Whisky sheds its image as an old man's drink

Images of old men in suits, leisurely puffing away on cigars in front of an open fireplace hover in my mind as I make my way to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's Wollongong whisky tasting extravaganza.

Upon arrival, however, I realise my preconceptions are mostly wrong.

Far from it being an occasion for old men in suits, the gathering attracts a mixed crowd of men and women, many of whom are in their early to mid-20s.

Among them are Tim Day and Adrienne Hudson, two whisky aficionados not content to suffer pre-mixed spirits.

Day says a variety of factors have intermingled to create a whisky market full of twentysomethings who are discerning in how they approach their drink of choice.

"I think people's drink choices are expanding," he says.

"Especially with the mixed drinks and taxes and all that sort of stuff, people are starting to see there's a way of enjoying alcohols you don't have to mix.

"It's pretty rare that I'll go somewhere and someone will have bought a case of pre-mixed drinks - more often they'll buy a bottle, they might come with a mixer, they might not depending on the drink."

Enthusiasts sample different drops at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's Wollongong whisky tasting event. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Enthusiasts sample different drops at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's Wollongong whisky tasting event. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Hudson says the younger whisky drinking market is gradually being catered for in Wollongong.

"I think whisky in general has been associated with an older crowd previously but now I think a bunch of cool little whisky bars are opening up in Sydney and down here," Hudson says.

As Wollongong Society manager Fred Apolloni puts it, whisky drinkers are often finding themselves drinking malts older than they are.

"Some of the young ones, they appreciate it more.

"It's taking off in that era," he says. "It's something different, just the appreciation of it.

"Just as vodka has been appreciated, I think single malt whiskies have slowly come out."

For Scotch Malt whisky Society director Andre Tammes (who does happen to be a mature-aged whisky fan), the changing face of whisky drinkers comes as no surprise.

"It's a voyage of discovery," he says.

"It's partly because quite a large number of distilleries have been pushing that what they make is an attractive drink in its own right, in its basic form as a single malt whisky.

"I'd say the old previous image of whisky was an old man's drink, with old men sitting in their bars or their clubs."

Tammes says younger drinkers are searching for a point of differentiation, and many know more about the drink than their elders.

"As with so many things in life these days people are looking for a point of distinction - they want to have something that is both rare and relatively unknown," Tammes says.

"Young people more and more are intrigued by it."