An interview with Katie Nagar, Australian Johnnie Walker Ambassador – by James Henderson.
There’s been a recent surge in interest for the Whisky Highball, a drink dating back to the 19th century (and therefore, long on the lips of bartenders), so what is driving the current trend?
We suspect that there may be deeper sociological, economic and psychological factors at play, so we engaged with Johnnie Walker (Diageo) in an attempt to understand why.
Johnnie Walker (who Katie represents) is currently running an Australian campaign on the Whisky Highball.
What’s special about this particular cocktail?
I think what makes the whisky highball so special is its versatility – the number of flavours you can choose to feature is only limited by your imagination.
The serve itself is so simple, yet the drink offers huge complexity of flavour – it can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. The classic whisky and ginger ale can easily be made at home, while on the other end of the spectrum, you see some of Australia’s most revered bars using advanced techniques to push the boundaries of creativity, combining whisky with exotic in-house produced ingredients (sometimes even using their own equipment to carbonate).
These drinks still fit into the highball category, but are completely different takes on it.
What’s driving that interest?
For a long time, a lot of people saw whisky as being rigid and exclusionary. Whisky was considered a spirit for one particular demographic of people, and only to be consumed in one particular way – neat, with perhaps a whisper of water.
Thankfully, now people are realising that that is a load of rubbish.Whisky has a huge range of flavour, and the people who enjoy drinking it are as equally as diverse.
Furthermore, drinking whisky should be an enjoyable experience, and if you don’t like having it neat, then you are well within your rights to add whatever mixers will enrich the drinking experience for you.
When people tell me that they don’t think they like whisky, I usually respond to them with: “Do you like flavour? Then you like whisky. It’s really just about finding the whisky that speaks to you, and the style of drink that suits your palate.”
Where are trends like this emerging from? Is it a location, a person or particular demographic?
There is research indicating that lower ABV drinks are becoming increasingly popular, internationally [see: ‘YouGov / Portman Group Alcohol Alternatives Survey of 2004 UK adults: The Low and No Alcohol Boom is Here to Stay – January 2019’].
The highball is perfectly positioned within this global trend as it usually contains only one measure of spirit as a long drink, meaning you can enjoy a lighter style, lower ABV drink that still offers amazing flavour.
What cross-industry factors (from the culinary, cultural or other worlds) have contributed to this cocktail trend? Are there demographic shifts or larger inter-industry variables forging this change?
The versatility of whisky highballs allows it to be a drink that holds relevance across a variety of cultures and nationalities.
A great example of this can be seen in Dave Broom’s book ‘Whisky: The Manual’, which evaluates 202 different whiskies based on the world’s five most popular mixers: soda water in the US and Canada, ginger ale in the UK and Ireland, cola in Eastern Europe and Russia, sweetened green tea in China and Taiwan, and coconut water in Brazil and Central America.
These are all whisky highballs, each celebrating a different mixer which embraces the flavour preferences of the peoples of that place.
I think this reflects a greater global trend of pushing for inclusiveness across a plethora of industries.
Given that Diageo also owns Starward Whisky – a leader in the domestic market – how are other Australian whiskies holding up to compete with this trend?
To clarify, we don’t actually own Starward. Distill Ventures is a Starward investor and Diageo is an investor of Distill Ventures.
It is apparent via our investment in Distill Ventures that Diageo views the local whisky market as having great potential. Local whisky brands help drive interest and relevance in the entire category, and that helps drive growth for all brands.
Do you see a permanent place on the menu for the Whisky Highball or will it come and go?
I believe it is here to stay. Top bars around the world are increasingly allocating more of their menu space to highball offerings.
From the conversation with Katie, the forces that are driving recent interest in the whisky highball include: a broadening of whisky understanding and adoption in the mass-market, a drive for low-ABV consumption and the Australian palate, interested in long, refreshing beverages.
As an additional note, given the prevalence of mixers here, I’m interested to know if there’s an upward-trend in carbonated drinks (including sodas, tonics and seltzers) and where they might ultimately fit in the future of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic and beverages.
Almost two years after recording with The Hospopreneurs Podcast, Blake Hall has solidified his role as the Patient Wolf Brand Ambassador and is the leading mind behind the Front Of House at the popular Melbourne gin brand’s new Southbank distillery.
Outgrowing its original Brunswick site, Patient Wolf has
stepped toward co-owners, Matt Argus and Dave Irwin’s vision for an urban
distillery, in the heart of Melbourne.
