Dave Broom, veteran whisky writer talks filmmaking, world whisky and more: S5E6

Whisky writer since 1988, Dave Broom, is undoubtedly one of the world’s leading commentators on spirits.

Dave was in Australia recently for the film premiere of The Amber Light, a documentary that follows Dave on an exploration of Scotch whisky as a cultural product.

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Veteran whisky writer Dave Broom
Veteran whisky writer Dave Broom

Production of the film was partly funded by Fever-Tree, a valued sponsor of this podcast, so it’s thanks to Fever-Tree that I had the opportunity to sit down with Dave.

Prior to enjoying some Fever-Tree whisky highballs at the premiere, Dave and I discussed the film, his career to date, and some of the most important recent developments – good and bad – in the world of whisky.

Dave Broom, veteran whisky writer: Full transcript

JAMES ATKINSON: Dave Broom, thanks so much for joining me on the Drinks Adventures podcast. 

DAVE BROOM: An absolute pleasure. 

JAMES ATKINSON: How did this movie come about? 

DAVE BROOM: The director Alan Park ran a food website call The Gannet. And they wanted to diversify into drink. And so he came down and instead of just interviewing me, they actually filmed me. And we just hit it off. And by the end of the session he’d kind of worked out the way I was talking and the way that he was thinking, there were great similarities between the two. We said well, ‘okay let’s, let’s try and make a documentary’. That was it. 

JAMES ATKINSON: Maybe you can give us a brief synopsis of what it’s all about?

DAVE BROOM: I can tell you what it’s not about. It’s not your standard whisky documentary and there are many fantastic whisky documentaries out there which talk a lot about process. Go around a lot of distilleries gazing into mash tons and you know, whisky pouring stills and casks and everything. We didn’t want to do that. What I’m particularly interested in these days is drink as a cultural product and actually trying to re-establish links between the wider culture and the alcohol. Rather than the alcohol kind of sitting separate from it. So I thought there was a story to be told about the long relationship between Scotch whisky and Scottish culture. So that is what the film’s about. 

JAMES ATKINSON: Are you hoping it’s going to find an audience you know, outside of the hardcore whisky fans for that reason? 

DAVE BROOM: Yeah, actually you know that’s a great question. It was untested. You know, nobody really kind of done this before. And you know, we could have fallen between two stills really. The hardcore whisky guys would have gone hang on a minute, there’s not enough about production in here. And the non-whisky drinkers would go well, it’s just a film about whisky and I know what films about whisky are like. But the whisky guys get it and the people who aren’t whisky lovers get it as well. So I’ve been really, really heartened by the response, reading the reviews or actually talking to people who come along to screenings. See a couple have come along and he’s not a whisky drinker, but she is. And they both get it. And they both kind of get it in slightly different ways. So, so yeah it seems to be working. 

The Amber Light Scotch whisky documentary
The Amber Light Scotch whisky documentary

JAMES ATKINSON: You’ve been writing about whisky a long while now. Maybe longer than you’d care to say.

DAVE BROOM: Yeah I suppose I first began writing about it in 1988, so yeah. It’s been a while. 

JAMES ATKINSON: What was the state of the industry back then?

DAVE BROOM: Dreadful. 

JAMES ATKINSON: Versus now?

DAVE BROOM: Yeah, absolutely dreadful. You know, when I first started writing about whisky. I suppose single malt as just beginning to bubble up. But distilleries were closed. You know, I remember going to Islay the first time, you know half the distilleries in Islay were shut. Yeah I mean the whisky industry was in a bad way. The upturn hadn’t started at that point. But there were these kinds of glimmerings of interest from a retail point of view. I was working for a drinks retail paper. Single malt was perhaps the way out of the malaise that Scotch had found itself in, in the UK market and in particular. So yeah, tough times. But I think in the tough times you get to meet some remarkable people who have long term belief that things will get better. And yeah, I was lucky enough to meet a lot of these kind of legendary figures in whisky. But yeah it was far, far different to what we have these days, yeah.

JAMES ATKINSON: Looking back, was there a moment when it was obvious there was a real movement behind single malt?

