Matt Bailey

National Ambassador, SMWS Australia

First whisky memory

My first whisky memory is the smell of Vat 69 or Bells mixed with soda and ice that my dad would enjoy. I couldn’t stand the smell. The following one was my adopted grandfather Richard, a composer who lived in ink wells and blotting paper. He gave me a tumbler of Johnnie Walker Black Label at 2am on New Year’s Eve around 1999 and it opened my eyes. It could have been the Bonjela on my gums as a toddler, it could have been the blend in ‘99, but either way the story started somewhere. I can still smell the ink wells now.

Best box set

My life is in music and whisky, so I’ll have to take on both here. For music, it’s been Charlie Patton’s Masked Marvel recordings, or vintage American field recordings from Alan Lomax or others. For film, I’ve recently delved into Westworld again. The first season is a masterpiece. Otherwise I can always come back to Mad Men. Start to finish it never misses a beat.

Fantasy whisky tasting companions

I’d love to share a dram with lots of people. If I could go back in time I’d love to sit down with Dr Jim Swan, Michael Jackson, and Norman Case locally just for a chinwag. But from the living I’d love to share a dram with Mickey Heads from Ardbeg, Robert Hoskin in Tassie, and Dr Bill Lumsden for a great night around the fire. Sentimentally, I never met my grandfathers, so I would also go back to share a dram with them and probably be freaked out by that!

Most used emoji

This is easy. The whisky tumbler one. I use it in almost every message, email, Instagram post, and reply. The shared dram. The exploration of whisky in a single emoji. What is an emoji anyway? What is ‘post emoji’? I guess time will tell. Language changes and how we use it.


ABOVE: Matt and SMWS crew on a whisky boat trip in Melbourne

Most memorable dram

This is a tough one. So many shared experiences with members and friends around the world that this could be. It could be the 1955 Highland Park I shared with friends. It could be the very first Society bottling I bought as a member, which was a 125. It could be the 1.183 shared around at a special tasting in Sydney. It might be the mystery dram passed to me at Ardbeg distillery in 2018? It could be the cheap blended whisky we shared on a rocky ledge in Launceston. It could be the bottle of Laddie shared at the cottage for Feis Ile with our SMWS team? There’s no ‘most memorable’ for me. It’s the people and times you share in this journey we call life that make all of it something memorable.

Guilty pleasure

Lao Gan Ma – super secret chilli oil that amplifies a dish to another level. Try it with a slow-smoked chicken dish, or add it to your next brisket. Or Cheds. Cheds are these pecorino cheese biscuits that are incredible. Not fancy, but a guilty salty pleasure.

Dream destination

I really want to get to Jerez. Discover the origins of so many sherry houses, the flavours, the food, and the people who have created generations of sherry and flavours. We talk so often about sherry maturation in whisky, but to really take a step into the houses as to where it’s all based would be incredible. To meet the makers.

Weirdest food

I’ve been served some real oddities over the years like chicken lymph nodes, sweetbreads, bull testicles, tripe and other things. There’s a place for it all if you have an open mind to flavour. I also like exploring spices and ‘accidental perfect pairings’ as well when I’m cooking. Who cares that something like stewed cabbage soup pairs with a Young & Spritely cask?

Favourite bar

Whisky & Alement in Melbourne. The SMWS has some incredible partner bars, but the team at W&A really drive spirit enjoyment and exploration in a whole other way. Truly a destination for Society members.

If you were a flavour profile, what would you be?

Oily & Coastal. It’s a toss up between that and Sweet, Fruity & Mellow, but I’ll live with it. I have a particular soft spot for any Oily & Coastal casks we see from codes that don’t usually fall into that realm, like a 70, or 112, or 26.