Who Makes the Best Whisky? The Great Whiskey Rumble

Tuesday 1 September saw a whisk(e)y event of epic proportions when four industry legends came together for the first time in Sydney to debate who makes the world’s best whisk(e)y.

The Great Whisky Rumble
L-R: Mike Miyamoto, Fred Noe, Dan Tullio, John Campbell

Sydney was graced with Fred Noe, seventh generation Master Distiller of Jim Beam, John Campbell, Distillery Manager of Laphroaig, Dan Tullio Director and Ambassador of Canadian Club, and Mike Miyamoto, Global Brand Ambassador for Suntory Whisky.

But before the hot question was debated, we attended a series of events that served as a primer and a teaser.

Laphroaig Masterclass with John Campbell of Laphroaig

The Whisky Room at the Clock Hotel hosted a trade masterclass with Laphroaig Distillery Manager and Master Distiller, John Campbell. The last time John Campbell was in Sydney was in 2011 for Laphroaig Live when we interviewed him for Gourmantic.

“I produce liquids,” John Campbell humbly states of his role at the distillery that is celebrating 200 years. The engaging masterclass was a vertical tasting of 7 different whiskies, all as peated as one another.

We may have enjoyed several Laphroaig masterclasses in the past which we won’t replicate here but hearing John Campbell speak about the various expressions put a personal stamp on the peated whisky.

Starting with the NAS Select Cask, the tasting progressed through to Laphroaig 10 yo described as “the atmosphere of Islay in the glass”, the limited edition 15 yo, Quarter Cask or “the wild child of Laphroaig”, Triple Wood or “the one for being selfish and not sharing”, the 18 yo and 25 yo.

“I get to be Willy Wonka with Cairdeas,” he explains of the special annual bottling for Friends of Laphroaig.

John Campbell
John Campbell

As for the future, “I’m holding the torch for now,” he says. “I want it to be there for ever”.

The masterclass with John Campbell was held at the Whisky Room at the Clock Hotel on Sunday 30 August 2015.

VIP Single Table Lunch with 4 Legends of Whisk(e)y

The Great Whisky Rumble
VIP Single Table Lunch

On the day of the Great Whisky Rumble, a VIP lunch was held at Australian Technology Park with Fred Noe, John Campbell, Dan Tullio and Mike Miyamoto. Hibiki with sparkling water was served on arrival as guests mingled before sitting down to a three course lunch paired with cocktails and tastings from each of the distilleries. Luke Hanzlicek, Beam Suntory Ambassador was on hand demonstrating each of the cocktails.

The Great Whisky Rumble
Torched Squid

The entree was a delightful dish of Torched Squid with shaved macadamia, charred cucumber, pickled ginger gel and sea herbs served with a Hakushu Highball.

The Great Whisky Rumble
Hakushu Highball

Popular in Japan, the Hakushu Highball brings subtle smoky and herbaceous notes of Hakushu to the drink which contains soda water. Whether it’s an aperitif or an accompaniment to food, it’s refreshing and easy to drink at any time of the day.

The Great Whisky Rumble
Whisky/Whiskey Tasting

Next course was a flight of Canadian Club 12yo, Hibiki Harmony, Jim Beam Devils Cut and Laphroaig 15 yo, presented by the four whisky greats.

The Great Whisky Rumble
Roast Duck Breast & 1794 Cocktail

The main course was a Roast Duck Breast with duck liver parfait, baby beetroot, shaved beetroot, quince jam and oat crumble paired with the 1794 cocktail. This was the year of the American rebellion and the cocktail is a take on the Negroni and made with Knob Creek Rye, sweet vermouth and Campari. The spicy and bitter notes of the cocktail paired well with the duck.

The Great Whisky Rumble
Dan Tullio and Luke Hanzlicek

Next Dan Tullio and Luke Hanzlicek prepared the next cocktail, entertaining guests and stirring the Seelbach Cocktail. The drink was created in 1918 and gives a nod to Americans during the Prohibition. It’s made with Canadian Club 12 yo, Bols Triple Sec, Angostura and Peychaud Bitters topped with sparkling wine.

The Great Whisky Rumble
Seelbach Cocktail & Dessert

Dessert was a rich and dense Dark Chocolate with Salted Caramel, peanuts, toasted coconut and chocolate soil.

The Great Whisky Rumble
Laphroaig Stonewall Cocktail

After lunch, the Laphroaig Stonewall Cocktail was served, described as a complex twist of the breakfast Martini made with Laphroaig, Bols Triple Sec, fresh lemon juice and Laphroaig marmalade.

Interviews

After lunch, we sat down with each of the whisk(e)y legends individually and asked them the same two questions.

Mike Miyamoto for Suntory Whisky

The Great Whisky Rumble

1. With the recent boom in whisky worldwide, what can we expect in the next 2 to 5 years?

It’s very difficult to predict what will happen in the whisky business. We don’t want to see whisky business as a fashion. To some extent, people seem to change their feelings and appetite. I hope Australian people find new whisky more enjoyable and more approachable. I like to see constant growth in Australia and in our whisky sales, not double or triple, maybe 2-3% so we can keep up with the production. But it won’t happen.

