I admit that lockdowns come with a whole range of less-than-wonderful side effects: queuing to get into the supermarket and everyone watching you buy toilet rolls, not being able to get a proper latte, not being allowed out, and rubbish TV programmes (if you don’t count the Paralympics, which are amazing!).
And some of the postings on social media indicates that a lot of people have way too much time on their hands!
But every cloud has a silver lining. Not having to dress properly for work means less laundry (who needs to wear pants for a Zoom meeting?), no cars on the road and heaps of empty parking spaces. And a tank of petrol lasts forever!
Don’t worry about the state of whisky in New Zealand.
True that our “traditional” Scottish-sourced sauce may be a bit harder to come by while the world recovers.
But sometimes when you go digging, you hit a gold seam. And that seems a good view of the distillery featured in this article.
The Spirits Workshop
The Spirits Workshop began in late 2015 when four whisky lovers got together and bought a small still, curious to develop distinctly New Zealand spirits.
The company describes itself as ”a small batch, craft distillery” in Christchurch, New Zealand. Canterbury grain is used to make a range of spirits that include quality single malt whiskies, gins and other spirits.
Researching and talking to the company, I have been extremely impressed with what they do and where they look to be headed!
The Spirits Workshop’s whisky brand name is Divergence. I recommend that you note that name – I confidently predict it will become a big player the next few years. And that opinion is reinforced when I look at the mouth-watering expressions they have in the pipeline.
The whisky spirit is double-distilled in a 500 litre copper pot still with a horizontal lyne arm and a copper shell and tube condenser.
The company currently forecasts capacity to make 8,500 litres of barrel-strength new make annually, operating a single shift, five days a week.
The recently drawn NZ Whisky Guidelines and Definitions have set a two year maturation minimum for NZ Single Malt Whisky. However, the distillery has opted for a minimum three year period for their range. And it looks as if some upcoming production may be held in barrels for longer than that.
Other single cask options include aging in ex bourbon casks, ex Australian and Spanish sherry casks, and ex Portuguese Tawny Port casks
The mainstay whisky is a multi Gold Medal award winning New Zealand Single Malt expression. It is double pot stilled, fully matured for 3 ½ years in 50 and 100 litre virgin French Oak casks, and bottled at 46% abv.
I purchased a bottle of this delightful dram – strictly for research purposes, you understand!
My tasting notes are:
Visual: Orange amber, with good legs. Nose: Sweet and aromatic, soft poached pip fruit (nashi pears?), a light-weight dark chocolate, musty. Palette: Tongue heat feels a bit harsh at first then quickly mellows out to sweetness. Well integrated and balanced. Oaky wood comes through. Finish: Tannic drying, and the oak wood remanis. Comment: Good, at the first glass from the bottle. But this whisky, like a lot of others, benefits from a bit of breathing. Score: My initial first dram score was 7.5, but improved to 8.5/8.6 a few breaths of air later.
At the time of writing, the distillery also had stock of their Port Wood expression. This expression is a 46.3% abv, matured in a 100 litre ex-South Australian Tawny Port barrel.
What to look forward to
Company Managing Director, Antony Michalik, says “Our next bottling will be another single cask, cask strength, release of the Sloe Gin Barrel Finished. This time finished in the Sloe Gin barrels for more than 12 months.
“We also have ex NZ Pinot Noir barrels both finishing whisky (which should be ready for bottling in the next 6 – 12 months) and fully aging whisky (which will be at least 2 years away).”
Also in the mix are ex New Zealand Port barrels both finishing and fully aging whisky at the moment. There is a further range of other single cask options aging in ex bourbon casks, ex Australian and Spanish sherry casks, ex Portuguese Tawny Port casks – some of which may be ready for release in the next couple of years and some of which the distillery may choose to age for longer periods.
I am so looking forward to trying these!
The company is determined to put as much “Kiwi-ness” into their product as possible.
Antony talked about some experimenting they had done using native manuka wood to create a more NZ flavour.
“Unfortunately we can’t make barrels from manuka but we have experimented with using charred and toasted manuka chunks. The results have been very pleasant and promising of a potential truly NZ flavour profile.”
“However, the newly developed … rules for NZ Whisky do not allow for the addition of free-floating wood in aging New Zealand Single Malt Whisky so we have to find another way to introduce the Manuka wood contact, which we are working on”, said Antony.
The Spirits Workshop distillery is situated a short walk from the centre of Christchurch CBD, open for tours and tastings Monday to Saturday.
As well as the distillery itself, they also have a small cocktail bar at the Riverside Market right in the CBD where you can enjoy their whiskies as individual drams, in a flight of up to three current expressions or in delicious cocktails.
I’ll see you there!
As I mentioned earlier, The Spirits Distillery make a range of gins under the Curiosity label. They use the same pot still but with a different lyne arm and a stainless steel condenser. There is also a 20-plate copper column used to refine barley malt spirit for the base spirit of two of the Curiosity gins.
I recommend trying the Curiosity Pinot Barrel Sloe.
This gin liqueur is something else! Taken straight without additives, it is the most delightful Christmas Cake like your grandmother used to make.
And that is why I’m hanging out for the Pinot Noir Divergence whisky!
Footnote: This article has not been sponsored by The Spirits Workshop in any way – the opinions and views expressed are entirely my own. However, I would like to acknowledge the support and assistance provided to me by the distillery. They have been most generous with their time and information, and happy to answer some quite nosey questions.
If I had to pick just one thing I have gained from going to whisky tastings, it is Knowledge. With a capital K.
The people I generally share whisky tastings with are drawn from every imaginable sphere of activity and background.
But the common factor across all of them is the love of whisky. They like whisky and they know stuff about whisky – whether it’s about production or consumption or anything in between. And they are totally willing to share what they know, unconditionally and for free.
