Tradition Vs Innovation

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Tradition Vs Innovation

July Outturn 2022 Ambassador’s Address


I’ve been thinking lately about the struggle between the old ways of doing things, and the new ways.

There was an Australian “whisky” recently released that made some minor waves on social media, but for all the wrong reasons. It was a 21 DAY old, red gum matured, sonically-aged, spirit drink. Some people called it out saying it’s not technically a whisky (which is true) and others said they enjoy the taste and don’t care what it’s called.

This made me think of that eternal struggle between innovation and tradition. Over in Scotland, we often like to romanticise distilleries that proudly do things the “old-fashioned” way. The Victorian-era rake mash tun at Bruichladdich; the chalk-on-wall ‘computer’ at Springbank; the floor maltings at Highland Park, etc, are good examples. They’re a world apart from sonically-aged, computer-created, non-oak matured malts. One part of me thinks that this clinging to old rakes and floor maltings is a useless throwback in the face of innovation and invention, but another part of me likes to think that it all makes the most measurable difference to the end result and should be part of that tradition. Almost a fight between progressivism and conservatism in spirits production and then how that’s used, marketed, and produced.

There’s a certain charm and romance to old world production. This applies to just about everything we enjoy, not just whisky. One of my favourite examples here is in motoring with the Porsche 911. The 911 is, in its essence, a flawed design. A rear-engine sports car that has had decades of staying the same and slightly evolving. Balance issues, high speed wobbles, space requirements: these are just a smattering of the issues with this analogue object, but we love it. We love the flaws, the mechanical manufacture, the clunk of the gearbox, the old world purity before hybrids and Teslas. At the same time as craving the crunchy mechanical clicks of a Rolex that tells the time arguably as well as a digital Casio, there’s a charm that finds that intersection between tradition and innovation.

The same applies to whisky. It doesn’t need to be an either/or scenario, and each world can learn from the other. The old world of production can start to lift aspects of innovation to improve their output, while the new world can take aspects of the old and maybe use things like… um, oak!

Either way, it’s been playing on my mind this winter. Happy winter dramming and here’s to a cracking July Outturn.


About the Author:

Matt Bailey is the National Ambassador and Development Manager for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Australia. He's tirelessly trying to meet every member and share a dram with you all.

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