DAVE BROOM: Yeah you know, I would say you know, by the 90s you began to see. You know, I think one of the major shifts was Diageo launching classic malts. The classic six. Up until then the single malt had really been, you know, there was Glenfiddich, there was Glenlivet, there was Macallan, there was Glen Grant, there was Glenfarclas. But there weren’t that many brands. It wasn’t really a category and then suddenly the biggest player comes in and goes right, okay we’re going to commit to the single malt category with half a dozen whiskies, talking about flavour. And at that point retailers and also bartenders began to realise that there was this thing called single malt. And the momentum I think really built from the launch of classic malts to be perfectly honest. That kind of brought it into the wider public consciousness. You know, single malt had always been drunk. You know, single malt isn’t new. But single malt was the preserver of kind of Scottish poets and members of the landed gentry. And then it just began to spread out. 

JAMES ATKINSON: What are some of the most exciting innovations that are happening in Scotch whisky currently?

DAVE BROOM: I think the way in which distillers, and it’s not just new distillers but I’ll just kind of mention new distillers to begin with. I love the new distillers who look at the market, look at the single malt market in particular and say well, how do we compete with ‘the big Glens’? You know, how do we compete with the established brands? Well we compete by being different and we compete in terms of quality, so we’ve got to make good quality spirit. But it has to be different, it has to tell a different story. It has to tell truth. So there’s various ways in which this is manifesting itself. Different cereals being used. You know, so there’s five distilleries making rye now in Scotland. Distilleries looking at yeast, whereas nobody had really used yeast for years and years, and years. Perhaps different roasts of barley, so some brewing techniques beginning to be applied. 

DAVE BROOM: And just looking at the points of flex which exist within the Scotch whisky regulations that I think everybody kind of lazily believed that, ‘they couldn’t do that’. But actually, there’s nothing to say that you can’t use rye. There’s nothing to say that you can’t use a different yeast or a different roast, or whatever. So you know, distilleries like InchDairnie in Fyfe, which are making seven different new makes. Making kind of seasonal whiskies are, they distilled, they’re one of the ones who did the rye. They’re just distilled an oat whisky. They’re going to continue on this, this route.

DAVE BROOM: Who else? Arbikie Highland Estate in Angus on the east coast of Scotland are a farm distillery. Make their own gin, make their own vodka and also making rye. Also making excellent whisky. Then looking at Raasay distillery, which is a tiny distillery off the coast of Skye. So you know, that’s fairly obscure. They’re doing remarkable stuff with different wood types, also different distillates. So yeah there’s a huge amount taking place. But also the big guys are looking at it as well. You know, the amount of research that’s going on, kind of secret squirrel stuff that’s going on within Diageo.

Dave Broom

DAVE BROOM: Diageo are just doing extraordinary innovations and whisky, which we can’t really talk about at the moment. But you know, I think it’s wrong to think well the big guys are just lazy and complacent. There’s a lot of stuff really happening. And a lot of it has been stimulated by the fact that Scotch is no longer on its own, it no longer has the game over whisky in the world. There are commercial pressures coming from pretty much every country where distillation is legal.

JAMES ATKINSON: Rye whisky and oat whisky, I mean are they being used in combination with barley or are these single grain whiskies?

DAVE BROOM: Single grain, yeah single grain whiskies at the moment yes. So yeah, testing, so Bruichladdich have tried it and said to plant some rye on the lot and just see what happened. It was really amusing actually because I heard from like four different distillers, pretty much at the same time going Dave ah, don’t tell anyone but we’re making rye. And then the next week, somebody would be like don’t tell anybody but we’re making rye. I said oh shit, you know. I can’t tell them that somebody else is doing it and they all kind of made their big announcements round about the same time. And then they looked at each other going, no one told me that. So yeah, single grain stuff. But mixed mash mills, yeah that, that’s a next I would say inevitable step. You know, so look at that and looking at bare barely as well. A lot of exciting stuff happening. 

JAMES ATKINSON: A lot of younger expressions coming onto the market now. Aged statements are kind of, obviously people are short on aged stocks because they’re trying to keep up with demand. Has that been a you know, positive thing do you think?

DAVE BROOM: Yes and no. There was a sound commercial reason for no aged statements getting introduced. Which was you know, there wasn’t sufficient mature stock in there. So I kind of, if not a hole in it, a dip in mature stock was there. So it made sense to start introducing no age statement whiskies. I think the mistake a lot of the larger distillers made with that, is they took their age statement whiskies off the market. And the whiskies they replaced them with were not better than the whiskies that they’d taken off. And the consumer went well hang on a minute, you know the price might have gone up and all of a sudden this whiskies different, and it’s not as good as the one they had before. So I think there was justifiable consumer backlash.

