The Whisky Tasting Club

Dom’s Diary – Laphroaig Live from Sydney – part one

Laphroaig distillery manager John Campbell and I seem to developed a habit of bumping into each other in the oddest of places in recent week.

First it was Purl, a London  speakeasy-like cellar bar which is doing for cocktails what Heston Blumenthal is doing for food and which served as a cocktail made with Laphroaig and sherry presented under a glass dome which is pumped full of woodsmoke.

Then a couple of weeks ago it was the refurbished cabaret room at The Savoy, where John was debating the merits of single malt and bourbon with Maker’s Mark’s master distiller Greg Davis. I can’t think of anything more incongruous than down to earth  Ileach John and good ol’ Kentucky boy Greg in the ostentatious opulence that is the refurbished Savoy cabaret room.

And now we’re meeting in the foyer of The Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Sydney and John’s doing a fair impression of a zombie. His road trip will last two weeks and so far has brought him from Islay to Sydney to Brisbane and back to Sydney. His sleep has been patchy and fragmented. Next he will fly to Auckland.

“Great,” he mutters. “A Scotsman arriving among thousands of English rugby fans. I’m not moaning but it’s hard doing all the travel, the hotels, the waiting around,” he says. “in fact the only good part is meeting the people.”

And meet the people he does. Tonight I join him at a sold out tasting at The Oakbarrel, which the Australians describe as a ‘bottle store’ but is a high quality whisky and wine shop close to Sydney’s financial district. His audience is, on balance, a more traditional, male 40 something year old one than you now tend to get in Europe – a bit like it was five years ago. This is surprising until you look at the cost of malt whisky here. Even with the lousy British exchange rate malt is priced significantly higher than Europe. But they’re probably closer to where a 10 or 12 year old Scotch single malt should be.

Indeed talking  to people from Laphroaig’s parent company Beam Global, there’s a clear price gap between severely limited Australian supplies of good single malt and the youth- focused and massive bourbon market. Australia is probably the world ‘s leading market for American whiskey, so much so that Beam has set about creating a market for super premium bourbon with the release of 1795, marking the year the Beam family came to The States and costing a cool AUS$200.

This is worrying. The main event we’re here for is Laphroaig Live which will be held in the coolest part of Sydney. Can Laphroaig do cool?

I have my doubts here…

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