended Scotch whisky on the planet. Despite this, or maybe because of it, my colleague Ted and I have never truly cared about any of their products. This of course was most likely a result of our dabbles as younger, broker men, when we frequently ‘tasted’ the Red Label multiple times an evening at various social events we attended, and then were too stingy to seek out their more expensive and esteemed bottles. Slowly and surely, however, we built up a collection: through our own purchases, our fathers’ purchases, and purchases by our generous friend Stephen who provided the two most valuable bottles (things haven’t changed that much – we still can’t ordinarily afford a bottle of Blue simply for a blind tasting night!)

The task was simple – six expressions of Johnnie Walker: Red, Black, Double Black, Gold, Platinum and Blue, were to be blind tasted and we would predict which dram was which. Now, I say simple. This turned out to not be the case.

Close up whisky waffle

An artsy close up of our un-whisky friendly glassware. They have colour-coded tags, though!

I’ll make the excuse here and now that we had never tried several of the expressions before – but this could not explain our poor showing when the results came in.

I won’t go into the detailed statistics of the night, partly because it would make tedious reading, and partly because we are far too embarrassed to share them with the world. Suffice to say that we rated the blue far lower than it’s worth and overvalued the red label. The Platinum and the Gold didn’t fare any better, while the Double Black proved popular.

Maybe this says that we do not have as expensive taste as we claimed. Or perhaps it says we do not have as developed palates as we think. Eager to prove this latter fact wrong, Ted and I had a second attempt, this time correctly identifying the Red, Black and Double Black, but then mixing up the upper three.

Lots of Johnnie Walker – some would say too much…

At the end of the night, we were confused, but not perturbed. It was the first blind tasting we had ever done, and we finished the night with a better understanding of blended whisky. The results had turned up the fact that the Gold and Platinum bottles did not appeal greatly to us, nor justify their price tags. The Blue Label was slightly better received, although embarrassingly, so was the Red. Finally, the biggest revelation of the night was our discovery of, in our opinion, the best Johnnie Walker expression.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you some actual consumer advice.

Taking into account flavour, value, personal preferences, and the level of inebriation we had reached at the conclusion of the night, we found the best bottle of Johnnie Walker colour expression to be the Double Black.

That said, I’d take a bottle of Glenlivet any day.

#johnniewalkerweek