Julian White explains the approach that sees Whisky & Alement named Icons of Whisky Bar of the Year

Whisky and Alement Credit James Morgan

The World Whiskies Awards sees whisky experts and journalists from around the world come together and select the best people, products and places within the whisky category.

The Icons of Whisky recognise those people, products and places outside of the UK and this year it has been a memorable one for iconic Melbourne bar Whisky & Alement, which has been named as Bar of the Year, and also had Bar Manager Lachlan Watt named as Bar Manager of the Year.

Julian White and Brooke Hayman opened Whisky & Alement 13 years ago, and Julian told Bars and Clubs what it means to gain this global recognition.

“It backs up the mission that we’re on to take all the new whiskies that are coming out in the world, and put them forward to people in a way, in a place and in a setting that’s accessible,” he said.

“We really approach the whiskies in a pragmatic way, do they taste good and what’s this for rather than just judging them by their look and their branding.

“So it was really nice to just have that confirmed on the world stage that that approach is useful.”

And that approach of bringing new whiskies to the bar, having the team taste and understand them and then be able to talk about them is a crucial part of the Whisky & Alement DNA, and Julian explained this is something the team has tried to do since opening the bar.

“I remember in the first year of trade, which was 2010, I was walking across the road and I saw Greg Sanderson, and he said to me, ‘how’s things going?’ and I just said ‘oh, you know, it’s early days’ and he told me ‘just keep adding a new bottle of whisky to the back bar every time you can afford one’. And that’s exactly what we did.

“Ever since then we just started adding one whisky a week, two a week, and still at the mment we’re bringing in about 10 new bottles every week that we’ve never had before, and all the crew sit down every week and we go through and we taste all the new whiskies and write notes.”

So what is that makes a bar one of the best in the world? Julian told Bars and Clubs that there are a number of factors. One of the most important has always been the team.

“In 13 years, less than 25 people have worked here, which is down to giving people a supportive, unpretentious and rich learning environment, I believe. Our annual distillery trips to Tasmania have really been a big part of this along with all the events guests from distilleries around the world.”

Whisky & Alement alumni include: Distillers at Overeem and Four Pillars, Brand ambassadors, Blender at Archie Rose, Sensory at Sullivans Cove to name a few.

Julian also said: It’s all about just not presenting the venue and it’s the way that we talk to people. We are not about ‘why don’t you know about this?’ But it’s simply ‘where are you at and what can we what can we offer that’s going to be the next step for you?’.

“And it’s not a glitzy venue that is just trying to look good. We’re there purely for all the little intricacies and just presenting things as they are rather than trying to hype them up.”

He added: “We bring forward all these products and portray them on their own merit and that way people can make their own decisions, and that just shows that we are not favouring anything or anyone and we just like to play Switzerland.”

In a double win for the bar, Bar Manager Lachlan Watt was named as Bar Manager of the Year, and Julian said of Lachlan: “He’s been working with us since 2016 and he’s been the manager since 2019 and he’s just got this incredible aptitude for creating cocktails. He’s got lacto ferments and he’s making all these incredible fruit creations that are just bubbling away in jars upstairs.

“He’s also incredibly inquisitive when it comes to all these new whiskies and he manages to take on, and feel like the venue is own, which is exactly what we want. He’s done an amazing job.”

Lachlan it was “hard to believe” he had been named Bar Manager of the Year.

“We take a lot of pride in what we do and making whisky accessible to everyone. But to be recognised on a global stage is both unexpected and incredibly exciting, and I’m just really grateful to manage such a wonderful venue.”

Since opening Whisky & Alement has collected a number of awards, but this is the first award from the World Whiskies Awards for the bar, and the team.

Brooke said: “We absolutely love being a part of the Melbourne, Australian and global whisky communities. Helping to build that community and sharing good whisky from around the world with our guests is the reason we do what we do, so being recognised on a global stage is an incredible honour.”

Whisky & Alement is located at 270 Russell St. Melbourne, open Tuesday to Saturday 4pm to 1am and Sunday 4pm-10pm, as well as hosting weekly events, masterclasses and private tastings.

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