Rocky's Malt Whisky Society is growing a cult following
DRINKING straight spirits isn't everyone's cup of tea but one visit to the Rockhampton branch of the Queensland Malt Whisky Society could certainly change that.
The society is a not-for-profit community for lovers of whisky where its members enjoy quality over quantity, all while having fun.
With members and visitors paying a reasonable amount to attend a tasting, some of the finest and priciest whiskies (out of reach of most mere mortals' pay packets) are poured out to be sampled and appraised.
Passionate whisky tasting organiser Matthew Dunlop believes there's a whole world of flavours to be experienced as the delicious and potent alcoholic liquids are swirled around your taste buds and he loves his role guiding both beginners and experts through the journey towards whisky appreciation.
Mr Dunlop was kind enough to do a Q&A with The Morning Bulletin to provide an insight into how the Rockhampton branch of the Queensland Malt Whisky Society operates.
What's your full name, age, how long have you lived in Rockhampton, and what sort of work do you do?
Matthew Colin Dunlop, 31, I grew up in Rocky, moved for study and work in 2005, and returned last year for my son to grow up closer to his family.
I'm a lawyer at Maurice Blackburn in Rockhampton.
Were you always a whisky fan?
No, I've been a fan of the dram since about 2012.
When did you first get into whisky tasting?
In approximately 2012 when I was living in Brisbane, I met some friends at a new whisky bar.
At the time I thought all whisky tasted the same - like the 100 Piper's Scotch my Nan used to have with her soda water while I was growing up.
I told the bartender this and he poured me a port cask matured Overeem single malt whisky from the Old Hobart distillery in Tasmania, and it knocked my socks off. I've been exploring whisky ever since.
Could you please tell me the brief background/history for the Rockhampton Malt Whisky Society?
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society was started approximately 30 years ago by a few whisky drinkers in Brisbane, one of whom - Lance Currie - went to high school at The Rockhampton Grammar School.
Fast forward to the present day and we have approximately six clubs around Brisbane, one in Townsville which I started before moving back to Rockhampton, and our Rockhampton club.
For the last several years the Brisbane clubs have contributed to organising an annual whisky expo.
This year the expo is taking place on Friday, July 20 and Saturday, July 21 - there are tickets still available.
Is it for profit or non-profit?
All of the money collected goes toward the tastings.
How do you go about planning it?
Each tasting will generally have a theme selected by me or requested by members of the club.
Over the years I've found a few very reliable suppliers which enables me to obtain some interesting expressions from all over the world.
Where does it happen?
Currently we hold them at Dingles Cafe and Restaurant.
However, last year Benito and his team at Headrick's Lane have been kind enough to provide us space through the week.
How many attend?
Usually 22, or a few more.
How much does it cost?
$40 per tasting for non-members.
$30 per tasting for members.
People can join for the year and receive reduced tasting fees, tasting glasses, admission to our Christmas tasting, and any specials our suppliers may provide from time to time.
What should people expect on the night?
The tastings have become just as much about socialising than they are about drinking whisky.
Here in the Rockhampton club we have a reliable group of regulars who come along who help make the event as inviting and enjoyable as possible.
They come from all walks of life, too.
We have bankers, teachers, train drivers, traffic controllers, baristas and professionals, and it's a fun night for all.
As for the whiskies, I try and select a range of three or four for the night which not only taste great, but have a story behind them. I hope that as a result people leave each evening with a little more appreciation for whisky, and all have left with a whisky they like.
Attendees are also encouraged to order meals from Dingles' delicious menu.
What's been the response?
The response in Rockhampton has been fantastic, especially this year.
Most of the tastings this year have been fully booked, sometimes with people on a waiting list.
It's comforting to have so many repeat attendees.
It shows that I'm doing something right... or it might be the whisky.
I'm also really glad to see women attending our tastings too.
Whisky is often seen as a guy's thing, but it just isn't the case.
Tell us about the most unusual and expensive whiskys the group's tried so far?
Perhaps the most expensive and the most unusual expression was the independent bottling from Rest and Be Thankful Whisky Co, of a whisky from the Bunnahabhain distillery in Scotland.
This bottling was approximately $400.
What makes this expression interesting is that the bottling company takes its name from a stone seat at the top of a hill in Scotland where soldiers had built a walking path.
So long is the journey up this hill when visitors arrive there is a message on the seat inviting visitors to "Rest and Be Thankful”.
This whisky was 16 years old, bottled at cask strength (49.9 per cent alcohol), and was limited to 242 bottles.
What was even more interesting was that another bottling from the Bunnahabhain distillery aged for only eight years and a quarter of the price was a stand-out favourite by comparison.
This goes to show that price doesn't mean preference.
What's been the favourite whisky?
This is a big question.
And most recently, at least, there was a great response to the re-released Lark Classic Cask from Tasmania in May 2018.
For most of us it was full of beautiful plum pudding and vanilla flavours, and more.
It was also agreed to be good value for money.
In addition to that, we also had a vertical tasting for Highland Park single malt whisky from the Isle of Orkney in Scotland.
This included the 10, 12, and 18-year-old releases, as well as a non-age statement travel release.
That tasting was particularly good, as all of those whiskies are between $80 and $125.
You can taste the change in flavour profiles as the whisky spends longer in the ex-bourbon oak barrels.
What's the plan for the next meeting?
Our next tasting on July 14 is a Christmas in July mystery tasting.
There will be a few whiskies up for tasting which will be kept completely secret.
This prevents people's preferences from interfering with what they actually like and it can be quite fun to do.
After that, we're intending on holding a Japanese tasting, a high-end whisky tasting, and a peated/smokey whisky tasting just to name a few.
Future plans/expansion if you get enough numbers?
There is a lot of interest in Rockhampton for whisky, which is great with so many Australian distillers opening up all around the country and dominating international competitions.
If numbers continue to stay strong a second club would be great, and it's all leading toward my own whisky bar right here in Rocky.
Rockhampton Malt Whisky Society
- Who: Queensland Malt Whisky Society - Rockhampton
- What: Tasting the finest malt whiskies the world has to offer
- Where: Dingles Cafe Bar, 116-118 Williams St, Rockhampton
- When: Monthly
- How: Visit @qmwsrocky on Facebook to sign up.
- Cost: $40 per tasting for non-members and $30 per tasting for members.
- Hurry: Numbers are limited.