Sharing the secret to multi-award-winning Whisky & Alement’s success

Apr 6, 2023
Bartenders Corner I

Sharing the secret to multi-award-winning Whisky and Alement’s success.

When Brooke Hayman and her partner Julian opened their new bar in 2010, they never thought they’d become Melbourne’s go-to whisky bar. Or be acclaimed as the best whisky bar in Asia-Pacific at the World Whiskies Awards 2023. Or that their bar manager, Lachlan Watt, would be recognised as an Icon of Whisky and honoured as Global Bar Manager of the Year at a glittering World Whiskies Awards 2023 ceremony in London.

And it all began with one simple, brilliant idea.

“We identified that whisky was priced way too high at restaurants and bars,” says co-founder Julian, “we questioned why a nip of whisky was so expensive when it didn’t need to be. So, we changed our margins on a nip of whisky to the same as the margin on an entry-level beer”.

Unsurprisingly the public loved it – and Whisky & Alement was born.

“From there, we just went about finding as many new bottles as possible, adding them to the back bar as often as we could, and we’ve never stopped doing that.” Today, Whisky & Alement boasts an impressive collection of over 500 whiskies from all over the World. The dimly lit space is crowded with whisky bottles, making you feel like you’re in a whisky wonderland. “I relate it a bit to Pokemon” says Julian’ “you‘ve got to catch them all, you’ve got to try them all.”

The bar’s ever-changing menu boasts everything from peaty, smoky Islay drams to independent bottlings and smooth and fruity Highland malts.

In our discovery phase of all the whisky distilleries out there, we were impressed by the experimentation that was being done at the Bruichladdich distillery.”

At the Bruichladdich Distillery on the fabled Scottish whisky Isle of Islay, an old Victorian-era distillery was brought back to life in 2001, and today produces some of the world’s most innovative single malt whiskies using original Victorian pot stills.  “Bruichladdich does a really good job of maintaining the really old-world distilling machinery, and really old, time-honoured traditions,” says Julian, “but then packaging and communicating their product in a way that’s a lot more modern, which makes them appealing products to sell to our customers”.

Two Bruichladdich products in particular caught Whiskey & Alement’s attention.

Bruichladdich Classic Laddie really stands out on the bar,” says Lachlan. Bruichladdich Classic Laddie is an unpeated single malt that fits the bill perfectly for customers who want something unique without the smokiness of peat. Packaged in a highly distinctive sky-blue bottle, Bruichladdich is rich and elegantly complex, smooth as pebbles in a pool.

At the other end of the spectrum, Bruichladdich Distillery’s Port Charlotte single malts are bottled at 50% alcohol in limited numbers and peated to a heavyweight 40PPM. With a palate that balances rich smoke with notes of coconut, vanilla custard, lemon, honey, smoked oysters, and salty sand, this a rich and complex whisky, which now forms the heart of Whisky and Alement’s top-selling cocktail.

Port Charlotte Whisky Sour – signature and most popular cocktail

“I’ve always seen our whisky sour here as a great point of difference,” says Lachlan. The iconic Whisky Sour is a drink no whisky bar menu should be without. Whisky & Alement’s take on this classic is a major drawcard. “In a regular whisky sour, bitters are used to cover the character of the egg white,” says Lachlan, “but I find that the bitters can take over very easily. You wind up with a drink that tastes like Angostura or aromatic bitters.”  The Whisky & Alement solution is to ditch the bitters entirely in favour of a big, bold, smoky, heavily-peated Port Charlotte 10-Year-Old. It takes the bar’s famous whisky sour to a whole new level – with not a drop of bitters in sight. “Not having to use a bittering agent allows the whisky to really sing and come forward, and it makes a drink a lot cleaner and simpler. It’s easily our highest-selling drink on the menu and has been for years.”

Whisky & Alement House Whisky Sour

45ml Port Charlotte 10-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch

25ml freshly squeezed lemon juice (never the stuff from the little plastic squeezy lemons from the shops)

10ml 2:1 sugar syrup

20ml fresh egg white (for a vegan version, use the liquid from a can of chickpeas or a couple of drops of Wonderfoam cocktail foamer)

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and close tightly. Shake hard with no ice for 10-15 seconds to emulsify the egg white. Open the shaker and add as much ice as will fit, close tightly and shake hard for another 10-15 seconds. Strain the drink into a cocktail glass through a fine strainer and serve. Whilst the bar doesn’t garnish this drink, you could garnish it with a cherry or a twist of fresh lemon peel.

Whether you’re a seasoned whisky connoisseur or just starting your whisky journey, Whisky & Alement is a hidden gem with something for every whisky-lover, including some of the rarest whiskies in the World. Despite being the Best Whisky Bar in Asia-Pacific, and despite having a Bar Manger who’s been awarded the industry’s highest accolade, the vibe at Whisky & Alement is simple and unpretentious.

“The only luxury experience (here) is what you put in your mouth. It’s very utilitarian here.” says co-founder Julian.

“I have a T-shirt that’s got holes in it now, that says ‘this is not a luxury whisky’, and I’m going to wear it until it falls off me,” says Julian.

What really sets Whisky & Alement apart is their incredibly knowledgeable and friendly staff, who are always happy to help customers navigate the extensive whisky list and offer recommendations. They’re always up for a chat about all things whisky-related, from the history of the spirit to the latest distillery releases. For the team at Whisky and Alement, whisky is not just a drink – it’s a passion they’re keen to share.

“I think we also get a lot of people that have powerful memories of drinking whisky at important moments in their life,” says Lachlan. “It reminds them of their father or their grandfather, and at certain times of the year when it’s the anniversary of someone’s death, birth or something like that, they think ‘, I’m going to have a whisky at a bar’. And they usually bring someone with them.”

When people that don’t usually drink whisky ask, ‘Well, what am I going to have’, Whisky & Alement’s Whisky Sour is always the first recommendation. “For many people, it’s been the first time they’ve tried peated whisky and enjoyed it. Many people who came here on their first date return every anniversary and have a Whisky Sour.”  Whisky & Alement attracts a diverse and exciting crowd with its laidback vibe, friendly staff, and great drinks.

“We’ve got a fascinating mix,” says Lachie, “Dedicated whisky nerds, passionate whisky consumers, and a large cocktail following as well. And people who work in the area – this is their local pub, and they come in for a few beers after work.” Post-Covid, many new people are coming in, too – with more and more younger drinkers interested in whisky. “People are more interested in trying new things. Many people have become more dedicated to understanding what they’re drinking and more inquisitive,” says Lachlan.

For Whisky & Alement, Port Charlotte and Bruichladdich Classic Laddie are prime examples of products from a distillery that is determined to do things differently. Over 50% of Bruichladdich’s grain requirements are grown locally on 21 different Islay farms, preserving heritage barley varieties and protecting agricultural ecosystems. “The traceability and sustainability story appeals to the real whisky obsessives. It’s a bit of a cult following. A lot of people understand that transparency and  traceability aspect and really appreciate that.” “One of the other things we love about Bruichladdich is that you don’t have to get all their tins and plastic packaging. A year ago, we asked the guys at Spirits Platform if we could get a whole pallet sent over with no packaging, and thankfully they had already thought of that, which is fantastic.”

 Whisky and Alement’s commitment to quality and passion for whisky are evident in every pour. Visit Whisky & Alement, the Best Whisky Bar in the Asia Pacific, and have your drink made by the Bar Manager of the Year 2023. Whisky & Alement is located at 270 Russell St Melbourne.

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