DAVE BROOM: I don’t think it was explained properly. I don’t think the industry explained how no age statement whiskies can actually be really positive. And actually be from a creative point of view, actually be more exciting than age statement whiskies. you know, they occupy a different space. But at the same time, if you look at Kilchoman for example. Kilchoman has never had an age statement on its whiskies and nobody complains about that. Compass Box have never had an age statement on their whiskies. Nobody’s ever complained about that. So if you’ve got an age statement and you take one off, you’re going to get a kicking. If you’ve never had one on it, people don’t care. You know, I think that’s one of the lessons. And yeah, I think the industry’s beginning to get to grips with that. You’re seeing some distillers putting age statements back on. Glenrothes, Balblair moved from the vintage concept, back to age statements these days. So it’s a bit of a mixed bag to be honest. 

JAMES ATKINSON: There has been an effort to put a lot more whisky down and we’re starting to see that coming online. 

DAVE BROOM: Yeah, it was kind of a temporary blip. I mean, where you are beginning to see the shortage and I’ve spoke to guys in China about this, because the Chinese market is hugely exciting. The Chinese single malt market has been driven by like 20+, 20-year-old single malts. And you know, you think what was happening in the industry 20-25 years ago, you know, there wasn’t a lot of whisky getting made. So there’s a real shortage of that kind of extra matured stock and we’re beginning to hit that at the moment. So, there’s some areas of the market that simply aren’t sustainable. But I think the industry is cautiously optimistic. I don’t think people are producing hell for leather. But there is very good long-term planning being laid down. But it’s whisky. You know what I mean, you cannot predict what’s going to happen. You can’t predict economic downturns, you can’t predict coronavirus, you know. All these different geopolitical incidents will affect whisky down the line, you know. I don’t know what I’m going to have for my tea tonight. I certainly don’t know what I’m going to be drinking in 12 years’ time, you know. It’s a pretty tough job being the forecaster for a whisky company. 

JAMES ATKINSON: What do you make of the fortunes of Japanese whisky over the last few years? There was obviously a fervour in the market, even by the time you published your book. But since then it just seems to have gone absolutely crazy and everything’s kind of priced out of reach. And there’s nothing around, what do you sort of make of those developments?

The Way of Whisky by Dave Broom
The Way of Whisky by Dave Broom

DAVE BROOM: Yeah it’s a bit of a mess to be perfectly honest. You have to kind of put it into context. It’s not that people forget, people actually probably haven’t really been told that you know, the Japanese market went in like a 25-year decline. And you know, when I first began going to Japan very late 90’s, early 2000’s and I think it was my third or fourth visit to Japan where I actually saw whisky being made at Japanese distilleries. You know, they were if not silent, then on very, very short term working. And then all of a sudden they had the glut of single malt whisky because the domestic market had collapsed. It never exported and all of a sudden the world wakes up and the world goes wow, Japanese whisky is excellent, it’s fantastic and begin to drink it.

DAVE BROOM: And then, the highball revolution hits in Japan. And a young generation who had been drinking shochu suddenly go whisky is pretty hip and trendy. We’ve got to start drinking it. Domestic market suddenly picks up and all of a sudden it’s in stock. Because they were overly cautious, they didn’t kind of go, ‘right okay we’re going to dip our toe in the water’, we’re going to actually start producing whisky again in volume. The good news is that the major players have all put in extra capacity, so they’re making more whisky – there’s a lot of whisky getting made. Chichibu, a smaller distiller has just built a second distillery. So they’ve more than doubled production. There’s a lot …

JAMES ATKINSON: Is that Ichiro’s?

DAVE BROOM: Yeah, yeah that’s Ichiro. Yeah, there’s lots of new distilleries opening up as well, so. 

JAMES ATKINSON: Mars has got a significant, you know, fairly large one coming online I think don’t they?

DAVE BROOM: Yeah, yeah that’s right yeah. Down in Kagoshima. [inaudible] down in, again very, very far south making absolutely superb whisky. Relatively small distillery but there’s a lot of really, really interesting stuff. [inaudible], blah, blah, blah. Lots of exciting stuff happening in Japan. The major issue for Japan at the moment is legislation. 

