I believe I said it before, but I’ll say it again – I love tasting world whiskies. It’s fascinating to see various people in different places around the world, who love whisky and produce it. In my short whisky journey I was lucky enough to taste whisky from Scotland (doh), Europe, South Africa, Australia and more but it’s time to get to the southern-est place where whisky was produced – New Zealand.
The sad fact is that currently there’s no active and working distillery in New Zealand. The last active distillery was Willowbank Distillery on the southern island in New Zealand and it was closed down in 1997 and mothballed in 1999. Luckily, the New Zealand Whisky Company bought in 2010 the remaining casks and all those New Zealand whiskies are sourced from those barrels, and so it will stay, until a new distillery will be setup there (or barrels emptied).
The road to this review was long and winding and aided by luck. Last October when I visited Scotland, I also met and made whisky friends. One of them, Erik Burgess, became the New Zealand Whisky Company Brand Ambassador in Great Britain. I guess you can fill in the blanks here by yourself, but it took a while and another visit to Scotland last month, but at last I got samples of 3 different whiskies from deep down under to review:
- New Zealand Dunedin DoubleWood 15 year old (a 70% single malt, 30% grain whisky produced from unmalted barley. Aged for 6 years in American Bourbon barrels, before finishing in French Oak NZ wine)
- 21yo South Island 21 yo
- 1990 23yo Single Cask (distilled in 1990, bottled in March 2013)
New Zealand Dunedin DoubleWood 15yo (40%, £85.95)
Nose: Wine finish you say? It’s sweet but feels more like sherry maturation (albeit sharper) with berries, chocolate, soaked raisins. There’s also fruity side with citrus (lemon + clementines), sour-sweet, dusty warm rocks.
Palate: Oh, it’s so different from the nose, starts sweet, massive rocks/stones, acetone, grain/bourbon-like, raw Tilapia filet (like sashimi), then some honey and bitterness to close it all.
Finish: Medium length with oak, rocks, lingering sweet.
New Zealand South Island 21yo (40%, £110)
Nose: Bucketful of honey and vanilla, flowery, meadow, I’d go for speyside bordering lowlands whisky if it was blind dram, feels like active casks (first-fill?), after a while some mild peppery notes shows up. It’s full of flavours.
Palate: A bit thin. semi dry while nose hints at full body, classic bourbon cask impact with vanilla, less honey here than on nose, oak, and with water (yes, added water at 40%) it get sweeter.
Finish: Short, oak, lingering sweet, spice at back of throat.
New Zealand Single Cask 1990 23yo (63.5%, Cask #137, £110)
Nose: Again, very pure and classic ex-bourbon nose, similar to the 21yo but with added punch which is no wonder with that high ABV after 23 years, heavy and thick honey and vanilla, some ginger and with those dusty warm rocks notes.
Palate: Smooth, extra sweet with honey, meadow, flowers and spice
Finish: Long finish, sweet, oak and spicy
Thoughts: A very interesting trio. Overall it’s a solid line of whiskies with the 15yo blend having a unique profile while the 21yo and 23yo are leading the way. They are very Scotch-like with classic ex-bourbon impact and the age did polished the rough edges making it smooth and fresh whisky (Although I’d guess age of 12-18 due to not so complex profile). There’s only one slight problem – the price. I guess there’s no way around as the long distance from New Zealand to UK means high transportation costs but still it was a great experience to taste them.
(Official sample provided from The New Zealand Whisky Company, Thanks Erik!)