2. Why do you think you will win the debate?

I have a saying, our whisky has to be tasty. There is an old saying, “seeing is believing” but to me tasting is believing. After the audiences 4 different whiskies, then I believe our whisky will be one of the highest.

John Campbell of Laphroaig

The Great Whisky Rumble

1. With the recent boom in whisky worldwide, what can we expect in the next 2 to 5 years?

For Laphroaig, it’s more of the same. This year is the bicentenary. Keep engaging consumers and give them some special liquids, maybe looking at different things. It’s a vague answer but there may be a limited Australian special coming up. (hint: using Australian casks)

2. Why do you think you will win the debate?

The main reason it’s all about the liquids. As much as Americans and Canadians can yab all day and talk, the liquid has the deepest flavour profile. All the other ones, are nice and light and fancy, we’re the real deal.

Dan Tullio of Canadian Club

The Great Whisky Rumble

1. With the recent boom in whisky worldwide, what can we expect in the next 2 to 5 years?

Canadian whisky is going towards the craft. What I’m seeing is that markets want a more premium style than established whiskies. Mixologists, consumers and whisky drinkers are looking for more craft style of whiskies so we will see more craft production.

2. Why do you think you will win the debate?

We Canadians are similar to Australians but different. We have the same federal parliamentary system. We both enjoy sports. We’re robust in character and rich in style. It’s the Australians’ patriotic duty to buy Canadian.

Fred Noe of Jim Beam

The Great Whisky Rumble

1. With the recent boom in whisky worldwide, what can we expect in the next 2 to 5 years?

In the bourbon category, we’ll see premiumisation. People want to drink less but drink better. We’ll see the popularity of small batch, different ageing and wood policies. People also want more information about what makes the product what it is.

2. Why do you think you will win the debate?

My brands are very strong in this part of the world and the support will be there. Bourbon has always been a winner. If it comes down to vote, I will have more support here in Australia than any of my competitors because how strong Jim Beam is here.

These debates are not about a winner but about educating people. In the end, the winner is going to be all of us.

Good luck, gentlemen. May the best whisk(e)y win!

The Great Whisk(e)y Rumble

The Great Whisky Rumble
The Great Whisk(e)y Rumble

The Great Whisk(e)y Rumble was hosted by MC Dylan Howarth who welcomed guests and invited everyone through the curtains to take seat around a boxing ring and snack on popcorn while waiting.

The Great Whisky Rumble
In the Boxing Ring

In true boxing style, each competitor was introduced as they came to the ring and took a seat in each of the corners before the rumble began.

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Dan Tullio for Canadian Club

Round One had Dan Tullio of Canadian Club introduce Canadian Whisky while spectator were given a tasting of the 12yo expression. “You can’t spell success without CC,” summed up his entry.

The Great Whisky Rumble
Mike Miyamoto for Suntory Whisky

Round Two had Mike Miyamoto introducing Hibiki Japanese Harmony and having a dig at John Campbell of Laphroaig for having one season in Scotland. But in true Japanese style ended with “You are the mentor to us,” which had the audience in applause.

The Great Whisky Rumble
Fred Noe for Jim Beam

Making a grand entrance with his Jim Beam branded boots, Fred Noe introduced Knob Creek. His banter cut to the chase declaring, “If you’re number one, you don’t have to do shit. Just keep doing what you do.”

When asked about the future, he said,”The future looks great for bourbon.”

The Great Whisky Rumble
John Campbell for Laphroaig

Round four saw a more reserved John Campbell of Laphroaig with the 15 yo expression to taste reminding everyone that “It’s your patriotic duty to vote for Scotch whisky.”

After much banter from all sides and prodding questions for the audience, it was time to answer the question.

Who Makes the Best Whisky/Whiskey?

The Great Whisky Rumble

So who makes the best whisk(ey)? It was left to the audience to decide by offering them ample whiskies and cocktails to taste and allowing them to make up their own minds throughout the evening. While the finale may have fell a little flat, as Fred Noe said earlier in our interview, the debate was about education, and it’s the whisky in your glass that’s the winner.

Cheers/Slainte/Kanpai to Beam Suntory for an epic event!

The Great Whisk(e)y Rumble was held on Tuesday 1 September 2015. More photos on the Facebook page.

Photography © by Kevin Burke for Gourmantic – Copyright: All rights reserved. Contact us if you wish to purchase any photographs.

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Who Makes the Best Whisky? The Great Whiskey Rumble was last modified: December 20th, 2015 by Corinne Mossati

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Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is the Founder/Editor of popular online magazine Gourmantic and Cocktails & Bars, a website dedicated to cocktail culture and the discerning drinker. She is named in Australian Bartender Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential List, is a member of The Academy responsible for judging the World’s 50 Best Bars. She has also judged the inaugural Australasian Whisky Awards and various national cocktail competitions.