JAMES ATKINSON: I was just going to ask you that. 

DAVE BROOM: I thought you might. 

JAMES ATKINSON: Yeah in your book I think you said that there was movement happening to try and address those issues. As far as I can tell it’s become way more confusing than its ever been for the consumer. And everyday I’m on a Facebook group and someone will post a picture of a line-up of Japanese whiskies and say you know, I’ve seen these Japanese whiskies. Which one should I buy? And then everyone’s, well not everyone, but people who are in the know are kind of lining up to tell them well no, this is not actually Japanese whisky. They’re like what are you talking about, it’s not Japanese whisky? And I mean, it just seems like such a failure of consumer law really that they haven’t addressed it. 

DAVE BROOM: It’s ridiculous and I think everybody kind of assumed, Japan being such a kind of rule obsessed country. That the whisky was tightly governed and then you took a look at it and you realised that there were no regulations. And they’d always imported bulk scotch, you know. It was fairly obvious they’d always imported bulk scotch. You know, that’s why Japanese distillers bought Scottish distilleries. You know. But the bulk scotch, the bulk Canadian. There was a lot of Canadian was going to Japan, still goes into Japan was for third tier, sort of low level, cheap blends in the market. But it wasn’t controlled. But there still wasn’t a definition of what Japanese whisky is. That there was still legally called Japanese whisky, even though it was a blend of Scotch or Canadian and Japanese. 

DAVE BROOM: And then what has happened subsequent to that is obviously you’ve got this growing demand for Japanese whisky around the world. You’ve got growing demand at home. And no legislation, so you have chancers importing Scotch. Bottling it in Japan, slapping on a label, Japanese whisky. You can do that. Or they can blend it with no age neutral grade spirit. Slap on a label saying it’s Japanese whisky. They can take some barley shochu or rice shochu which has been aged and call it rice whisky. Which actually they can’t sell as whisky in Japan or the EU, but they can sell it as whisky in America. So it’s an absolute mess. And I think there’s real damage being done to the credibility of Japanese whisky as a whole, as a result of it.

DAVE BROOM: The good news is, I was at the World Whisky Forum about 10 days ago in Seattle and there were a couple of Japanese distillers there. Both of whom, one of whom is actually on the advisory committee which is trying to draw up the regulations to then present to the Japanese government. And significant progress has been made. And he was pretty confident that something will be in place within the next 18 months. It kind of depends on the wheels of the government, but they’re pretty much close to agreeing what the definition is going to be.

DAVE BROOM: And it’s fairly simple, you know. Japanese whiskies should be mashed, fermented, distilled and aged in Japan. That’s it, you know. But I am worried that unless they begin to be open about it and I’ve noticed in a few presentations I’ve been at over the past year or so, that some have been very vocal about it. And actually talk about, before the questions been asked. You know, saying this is actually incredibly important, we have to change it and we think it should change. But yeah, there’s a major kind of PR campaign that’s kind of needed to try and turn this around. Because yeah, irreparable damage is being done to reputation, which is a real shame.

JAMES ATKINSON: Can people be confident though that if they’re buying a whisky from the big two distillers, Suntory and Nikka, that they’re getting a 100% Japanese product?

DAVE BROOM: I think, I would say that if you’re buying a single malt, yeah. If you’re buying a blend, blends and vatted malts, maybe not. 

JAMES ATKINSON: Yeah, interesting. Okay. 

DAVE BROOM: Maybe not. But I don’t know what goes into all the blends. But certainly, certainly single malts, yes. And some declare it. You know,Suntory just released ‘Ao’ last year which was a world blend and they defined it as a world blend. 

JAMES ATKINSON: Ao or whatever it was, yeah.

DAVE BROOM: Ichiro has a world blend and defined it as a world blend. He’s been very, completely transparent about yes, yes there’s some Scotch whisky in here, there’s some Irish whisky in here. Fine, that’s great. And nobody minds that, you know. You know that’s the thing, that’s fine, that’s transparent. You know, Kirin back in the 60s or 70s. They were doing a lot of blending with Canadian and that was on the label. And a lot of these old, these old bottles, so. Yeah a bit of a mess, which is sad. Because they’re, Japanese whisky is amazing. Yeah, it’s a shame to see it in the state it is at the moment. 

