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WhiskyFeature

A wee dram: Whisky Live

Josephine Walsh

Whisky Wednesdays are a highly anticipated part of my week. Going to different bars around Canberra to sample new whiskies is especially wonderful as the days grow colder, and I love enjoying the warming flavours of different Australian and international whisky. And visualising myself in a 1960s frock having a wee dram with Jon Hamm (aka Don Draper from Mad Men.)

You can imagine my excitement when I was invited to ‘Dinner with Whisky’, the tasty preview of Whisky Live to be in Canberra 30 and 31 May.

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I appreciate that whisky is not for everyone – it has a strong taste that takes some getting used to. So I was keen to talk to the expert tasters about their first whisky experience, as well as hearing their advice for those new to or scared of the spirit.

The evening started with a delicious whisky-based cocktail in Hotel Realm’s Konoba Restaurant, where we had the chance to mingle with some of Canberra’s top-end bar managers, foodies and the organisers of Whisky Live. The evening was hosted by the charming Martine Nouet, an international culinary expert and icon in the whisky world. She holds the coveted title of “Master of The Quaich” in recognition of her contribution to the whisky industry. She is also an internationally renowned journalist, most notably for her pioneering work in pairing food and whisky.

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“I was and still am a food writer and I didn’t want to give that up, so I decided to marry my passion of whisky and food together,” Martine tells me. “Nobody was doing this at the time, and it took me a few years to convince people but now it’s quite popular in Europe.”

My partner and I sat down to a much-anticipated dinner, which included live oysters with cucumber granita, pan-fried scallops with sweet corn puree, delicious duck in two ways and a heavenly chocolate fondant with caramelised banana (it was as good as it sounds!).

Martine worked closely with Hotel Realm’s Executive Chef Fabian Wagnon to create an amazing sensory experience, and each element on the plate was brought to life and intensified by the matching whiskies. I had never thought to try whisky with food before, but was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the intelligent pairing of two of my favourite things.

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Between each course, Martine would passionately speak about the different flavours, scents and colours of the whiskies, and about the regions which had produced them. Whisky brand ambassadors Laura Hay from William Grant & Sons and Dan Hutchins-Read from Berry Bros & Rudd treated us to some inside info about how the whiskies were made, and told us about the history of their famous companies.

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It was wonderful to be able to speak with Martine about her passion, and I was curious to know about her early experiences with whisky. Having over-indulged at a party when she was young, she swore to never touch whisky again. But meeting a partner who originated form Scotland changed her perspective. “I had always dreamed of going to Scotland,” she tells me. “We visited a distillery in Speyside, and although I didn’t want to drink the whisky I was so interested in how it was made, the history and culture of the workers, and the smells – it was mostly the smells of the whisky that really attracted me. I started tasting and I got hooked!”

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The profile of whisky has surged recently in Australia, with Canberra bars such as Hippo Co in Garema Place, Molly Bar in the City and Ox Eatery in Kingston’s East Hotel proudly boasting a huge range of international and Australian whiskies. “There is very good whisky being produced here,” Martine praises. “There are some small distilleries, boutique places which are doing really well. Whisky is getting very strong and has a good future here.” Australian distilleries New World and Sullivan’s Cove will feature alongside an extensive range of international brands and craft distilleries at Whisky Live. The show will also include a ‘Rare & Old Bar’, where guests can purchase and taste collectors whisky, including some rare bottles from distilleries which are now closed.

Now in its third year, Whisky Live will give fans of the spirit the chance to sample a wide range of whiskies accompanied By delicious food. One of the highlights that we were treated to was the single-origin chocolates created just for the event, which Martine has paired with individual whiskies. Guests will also enjoy award-winning Wapengo Rocks oysters and a delicious carvery.

For those who haven’t yet discovered their love of whisky, Martine has some sage advice. “Make a selection and don’t taste everything – it’s stupid to taste a lot of whisky otherwise you overload your tastebuds and then your experience is gone!”All of the exhibitors will take the time to give you information about the whisky. “If you come to Whisky Live with the idea of tasting and trying, rather than to drink a lot, you’ll understand more about the different flavours,” says Martine.

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The evening gave me a deeper appreciation of the different flavours of whisky and how harmoniously it can be paired with some of my favourite foods. Whether you’re a fan of whisky or not, Whisky Live Canberra is a wonderful opportunity to treat your tastebuds in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

Since the evening, my non-whisky drinking boyfriend is now trying (and secretly enjoying) different whiskies from Australia and Japan. Now I just need to get him into a 1960s style suit and comb-over…

The essentials

What: Whisky Live Canberra
When: 1pm-4.30pm & 6.30pm-10pm Saturday 30 May; 2pm-5.30pm Sunday 31 May
Where: Refectory, University of Canberra in Bruce
How much: $99 per person includes an assortment of food, whisky glass and samples of whiskies. (Rare & Old Bar whisky tastings not included).
Tickets: Available online. Attendees must be over 18.

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Josephine Walsh

Jose Walsh loves A-line skirts, the arts, and all types of pasta. She moved to Canberra in 2011 to study at ANU, and follow her dream of working in a museum. With an education background, she's currently harnessing her love of connecting people in a social media and PR role in a national institution. She loves great film, rambling about her succulents, and finding the perfect spot to share with her favourite people. More about the Author

  • Liz Posmyk

    Lovely write up Josephine! Martine is such a font of knowledge on the topic of whisky (and food)… it was such a pleasure to have her in Canberra for this Dinner with Whisky at Hotel Realm. The Whisky Live event is quite fabulous too!