The two exciting paths Australian whisky can take

Chris Malcolm is the former Executive Chairman of Lark, former CEO of Australian Whisky Holdings and is now Chairman of the Spirits Advisory Board at Mighty Craft, so he knows a thing or two about Australian whisky.

He recently spoke to The Shout about being at the helm of AWH when the Nant Barrel Investment Scheme collapsed, but he also spoke for Bars and Clubs about the exciting future for Australia’s whisky industry and that he sees it going in two directions.

“I see traditional whisky,” he said, “if you think about that, look at Sullivan’s Cove. That’s a traditional world whisky made in Australia. It’s high quality, a really good whisky, but it’s traditional. Then you look at some of the brands that are really new world.

“You’ve got to say Top Shelf’s Ned’s is a lot new world in what they are doing, as well with Grainshaker and all the things they are bringing out. If you look at say Hellyers Road, again that’s a traditional world whisky, but you see people who are more innovative such as Spring Bay and they are doing some really good things.”

He added: “If you look at Seven Seasons, well that is absolutely new world.”

Chris told Bars and Clubs that he is also involved with several cooperage and barrel supply businesses and they are working with distilleries to help create new world Australian whisky.

“A barrel creates about 70 per cent of the quality and flavour of whisky so you’ve got to understand the barrel and you’ve got to have access to the best barrels. Right now we are very close to putting a product together for Daniel Motlop at Seven Season, and that’s to create a paperbark whisky.

“We’ve been experimenting for over six months, looking at various treatments of barrel and we have run trials using paperbark from Arnhem Land. The aroma, the smell that we are getting with that is just amazing. When Daniel first smelled the barrel he said ‘that smells like home’ he was just ecstatic.

“We have still got some work to do to get it to perfection, but we will be able to have a paperbark whisky and that is new world, that is unique. So I definitely see a future for two strains of Australian whisky; you’ve got high-quality traditional Scottish-style whisky made in Australia, from companies like Overeem, Hellyers Road, Sullivan’s Cove and then there are companies like Seven Seasons and that is also high quality, but that is very much new world.”

Looking ahead at Mighty Craft’s place in Australian whisky, Chris said: “We’ve got a plan to really accelerate the whisky side of the business, we’re growing spirits overall, but we’re focusing on whisky for the next few years and that’s part of my leadership there. By 2025 we want to have about 1.5 million litres of whisky under maturation. So we’re busy buying new stills, installing new stills, busy training people, bringing in talent.

“I brought in for Mighty Craft a few months ago, George Campbell, fabulous young guy from Scotland with his fiancee, Josephine. His last gigs were with places like Glenfiddich and before that Balvenie, and he was part of the fast-track Diageo management program. And he’s now head distiller for the group, so having the opportunity to mentor a young guy with great experience, who is a fabulous person, I find that exciting.”

So there are exciting times ahead, but what does Chris love about Australian whisky?

He told Bars and Clubs: “Let me put it this way. When I use my iPhone, I’m terrified of making a mistake. I press the buttons and I’m always afraid I’m going to do something, or lose something. When I watch my kids, they just press everything, it’s like ‘we can’t break this thing, let’s just figure it out. If we lose it, then we’ll just start again.

“I look at that attitude and that’s what I see in Australian whisky. I see that Australians are not frightened to play with it. Sometimes they play with ignorance because they maybe don’t fully understand what they are doing, but they want to have a go. I just find that to be so creative, so innovative.

“Sometimes you look and you think ‘what the hell are you doing, why would you do that?’ But they keep going, they keep playing with it, even if they break it, they keep playing until they’ve got something good and that’s what I think is exciting about Australia.”

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