JAMES ATKINSON: That sounds like it’s, you know, you’re kind of more negative about the state of market than you were when maybe I heard you talk on this a couple of years ago?

DAVE BROOM: Yeah, yes I think I am. Which is sad to say, because I’m actually really positive about what’s going to happen. You know, in terms of the quality of the whisky and the number of distilleries that are coming out. But this is the issue that has to be sorted. And I think this issue, because it hasn’t been sorted quick enough, has just got worse and worse over the past couple of years. Just as you said, you know, you go on Facebook and there’s lots of people kind of talking about it. I’m getting retailers phoning me up and saying I’ve been approached by this person selling this Japanese whisky. Do you think it’s Japanese whisky, you know? So even reputable retailers in the UK are kind of scratching their heads and going, should we take this? You know, is this real or not? Yeah that’s not good. It’s not a good way to build a category.

JAMES ATKINSON: Do you think when the laws do come in that it will still take a little while for people to get confident again?

DAVE BROOM: I think so yeah, yeah. Yeah I think so. You know, the nature of the beast these days in terms of communication is you know, bad news travels fast. And then you know, and then conspiracy theories begin to grow and you know, etc, etc, etc. So yeah it will take a while to get, to untangle it I think. But yeah, the sooner it happens the better. And the sooner then, when it does happen that distillers actually come out and are actually completely open about you know, why it happened. You know, why it was a justifiable thing to do at the time. And because the market has changed, the laws had to be applied. But it’s not the traditional way for a Japanese company to behave, you know. So that, that’s, there’s a cultural element in there for them to actually go yeah okay, perhaps something was wrong. The admission of that is not a particularly Japanese thing. 

JAMES ATKINSON: I heard you say recently that you were mildly frustrated I think was the quote, with the progress of Australian whisky. I think you said that it could be you know, further developed than it is at this point. What did you mean by that?

DAVE BROOM: Yeah I think I probably said that about two years ago. I think things have changed in the past couple of years. I was just kind of comparing the Australian whisky, we don’t get a huge amount of Australian whisky in the UK, because it’s nearly all drunk here. Which is great. But the industry for me comparing to European industries, which started up round about the same time. So say looking at Scandinavia, or whatever. They just seem to be more clearly advanced and have a clearer idea of what they were doing and actually establishing identity. And I thought stylistically Australian whisky was still occupying a very kind of narrow band. So that there was a lot of small cask stuff, there was a lot of high strength stuff, there was a lot of very expensive stuff as well. And there was no kind of volume and it’s quite hard to build the, build the category, if all you’re selling is really small amounts of whisky at high price. Eventually consumers will go is this really worth twice as much as a bottle of Scotch, you know? Even if it is phenomenal whisky, they will still go is it as good? 

DAVE BROOM: But now you know, you see Archie Rose whose put on, they’re expanding. Starward’s expanding. Chief’s Son who I was really impressed with down in Mornington Peninsula, they’ve got really decent amount of volume as well. There are a whole number of players who are beginning to expand and you need some of these bigger names. Just to kind of spread the word of it and actually get it out there, in Australia and then begin to get it out in the world as well. So yeah, I’m actually more positive now than I was probably a couple of years back. I think things are changing.

DAVE BROOM: I was having a chat about that with folk in Melbourne this week. And it’s interesting to look at how distillers are now beginning to use larger casks. And there’s kind of a, if not a split then there’s kind of two, two ways of thinking about it. So larger casks are beginning to be used, which actually makes more economic sense. And refill casks are beginning to be used and there’s nothing wrong with refill cask. So yeah I’m, I think it’s in a much healthier position now than it was. But there will probably be a shake out at some point. But there’ll be a shake out in America, there’ll probably be a shake out in Scotland to be honest in a few years. So yeah.

JAMES ATKINSON: Has there been a massive number of distilleries opening in Scotland recently?

DAVE BROOM: There will be 140 more distilleries in Scotland by the end of this year. Well when I started writing about it there were 70. You know, so that’s doubled and most of them have come on stream in the last, within the last decade. I just got a press release yesterday, planning permission granted for a distillery at John o’ Groats. I’ve got friends in, scoping out a distillery on the island of Benbecula. Which is really far south, in the Outer Hebrides. They don’t stop coming, you know. 