Two years on, Blake is as charismatic as ever and continues
to go from strength to strength, now managing an operation with many more
moving parts – but an operation that he’s equally as passionate about and proud
It was a pleasure to catch up again and hear about their new distillery release, Rogue Barrel (made in collaboration with Wolf of the Willows Brewing Co.), that will be available when the new doors open very very soon.
What is Rogue Barrel? (ABV, tasting notes, barrel and history, cooperage, yeast, is the grain different to what Patient Wolf normally uses?)
We’ve seen some
amazing barrel aged gins that are really bridging the gap with whisky drinkers.
Instead, we wanted to look at a barrel as another botanical, adding new layers
of complexity. To do so, we used a barrel from our friends at Wolf of the
Willows, who released a ‘Brett Saison’.
The 200L barrel is made from French Oak and first came from a winery in country Victoria – we don’t know which one. It was used for ageing Chardonnay. Wolf of the Willows then picked it up to use as a fermentation vessel for 100% Brettanomyces Bruxellensis ferments (known as Brett Yeast – more on this available at the bottom of the article), which create their own microflora environment in the wood. This is a very unusual and unique process. The beer fermented in these barrels produced their Barrel-Fermented Brett Saison Beer.
Blake, other than the obvious Wolf-themed name, what made
Wolf of the Willows appeal for a collaboration?
Wolf of the Willows is a craft brewery in Cheltenham, Melbourne. We recently did a collab beer for GABS festival – a Tom Collins inspired Sour Beer. It was hugely successful, rating third in the People’s Choice Award.
Wolf of the Willows are a well respected Australian brewery. Other than the similarity with ‘Wolf’ in our names, there is great brand alignment and fit between us. Collabs such as this, drive a point of differentiation and hype.
How does this release fundamentally differ to other craft gin releases?
The key difference we can see is how unique the barrel is.
have French Oak, imparting more savoury characters than its American
cousin. Fill it with Chardonnay and you create something great. Ferment a beer
with a rare, unique and aggressive yeast strain in said barrel… How could you
turn that down?
Each element – be it
gin, beer, wine or barrel – offers something unique to the final
product. Lastly, this is a single barrel product. We’ll never be able to
recreate the flavours in each bottle, as the barrel has now evolved.
What does it mean for the Patient Wolf portfolio?
The next big step for
us is our new distillery.
With a great bar,
atmosphere and new stills on the way next year, this means we have a platform
and space to release more experimental gins. This is hopefully the first in a
long line of unique and interesting gins, and we’re incredibly proud of the end
Is this a way for you to test the market for a permanent position in the Patient Wolf line-up?
Yes, however we put so
much thought and consideration into everything we do, it really is more of
a reveal and offering a great gin rather than testing. However if it
absolutely kills it and everyone is loving it, absolutely, we’ll consider
whether it moves into our core range or we go to a bigger scale with it.
Do you have any hints on the next distillery release?
We have a few ideas.
We have some really interesting barrel ideas among other things. Stay
With many other brands now producing pink gins, what’s Patient Wolf’s position on the potential for a pink gin in the future?
We love the creative
freedom that gin, as a spirit, offers the producer. We are open to anything, as
long as the final product is a world-class product. We don’t compromise on
There is a fine line
between a gimmick and a credible product.
More on Brettanomyces Bruxellensis (aka: Brett or Brett Yeast):
Forward-thinking breweries have been looking at Brett yeast for a while now (I remember pouring an expression at Brisbane Brewing Co. in 2017) but what interested me, was its application in the barrel-ageing process of gin.
Blake Hall had this to say:
Brett), is a wild yeast strain. It’s volatile and is considered a bit ‘rouge.’
Many think that Brett beers are funky and dry, however it can produce
incredible tropical fruit flavours, like regular IPAs in hyper-drive.
And Scott McKinnon (Founder and Brewer of Wolf of the Willows) made this comment:
‘Brett is a very aggressive
mircoflora, and needs to be handled with respect in the brewery. Wine makers
loath it. For our barrel, I got lots of white peach and white pepper aromas and
flavours from the barrel.’
The use of Brettanomyces Bruxellensis has been tempting-emergence in the United States over the past 18 months but is still currently an underground yeast strain.
Beer-Nerds and Industry are across it but The Common Gin Drinker isn’t.