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Australia’s Home for Whisky - The Whisky List.

In the realm of fine spirits, few beverages possess the allure and complexity that whisky does.

A true connoisseur's delight, whisky has captivated the senses and seduced palates for centuries. With its rich history, diverse range of flavours, and global appeal, whisky stands as a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship involved in its creation.

The entity known as The Whisky List has set out as a gateway to a world of refined indulgence, where every sip tells a tale, and every bottle holds a distinct character waiting to be discovered, with its endeavours centred around offering a comprehensive and diverse experience for enthusiasts and novices alike.

It serves as a foundation and roadmap to navigate the vast world of whisky, presenting an assortment of renowned and lesser-known brands, rare bottlings, and limited editions.

We fondly remember when we were introduced to Oliver Maruda by David Ligoff at the Ardbeg day revelry in 2018, when The Whisky List was starting out and was back then little more than a reliable online whisky search engine to get liquor dispensaries to price beat, much to the chagrin of Dan Murphy’s.

Based on The Whisky List’s expansive work with a host of international distillers and its passion for the budding local whisky industry, it has been quite an enriching experience to see TWL’s meteoric evolution to the unique position it inhabits these days, i.e., having established itself as the multi-faceted and veritable one-stop shop for all things whisky, with the whole it encompasses being much more than the mere sum of its parts.

Having branched out not merely into the distribution, sourcing of independent bottlings and import of fine spirits – thereby becoming Australia’s largest online whisky retailer - but being the driving force behind events like the never not expertly curated Whisky Shows, virtual tastings and the immensely popular annual bonanza hat is Sydney Whisky Week to showcase some of the finest local and international drops, it creates an inclusive and welcoming playground for whisky lovers, with something new to discover no matter if you are a seasoned aficionado or dipping a toe into the water of life.

The Whisky List embodies the allure and essence of whisky as it stands as a testament to the craftsmanship, diversity, and global reach of extraordinary spirits.

Given the above-mentioned, we did not hesitate when the opportunity presented itself to indulge in a conversation with The Whisky List’s co-founder Oliver Maruda so that he could shed light on The Whisky List’s remarkable journey:

1. Where did your passion for whisky emerge from? How has your excitement for spirits changed since you first started?

Oliver Maruda: Our passion and excitement is ever evolving. Originally it came from a general sense of exploration and curiosity of flavours. Your thirst to try it all and chase your favourite distilleries.

These days our focus has shifted towards people, those who make it and the drinkers themselves. Whisky brings people together, one of the best communities we’ve had the privilege to be a part of. A real sense of breaking down barriers and just enjoying each other's company over a shared dram. Hearing directly from the makers, especially Australian distillers and helping share their passion is incredibly rewarding.

2. What’s been the key to the success of The Whisky List and who is currently part of the team?

OM: Our team has seven full time staff, a great feat achieved in just under two years. Whilst The Whisky List has been around since 2018, for many years it remained just a side hustle for Chris and me.

Our mission hasn’t changed from the first iteration of our site, we still help our customers ‘find great whisky’ however our growth comes down to the dedication of our team. Everyone is first and foremost a whisky lover in their own right and experts in the category.

Emma Cookson, formally a bartender of Whisky & Alement in Melbourne, was recently crowned the prestigious title of 2023 Global Icons of Whisky Best Communication in the World award for her achievements in leading our whisky advocacy and education program.

Larry Aronson leads our import and distribution business; he has worked in the drinks industry for over 20 years in South Africa and Australia. In 2010, Aronson co-founded Australia’s first specialised whisky store, World of Whisky alongside David Ligoff. Larry was responsible for many great whiskies arriving in Australia for the first time by importing and distributing Tullibardine, Arran, Glenglassaugh, Benriach, Tomatin, Kavalan and more.

Scott Allan, ex Bar Manager of NOLA Smokehouse and Bar, leads our on-prem sales team and our American Spirits expert. Ligoff leads our events side of the business, he’s had decades of experience leading the largest whisky festivals in Australia.

We’ve purposely designed our capability to be whisky focused, everyone knows the product inside out. On our consumer retail side, we aren’t competing with the major chains whose primary lever is price reductions, our focus is on quality customer service, great range and personalisation to ensure each customer receives the best recommendation on what to drink each interaction. We’ve found our customers return for this experience.

3. What do you like most about the whisky industry in Australia at the moment?

OM: Our real sense of community. We all understand the current economic climate, the challenges today whilst still dealing with challenges of lockdown days like major global supply chain delays, etc.

You can call up another retailer, supplier, venue, festivals, distillers, and everyone is just as keen to help each other out. The independent whisky businesses regardless of where they fit in the supply chain all rally together and for that we’re stronger as a unit.

4. Have you noticed any consumer trends towards a particular style of whisky?

OM: Scotch remains the top choice and will always dominate.

