Sydney's Temperamental Tipples

Nic Crowther
Thu 21 May

Twenty years ago, the rules were easy. Just walk up to the bar, ask for a shot of tequila and wait for the bartender to fill the little glass with some Mexican abhorrent paint stripper. On the other side of the coin, whiskey was taken with Coke, and if you were feeling generous you might treat yourself and a friend to a Johnny Walker Black.

As we know, those days are gone. Now you need to know an Anejo from Mezcal, or a Balvenie from a barrel-strength Bunnahabhain.

However, with the advent of the speakeasy as the most popular form of new bar in Australia during 2014, its interesting to follow the movements of some of the big players in global spirits and their interpretation of where the mass market is headed.

DIAGEO is one of the more diversified food and beverage companies in the world, and has a massive portfolio covering beers, wines and spirits. Known largely for their flagship beer, Guinness, it was surprising to see them offload their flagship Irish Whiskey, Bushmills, as part of a move to tie up control of Don Julio, one of the worlds best known premium tequila brands.

This move effectively weakens their hold on the Irish Whiskey market, leaving the door wide open to Pernod Ricard and their Irish Distillers division to control some of the better known brands from Ireland.

It speaks of a strong belief by DIAGEO that the future lies in premium tequilas rather than maintaining a presence in a market which is very much getting overrun by Scottish and Japanese whiskies as the market tends towards the classic smoky style and regional interpretations. The F&B behemoth likely has the US market still squarely in its sights, where tequila consumption continues to grow and whiskey bars remain the bastion of bearded hipsters.

What will these mean for Sydney's bars? Well, not too much, we think. The focus here remains on filling the back bar with 100+ whiskies rather than looking to further exploration of the increasingly refined tequilas. They’ll be there, but for the next couple of years at least you’ll need to fight through the ‘Old Fashioned’s and ‘Manhattan’s to find them.