In what remains of World Whisky Day, we speak with Sean Baxter (below), Johnnie Walker’s Australian ambassador and whiskey connoisseur.
How do you celebrate WWD, Sean?
What better way to celebrate World Whisky Day than with a few my favourite scotch whiskies. I might start with a really nice single malt and then move onto a Johnnie Walker Double Black Penicillin. I’ll also be knocking up my favourite whipped whisky butter for a few steaks shared with friends later on tonight.
Whisky has reached a new generation and broken away from ‘fusty old man’ drink… briefly, how did it get cool again?
I think it has been a combination of things. There has been a massive move towards flavour over the last decade here in Australia which has seen a boom across multiple industries. This has resulted in more people being prepared to experiment with how and what they consume. We have seen a massive uptake in craft ale which has begun to change the way people enjoy beer. We have seen an explosion of wine varietals, with new and exciting flavours seemingly popping up every week. We can also not ignore the way the small bar industry has intimately influenced the way people drink whisky-based cocktails. All of these factors I believe draw people towards the whisky industry. It’s not just a whisky revolution, but a flavour revolution.
You know a lot about the liquid… but is there always more to learn when it comes to whisky?
The whisky industry is always moving, always evolving. Each year whisky companies are releasing innovations which are changing the way that whisky can be made. Whether it be changes in how grain is malted or a wash fermented, how spirit is distilled or how (and in what) it is matured. This has always been the case, since day one, however right now the amount we are discovering about the science of whisky manufacture is at its peak, due to the demands on the industry. There is always more to learn.
Can you name us five cool bars around Australia to drink whisky in?
I love sharing a dram with a friend at Baxter Inn in Sydney. The Wild Rover is my favourite for a dozen oysters, matched to my favourite island malt (and chilled handle of Guinness to boot). Boilermaker House in Melbourne is the best for whisky and beer matching. Whisky + Alement is a great all rounder, with a barrel of their house malt always resting above the bar. I also really enjoy Cobbler in Brisbane, with a massive range of rare and hard to find whisky on offer.
As you say at tastings, there’s no “wrong” way to describe whisky… but what are a couple of simple things you need to know to assess one?
There’s no real wrong way to describe a whisky. After all, it’s your taste buds, its your olfactory glands, what you get from a whisky and how you interpret those flavours is a very personal and subjective thing. However, I always recommend taking your time, go in a few times and just spend a couple of seconds nosing the whisky. I often find whisky will remind me of moments as opposed to actual flavours. For example, Caol Ila 12 tends to remind me of my dad burning off the grass clippings after mowing. Port Ellen reminds me of the smell of fresh Anzac biscuits. Singleton Spey Cascade smells of cutting a ripe pear with pocket knife. I find the more you personalise your whisky drinking experience, the more flavours you will uncover.
Simple rule, take it slow. Don’t rush the process, take your time sipping the whisky, hold it in you mouth for a few a seconds, uncover it’s beauty.
If you had to pick one whisky to raise a toast to WWD with, just clean, no ice, which would it be?
Today I’ll be raising a toast with Johnnie Walker Black Label. It was my dads favourite whisky, and seeing as he can’t be here to enjoy it with me, I’ll pour two in his honour (saying that, he always drank his with ice, so I might have to pop a few ice cubes in).