However, since Covid/Lockdowns, we’ve seen a real shift of whisky drinkers here begin to drink more locally produced Australian spirits. The recent data we’ve seen was less than 1% of whisky consumed in 2019 was Australian made, and today that figure is estimated at between 4-5%. That’s tremendous growth in the category. Australian whisky has a long way to go to compete with Irish, Japanese, American and Scotch Whisky counterparts, however the trend is positive and continues to grow as our local industry matures.

Modern Australian whisky distillation has only just turned 31 years old; the rest of the world have been at it for hundreds of years. A promising start no less and we look forward to what the next few decades will bring.

5. Over the years, The Whisky List has not only released its own bottlings but established itself as the exclusive distributor on terra australis for some major Scottish distilleries. What’s the current state of affairs?

OM: In our early days we took a major bet importing the most expensive single cask of single malt Scotch Whisky exclusively for the Australian market, an incredibly rare 1993 26yo GlenDronach. That record still stands today.

Since then, we’ve released over two dozen exclusive bottlings from both Scotch, Irish, American and Australian distilleries. Our audience trusts our tasting panel and are always on the lookout for exceptional single cask exclusives, so we will continue this program into the future.

The last 18 months have seen us diversify into import and distribution, when we secured the contract to distribute premium Scotch Whisky brands of Bunnahabhain, Tobermory/Ledaig, and Deanston. Today our portfolio stands at 10 brands, and we’re in discussions with 3 others to add to our mix, this includes a number of Tasmanian distilleries, Scotch Whisky and international whiskies including this year’s awarded World’s Best Single Malt at the World Whisky Awards, M&H Distillery Sherry Cask from Israel.

Our goal isn’t to take on every brand, we’re simply on the lookout for quality in both taste and price, as well as aligning on their production ethos. We see every brand we distribute as an extension of their business, a real partnership, so every bottle we help them sell is of great importance to us.

6. The Whisky Shows around Australia have gone from strength to strength?

OM: Whisky drinkers are spoilt for choice when they visit bars and their favourite bottle shops. The Shows however present the best value for money experience in Australia for consumers when it comes to the ratio and choice of whiskies available to try.

Unlike other spirit festivals in Australia, The Whisky Show only presents whiskies. No gins, vodkas, etc. Each distillery and brand presenting is encouraged to bring something new each year, this ensures there is always something new to try, especially for the loyal show attendees who return each year.

Ask any whisky brand in Australia, a liquid on lips strategy is key to ensure your brand gets in front of whisky drinkers and the show has successfully provided a platform where over 5,000 whisky lovers from across Australia get real face time in front of brand ambassadors and distillers.

The value it provides to the wider industry can’t be underestimated, as for weeks and months after a show, we have data that shows customers seek out the brands they tried at each show. If you’re not showcasing at a festival, then you’re simply not front of mind at the end of the day. For consumers, they are guaranteed the best whisky sampling experience each time. It’s a win-win experience for everyone.

7. What advice would you give someone who wants to start collecting whisky?

OM: Simply put, I’d suggest you collect whiskies you’re interested in drinking. There are only a handful of brands that perform well as an investment, the rest is minimal.

Shifting your focus on whiskies which are limited but you know you would want a bottle to drink today and then save another bottle for the future for a special occasion, that would be my recommendation. Don’t fall for FOMO. The good news is that if you miss out on something, there is always more great whisky being released on the horizon.

8. How many bottles do you have in your own personal stock and which ones do you have open at the moment?

OM: Ask anyone working in the whisky industry, you end up gifting each other samples and bottles over time. It’s one of the many great aspects of our industry. A big part of my job entails tasting and writing tasting notes too, so I have very quickly accumulated hundreds of open bottles and samples.

Most recently I’ve been tasting my way through the Bunnahabhain 12-Year-Old Cask Strength which is one of the brands we import, to more rarer independent bottlers we work with like Decadent Drinks Whisky Sponge Bowmore 18yo. Both are incredible whiskies.

9. Gazing into a crystal ball, where do you see The Whisky List in five years?

OM: We’re building TWL to be the home of online whisky in Australia. The supermarket chains for too long have dominated the market here and whilst they play an important role in the customer journey, our focus continues to be on ensuring every whisky drinker in Australia has an easy-to-use platform to help them discover and choose their next whisky to drink, that’s tailored specifically to their tastes and flavour preferences.

Today, we have over 40,000 individual reviews and ratings on our website, one of the largest ratings databases in the world, second to the European based whisky review website Whiskybase. We use these ratings to help power the world’s first AI-powered whisky recommendation engine, like Netflix for whisky.

Our members know that when they’re presented with a whisky, the likelihood they will enjoy the taste, and within their budget is of high confidence. We will continue to perfect this technology over the years. Of course, we’ll continue importing and distributing amazing whisky brands and distilleries as well as many exciting exclusive barrel picks coming in the future.


Intro and questions by AW.

Replies by Oliver Maruda, Co-Founder, The Whisky List.

Photos courtesy of The Whisky List.


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