What started as a quest for a more diabetes-friendly alternative to rum became something of a passion for Travis Lawrie.
“After I was diagnosed, my doctor recommended I try whisky, in moderation, of course,” he says.
“Then I went to Scotland to catch up with friends, and that’s when I started to really appreciate it.”
From the Scottish Bruichladdich and Laphroaig on Islay to Northern Ireland’s Old Bushmills Distillery, it was an odyssey of some of the world’s great whiskies.
It had Travis questioning everything he thought he knew about the drink, which led him to organise whisky appreciation events, the latest of which is Whisky Capital.
It’s not his day job; it’s a passion project designed to spread the word to whisky aficionados and newcomers alike.
“There are a lot of preconceptions around whisky – namely that it’s an old grey-haired male drink. Which is pretty far from the truth these days,” Travis says.
“There are quite a few distilleries now with female master distillers, and increasingly you see more women at events, which is fantastic.
“Whisky distillation is geographically diverse, too – you have Taiwanese whisky, Japanese whisky, Indian whisky … Each has its own unique profile.
From the synonymous single malts of Scotland to the American bourbon and the rye-based whiskies preferred in Canada, the list goes on – but the focus at Whisky Capital will be on the distillers we have right here in Australia.
Whisky Capital is on at the Novotel Canberra on Saturday, 4 February, and there are two opportunities to discover what whisky is all about. On arrival, guests will be handed a Glencairn whisky-nosing glass and booklet describing all the whiskies before meandering from table to table, mingling and tasting Aussie whiskies and talking directly with their distillers.
They will have the chance to learn from experts about the many variables that build a whisky profile while also enjoying canapes and custom whisky and rum gelatos courtesy of Canberra’s Jasper + Myrtle chocolatiers.
“The main reason I got into doing events in Canberra was to get distillers here, particularly Australian distillers, many of whom don’t have the resources to organise events themselves.
“These events happen in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane all the time, but there wasn’t anyone in Canberra organising them. I wanted Canberrans to have the chance to discover what Australian distillers are making.”
Travis says many distillers set to appear at Whisky Capital are on a small scale, “even for Australian distilleries”.
This includes the Craft Works distillery from Capertee in NSW, which will be launching a new product at the event – REBEL, an exRum casked Australian single malt whisky.
There will also be Transportation Whiskey – Australia’s first (and currently only) Single Pot Still whisky.
“It’s a whisky that has until now been entirely the domain of Irish distilleries,” Travis explains.
“Transportation will bring a handful of bottles of their otherwise sold-out first release to sell at the event through the Farrah’s Liquor Collective in-event bottle shop.”
Hinting at the diversity there is to explore in whisky, the event may even offer the chance to discover a new favourite.
“Similarly to wine or beer, there’s a wide variety of whiskies, so the types of people like are different,” Travis says.
“Some like a deep, heavy whisky, others like something more light, floral and fruity.”
There’s no “right” or “best” way to enjoy your whisky of choice – much like wine, it’s distinctive and personal, according to Travis.
“For me, the types and ways in which I drink whisky tend to change over the seasons,” he says.
“In summer, I tend to opt for light and fruity varieties, which I usually drink in cocktails or on ice and in winter, I go for whiskies on the heavy, smoky side, and then I’ll usually take it straight and neat.
“Ultimately, though, if you asked me what’s the best way to enjoy whisky, my preference is with friends.”
Whisky Capital will be held at the Novotel Canberra on Saturday, 4 February. Pick from two sessions: 1 pm to 4 pm or 5 pm to 8 pm.
Tickets cost $159 and include a Glencairn whisky nosing glass, canapes and other food by First Edition Restaurant & Bar, a water bottle, an event booklet, a carry bag and free access to masterclasses with the distillers. For $20 off your ticket, order here and use promo code RIOTACT.