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SYDNEY (Reuters) - How to get Australians, a nation of beer and wine drinkers, to switch their tipple to whiskey? Try cocktails to smoothe the way, says Jeff Arnett, master distiller for U.S. whiskey maker Jack Daniels.
While government statistics show that Australians, famous for their association with long cool beers, are drinking less of the beverage than at any time over the last six decades, spirits still make up a minute part of the market.
Enter the fresh-faced Arnett, who has been known to taste 100 whiskeys a day in the course of his job and says his main challenge is simply convincing die-hard Down Under drinkers to give whiskey a try.
"This is a beer country so, are people open to moving from beer to trying something different and what is that pathway in which they will get there?" he said.
"I believe cocktails are clearly one of them," he said.
While a 2011 report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics said that beer drinking in Australia had fallen gradually but consistently since the 1960s, the larger share of the slack was taken up by wine, consumption of which rose threefold to 36 percent.
By contrast, while the intake of spirits has doubled, it still trails at 20 percent.
Arnett said that his biggest challenge is often challenging a nation's traditional culture of drinking and tipple of choice. In Russia and Poland, for example, people are vodka drinkers of long standing.
In Australia, he believes that cocktails, such as those using ginger beer, may help beer drinkers make a seamless transition to whiskey.
"Ginger beer as a mixer kind of helps bridge some of the characteristics of beer into a mixed drink," Arnett said.
"I think it's a journey and cocktails are the primary way you bring people along into whiskey. Australians are definitely beginning to make their journey."
Indeed, though exact sales figures were not available, Australia has now become the second-largest foreign market for Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 whiskey, after the United Kingdom.
Part of this is due to the growing popularity of ready-mixed drinks, known as Ready-to-Drinks (RDTs), both globally and in Australia, he said.
"For a lot of people they may never get to the point where they want to drink whiskey neat. They might like whiskey as an accent flavor but they want some other flavors in there, so those (RTDs) are an excellent alternative," he added.
Arnett said he himself still savors whiskey, to the extent that he can drill into barrels in warehouses where the contents will be between 65 to 70 percent alcohol and appreciate and enjoy it.
"On a busy day I can taste up to 100 whiskeys but I have a team of tasters who can help," he said.
Editing by Elaine Lies and Paul Casciato