Whisky: tradition vs innovation

A debate about tradition versus innovation has consumed whisk(e)y experts as a new generation moves to revolutionise without blaspheming the old guard, writes Sophie Smith in the latest issue of BARS&clubs.

“This almost religious routine that goes with whisky – it’s got to be this, it’s got to be that – why? Why does it have to be?” asks Melbourne bartender Jacob Flynn.

Flynn is head of whisky at Beneath Driver Lane in Melbourne and one of a growing number of 20 to 40-somethings advocating for innovation. “I would like to see an opening up of what the base of the whisky would be,” he says. “There’s a wonderful Chicago distillery named KOVAL and they make a millet whiskey, an oat whiskey. I’ve heard of quinoa whiskies coming on the market, if you want to drink that out of an avocado.”

The perceived need doesn’t stem from a struggling market. There’s been an explosion of whisky bars and distilleries across Australia, with imports also estimated to be three to four times greater than that 10 years ago. The resale market is so lucrative it’s now contentious and likened to Wall St. Bartenders are traversing the globe to find bottles that aren’t widely available. Some producers are experimenting with casks and age, rejuvenated venues fashioned as American saloons offer a roaring good time and restaurants are as hungry to buy Japanese whisky as the consumer.

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