Walking down Melbourne’s Driver Lane and into Nant I stood awkwardly near the doorway. A staff member assisted a customer. It felt like a retail store but I could see bar style seating, so I fiddled with my headphones until the young man pointed out that yes, it was a retail shop and the bar was a couple of doors up.
Nant Distilling has made a few missteps of their own lately, however theirs are far more costly than simply wandering into the wrong venue.
Phrases like “financial apocalypse” and “looming bankruptcy” were used around the founder, Keith Blatt, in a Sydney Morning Herald article earlier this year.(http://www.smh.com.au/business/whisky-funding-scheme-run-by-bankrupt-keith-batt-who-owes-16-million-20160204-gmmb4f.html). While the Barefoot Investor was, to put it lightly, very unimpressed with answers he got about their barrel and cattles investments (https://barefootinvestor.com/cash-cow-or-risky-whisky/).
The SMH article above also includes this potentially very telling tidbit:
“The former chief financial officer, Diana Ross-Douglas, is said to have departed after she suggested a stocktake of barrels. Ms Ross-Douglas refused to comment.”
And just last week, the Courier Mail had more talk of Blatt’s financial woe (http://www.couriermail.com.au/business/nant-whisky-founder-keith-batt-files-for-bankruptcy-with-debts-of-162-million/news-story/9f153348d0093d0f5d93366dc37dc91a).
On the other hand, Nant’s whiskies are award winning and lauded. They’ve won medals as well as incredibly high praise from Whisky Bible author Jim Murray; who rated two of their expressions, the American Oak Bourbon Wood, and Port Wood as “Liquid Gold”. That means both received higher than a 94 point rating by the famous critic. As a big whisky fan, the only bottle of theirs I’ve personally owned was their Sherry Cask. I can honestly say I’ve never gone through a bottle faster than that one.
It’s safe to say, while they may have business issues, their product is still elegant, refined and world class.
Back in that Melbourne laneway, I located the right entrance and headed down the stairs. A heavy automatic-door opened ominously. Despite the eery chills from the ooky door there was warmth in the venue. Gold-lighting and polished wood. We perched at the bar in anticipation.
While Nant-branded and owned, they stock a range of whisk(e)y from around the world. It was fun to hear two staff members explaining Japanese whisky’s recent rise in popularity to a couple of eager customers. In all interactions the staff were friendly and genuinely excited to talk whisky. A big tick in any whisky bar.
There for an invited masterclass, we tried bites from the kitchen while we worked through their range, including their “new make” – which means it’s spirit that is yet to see a barrel. Not really a consumer product, a fun thing to try nevertheless and gives insight into the journey whisky takes.
The food was snack style and everything was well matched. The first two, cured trout and seared wallaby, were exceptional and ideal matches for the whiskies. A tease of what the kitchen offers.
If you’ve read this far you’ll know I’m a fan of the drinks so I won’t bore you with each tasting note, but my overall impression of the bar was a great one. Not as dark and charming as Melbourne whisky favourite Whisky and Alement, but conversely not as brash and bustling as nearby Boilermaker House. It lands somewhere in between. It might not have all the cool of either but it’s not worse off for it.
The bar is one of a few Nant bars around Australia, as well as one in Kuala Lumpur that opened just last month. There are plans to expand further into Asia and around Australia.
Yes, this was an out and out PR exercise. It’s undeniable that they need something positive. Google News searches are dominated by their business. As a consumer it’s hard to have complete confidence in the longevity of the brand when the finance and management behind it appears questionable. It is equally hard to deny, however, the quality of the product.
Losing a world class whisky from Australia, as Australian whisky grows in reputation and quality, would be a blow for the whole industry. While I’m sure unhappy investors might look at things a bit differently, as a consumer I would be disappointed to not drink their whiskies again.
Contact: Nant Whisky Bar – Shop 3, Driver Lane Melbourne CBD. Website.
Ph. (03) 6224 0747, 1800 SINGLE MALT (746453).
Find Luke from AleOfATime at http://aleofatime.com where he spouts his knowledge as the guru of Australian (but mostly Victorian) craft beer. I have learnt everything I know from listening to his podcast – which you need to iTunes right now. Also Twitter and Facebook.