JAMES ATKINSON: Yeah, with Australian whiskies that you have tried, do you think there’s any like Australian whisky style that can be identified at this stage?

DAVE BROOM: I think what’s interesting is, and again this kind of comes back to that small casks thing. Those earlier iterations of Australian whisky, because they’re using small casks and nobody was using kind of the same type of cask, and the same shape of still… Yeah there was a distinct style. But it was, it was wood-led, it was cask-led rather than being distillate led. And if you’re working in the world of single malt whisky, the new make is what should be driving the personality of the whisky rather than the cask. The cask is there as a support, you know. As something to add another layer of complexity. But the new make, the distillery has to be the hero and I think the flip was happening with Australia. 

DAVE BROOM: So I think what’s going to be interesting over the next few years is seeing how distillery character actually begins to be promoted, begins to emerge. And that will come with larger casks and that will probably come with refill casks. The fortified wine cask that’s you know, that’s come straight from a winery and you know, filled with whisky. Use it again. You know, use it again. Use it twice, use it three times. Each time you use it there’s less impact from the wood but it will take slightly longer to achieve kind of peak maturity. But also the flavours will be either subtly or significantly different, because there’s less extract in the wood.

DAVE BROOM: So if you put a new spirit into essentially a brand new cask, it’s going to have a big hit of the wood, it’s going to have a big hit of the wood and whatever’s been in it beforehand. That’s quite difficult to control and that can dominate quite easily. But if you’ve got a refill cask, which is a little bit more tired. All of a sudden, it’s the same spirit, but there’s a bit more of that distillery character coming through. So you can then use a combination of both to create layers of complexity, that’s the next stage. 

JAMES ATKINSON: What are some of the other markets around the world that are exciting you in world whisky at the moment?

DAVE BROOM: Scandinavia I think are putting out some really interesting stuff. England. 25 distilleries in England making whisky and there are some absolute belters out there. There’s 100 distilleries making whisky in France now and there’s actually really distinctive regional styles beginning to develop in France, which is interesting. Because there’s cognac producers now beginning to produce whisky. Because you can only produce cognac for a small amount of the year, you know. So after the vintage, up until early spring. So essentially your distilleries lying empty and you know, unused for half the year. Maybe even two thirds of the year. So why not make whisky?

JAMES ATKINSON: And the French drink a lot of whisky as well, don’t they?

DAVE BROOM: And the French drink a huge amount of whisky. So you’ve kind of got this cognac-y style beginning to develop because the stills are different. And also the cognac sensibility to it. You’ve got the Alsace approach to making whisky, which is coming from an eau-de-vie tradition. So they’re using barley more as, almost like a fruit. So they’re trying to get real intense barley characters coming through. So that’s very interesting. And then you’ve got the Briton whiskies. Which are more closely aligned with what’s happening in Scotland. So they kind of look at it from a Celtic point of view, quite overtly Celtic point of view. So yeah, France is really, really interesting. 

DAVE BROOM: And I think in the States, there’s some wonderful, wonderful whiskies getting made using like… High Wired Distilling in Charleston, South Carolina… Saving effectively a very old variety of corn, called Jimmy Red, which was used for cooking, they went well let’s see if you can distil with it. And it’s just insanely good. You know, you taste it and you think well, you’ve added some rye to this. You know, it’s got the corn sweetness, but it’s also got real spice and it’s just this grain. A lot of heritage rye varieties are being used as well. Westland on the west coast, and Copperworks also in Seattle. Leopold Brothers in Colorado, Balcones, he’s down in Texas. You’re beginning to see Pacific North West style beginning to develop, a Texan style beginning to develop and I think an east coast style as well. Not defined by legislation, but more by the thinking behind it. 

DAVE BROOM: And again, that’s kind of what interests me. Distillers looking at their conditions, whether that’s geology or climate, soil types or cereals. Or just the general drinking culture. How can that manifest itself in the whiskies which they’re making? Because the local is really important these days, to people. People like drinking something that’s made down the road. But the thing that’s made just down the road, really should reflect what’s happening around it. And that’s going to be an interesting development, to see how that evolves over the next few years. 

JAMES ATKINSON: What about Irish whiskey, there’s a lot of money being invested over there at the moment?

DAVE BROOM: Yeah, yeah there’s some really good stuff. Dingle’s just about to release a, kind of the first of the new, the new wave of distilleries. Their whiskies have been really, really impressive. 

JAMES ATKINSON: Are you a fan of Irish whiskey?

DAVE BROOM: I love Irish whiskey, yeah, yeah. I love it and there’s a really good example of a different style to Scotch. You know, you essentially you know, it’s more, they’re got single pot still. But even their, even the Irish single malts are different to Scottish single malts. You know, because of the nature of history and demand, and the Irish palate etc. You know, so again kind of conditions are defining it. It’s, yeah Ireland’s really exciting. The distilleries are all still pretty young, so you know so I think you talk about the great Irish renaissance and it’s still pretty much Jameson-led. But in ten years… yeah. I think you’re going to see some really exciting whisky. 

JAMES ATKINSON: What other spirits are exciting you at the moment? 

DAVE BROOM: I’ve just kind of re-done a gin manual. So I took 82 gins out and put 82 new gins in. I think there’s some really interesting gins out there. I was really impressed with a lot of them. 

JAMES ATKINSON: And they are genuinely gins? They’re not just botanical vodkas in gin bottles?

DAVE BROOM: Yeah no, not, I didn’t include them. I just went no, come on it’s my book. I’m going to put in decent gins, you know. I think what’s happening in Australia, you know, Australian gins are really exciting you know. Because the incredible resource of native botanicals. I think the shift from gin being kind of the world’s first global spirit you know, in so far as you know, the Netherlands and the UK had to import all of the botanicals essentially. These days now you’ve got gin distillers going okay alright, we might have to use some imported botanicals. But let’s look around us, you know. What’s growing here, how can we get personality? Again, it’s come back to this thing of place coming through in the gins. And I think the best ones are really good distillers of place. Yeah that’s exciting me. Rum continues to excite and frustrate me. 

JAMES ATKINSON: I heard you speaking on another podcast saying that you’ve been predicting the run renaissance for the last 20 years. 

DAVE BROOM: Oh yeah, yeah I no longer say that. Yeah I figured if I stopped saying that, it would happen you know. But yeah, it’s interesting what’s happening with rum actually. Because you know, the UK and to a certain extent the US, is now beginning to realise that Agricole rum is very interesting. And the French market is beginning to understand that molasses-based rums are very interesting as well. So yeah, there’s a lot of great stuff happening in rum. Agave, amazing. You know, some incredible agave spirits coming out. 

JAMES ATKINSON: From Mexico or from elsewhere in the world now too?

DAVE BROOM: Yeah, mainly from Mexico. You know, big sustainability issues obviously with mezcal. But yeah, just such an exciting spirit, such an exciting spirit. And again, it kind of swings back to the gin book, genever. You know, genever was dead in the water a few years back. And all of a sudden, you’ve got some amazing genever brands. 

JAMES ATKINSON: And people are enjoying them? Actual consumers?

DAVE BROOM: People are, yeah because what the genever distillers are kind of going is stop calling this Dutch gin. Because it’s not gin; it’s the missing link between whisky and gin. So genever is closer to Scotch or bourbon than it is to dry gin. And as soon as you begin to, as soon as you realise that and you begin to taste it. You kinda go yeah, I get it. And I regularly put in aged genevers into blind whisky tastings and just see what people say about them. And they’re usually absolutely blown away. They’re kind of going obviously it’s a strange whisky. Yeah it is a kind of strange whisky, because it’s genever. See I’m really excited by genever at the moment, yeah.

JAMES ATKINSON:

We’ve touched on the movie obviously and the book, what are the next big projects that you’re working on if you’re able to tell us about them?

DAVE BROOM: Yeah, yeah I’m working on, so did the Japanese book a couple of years back which was kind of looking at the links to Japanese craft and whisky making. So I’m doing something kind of similar in Scotland, so I’m about to start on that project. So the book will be out next year. Slightly different but yeah, it’s kind of looking at this idea of a sense of place. Kind of telling the history of whisky through going to various regions of Scotland, seeing what’s happening now, seeing what links are being made to community, etc, etc. And how important that’s been. So that’s been a big one. Complete re-write of the whisky atlas because there’s so many bloody distilleries you know.

JAMES ATKINSON: The problem is by the time you’ve finished writing it …

DAVE BROOM: Yeah, yeah I know. Yeah I need to, I’m going to speak to Jancis Robinson, how on earth did you do the Wine Atlas? I’m also talking to production companies about, not another documentary but maybe a series on spirits or whisky, or whatever. That’s at a very early stage but yeah, some encouraging noises getting made. So, oh and I’ve launched a new website. Hello folks, completely forgot about that. New website, thewhiskymanual.uk which is free. So again, just a place I can do tastings and musings, and a few bits of writing. 

JAMES ATKINSON: Has that kind of followed the unfortunate demise of scotchwhisky.com?

DAVE BROOM: Yeah, absolutely. 

JAMES ATKINSON: Because you know, I used to read a lot of your articles and a lot of, some great content that would pop up on Facebook. The demise of that site, does that kind of you know, speak to the difficulties in you know, media these days? And this is probably a very personal question for me to ask, because you know, it’s my. 

DAVE BROOM: There’s a look of panic in your eyes. Yeah, it does. Yeah it’s a real shame. You know, it was seven years of hard work by a great team. Yeah, we were all very sorry that it just wasn’t working financially. And then you look around and see what are the other options? You know, and you know as a writer of a number of years now, you know. What is out there? Where can I pitch this stuff? How are people getting information, how are people, it’s not even just long form journalism – which I really believe in. But, one of the things, what are the writers? You know, the nature of writing has changed so much. Because the nature of media’s changed so much and people want stuff in bites, you know. A picture with a small caption. 

DAVE BROOM: That’s why podcasts have become very interesting, because people actually want to hear about things. Maybe rather than read about them. So yeah, podcasts are perhaps a feature. But yeah, yeah I think it was, it was a wake up call for me actually. And yeah, after a period of mourning I said well, I might as well just get some, my own site and put some stuff out there. I’m doing other stuff as well. You know, do more regular stuff for Daily Beast and things. So I’m not, somebody said the other day. What are you going to do now you’ve retired? I went what? Retired? You know, Scotch whisky closed. Yeah but I’m not retired. I was out of a job.

JAMES ATKINSON: If I can retire by the time I’m your age, I’ll be a happy man. Yeah.

DAVE BROOM: Yeah, God yeah. But yeah, it was a sad one but we move on. 

JAMES ATKINSON: And so the whisky manual, it has your sort of opinion or think pieces, and reviews and stuff?

DAVE BROOM: Yep, it’s kind of a shop window to be perfectly honest. Yeah I wanted to keep reviews going, because there’s so much out there. It allows me greater scope, because it’s not just Scotch. So I can do some stuff about rum or cognac, or whatever in there. I’m my own master, you know. I’ve just got to keep the content going. 

JAMES ATKINSON: Now this is something I often ask people, just being you know, a general podcast that covers all categories of drinks. What else do you enjoy outside of spirits to drink? Are you still into your wine?

DAVE BROOM: Yeah, yeah I drink more wine than spirits to be honest, you know. Sake, yeah I defer to very good friends in Japan to keep me on the right route with Sake. There’s some very interesting Sake’s coming out and you’re beginning to see them in the export markets. Sake is absolutely fascinating. Craft beer, I’m not a great fan of all this kind of sour stuff. I’m not a great fan of over hopping. And natural wines, don’t get me started on that. 

JAMES ATKINSON: Well you’ll probably have to go back and listen to previous episodes of this podcast, because we’ve gotten into that in a fair bit of depth previously. 

DAVE BROOM: I will, I will yeah. As I said, don’t get me started. It is pretty much the only thing that Adam, the director of the film and I, I fundamentally disagree with. He loves that cloudy, acidic filth. And I don’t.

JAMES ATKINSON: Well Dave, it’s been a great chat. We’ll leave it there and best of luck for the movie and everything else. 

DAVE BROOM: Thanks very much, I really enjoyed it. 

More:
Japanese whisky has been tarnished by imposters: Dave Broom
Australian whisky innovation with Archie Rose’s Dave Withers
Wine podcast episodes on Drinks Adventures

Author: James Atkinson

Journalist specialising in the food, drink, travel and hospitality arenas. Australian International Beer Awards 2017 Media Award Winner and Certified Cicerone®.

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