There is a lot to be learned about whisky – the history, how it’s made, what the various flavours are. The How, the Where and the Why. Some people have bits of the knowledge, others have a whole lot. Since I have been going to whisky tastings, the biggest thing I’ve learned is how much there is to learn! But I have never found any preciousness or pretention about the knowledge or about freely sharing it.
I have learned that it pays to keep your ears open at a whisky tasting. A tasting is a place where, if you want to learn, plenty will be presented to you. There will always be something new, such as the effect that different production techniques, equipment, ownership or process will have on the final spirit outcome.
Tastings are the place where, for a relatively low cost, you get to taste some whiskies that would otherwise be unaffordable (or unobtainable!)
It may be that you will find out which drams you prefer and – possibly more importantly – which you don’t. That knowledge alone can save you a lot of grief, purchasing a whisky which you later discover is not really one you fancy. I can attest that the system is not universally fool-proof, but it’s better than none at all.
Tastings are also the place where, for a relatively low cost, you get to taste some whiskies that would otherwise be unaffordable (or unobtainable!)
Whisky tastings develop long-term friendships.
Stories of tastings past get told and re-told (and probably enlarged): the tasting where the offerings were so poor that the tasters elected to club funds together, go downstairs to the retail shop and purchase something palatable to share. Or the bottle where the label read “we have bottled this at 40% so more people can get the benefit of tasting our whisky” – when the first sip of this very substandard dram split into two layers in the mouth, the more prevalent layer being the 60% water content!
How do you know it tastes like licking a cricket bat??
Tasting comments from the floor are insightful, very personal, totally random and frequently indelicate. As are the comments that they engender from the assembled throng. “How do you know it tastes like licking a cricket bat??”
The humour is high, and frequently neither politically nor socially correct. It is insightful, unrelenting, unforgiving and very sharp. Laughter is the key, sometimes laughing at but more commonly laughing with.
Another by-product of whisky tastings I enjoy is the exchanging of small sample bottles of whisky brought from home to be given to others to try.
Colour: Dark Amber Nose: Dull peat, but not over the top. A matured cow pat. Alcohol heat comes through (not surprising, given the abv). A medium-rare steak. Palette: Alcohol burn, brown & dark, sweeter and with slight smoke. With reduction, sweeter still & radishes. Finish: Warming. Comment: This quite surprised me. Normally I have found Caol Ilas a bit too earthy and peaty for my preference. But this one is quite subdued peat-wise and I could get very used to it. Very yummy.
SMWS 76.126 “Racy Lady, Wearing Leather”. From Mel
Mortlach, refill bourbon hogshead, 57% abv, no age statement. Distilled 22 Sep 1987.
Nose: Laundry powder. Alcohol is up, sandsoap and a grassy meadow. Palette: Alcohol burn, soap, fencing timber and a hot tongue. A big mouth, sweet and sourish. No obvious bourbon influence (eg no vanilla note). Dusty leather. Finish: Long heat, tannic, dries off and slightly waxy. Thorax-warming, the pepper mouth stays. Comment: The Scotch Malt Whisky Society do not reduce the abv of barrels they get – that option is left to the consumer. This Mortlach could tolerate some reduction to lower the effect of high alcohol and let the flavours through.
Bruichladdich Octomore 8.1. From Brian
8 years aging in ff American oak bourbon, 167 ppm*, 59.3% abv
Colour: Light Nose: Smoky, uncooked bacon (with no eggs). Sweetish. Palette: Soft and a bit fizzy. Bacon & black pudding for breakfast, ash & high alcohol Finish: The smoky bacon lingers on (and on). And on. Comment: I can sort of understand why people go for this, but it’s considerably too peaty-laden for me. Score: 7.5
*ppm: Parts Per Million – a measure of the phenols (the “peaty-ness”).
G&M Mortlach 15yo, 43%. From Graeme
FF and RF sherry casks
Colour: Amber Nose: Peaches (stone-fruit peel), sweet sherry, fresh cookies, tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce. Palette: Leather polish, sourish (oloroso?), not as sherry-sweet as I had expected. Wood, tannic (drying mouth) Finish: Fades off early (from the low abv?). Dark, slight smoke towards the end. Raisins from a packet. The sourness stays, although it is not unpleasant. Warms the throat and chest. Comment: Totally different from the SMWS Mortlach earlier. This is nice as a relaxing whisky, without the over-the-top alcohol level.
Cragganmore 12yo 58.4%, donated by Thomas (Pat’s tasting notes)
Matured in American oak
Colour: Light Nose: Coastal, seashore, salty, barbeque plate, sweet bourbon Palette: peat, sweet & warming, smooth Finish: Medium Comment: I could quite happily buy a bottle.
Toki (Suntory) 43%, donated by Thomas (Pat’s tasting notes)
‘Toki’ means ‘time’ in Japanese.
Toki is a blended whisky from Suntory’s three distilleries. Its main components are Hakushu single malt and Chita grain whisky. This is a round and sweet blend with a refreshing citrus character and a spicy finish.
Colour: Very light Nose: Soft peach, beeswax polish, honeycomb Palette: Oily mouth feel, smooth, cherry Finish: Short, with soft tannin Comment: A “quaffer”. Pleasant enough, but not challenging, run-of-the-mill
In my last post I looked at the disturbances that the last 18 months is likely to have on NZ whisky stocks.
As a part of that discussion, I considered there was a great opportunity for New Zealand distilleries to fill probable gaps in the supply line.
This article on Waitui Whiskey is the first of a proposed series focussing on local NZ distilleries and whiskies.
Who are the distilleries? What are they doing? And what is the product like?
There is only one way to find out. Talk to them, sample their wares and report back. I will look at some of their production details and at the whiskies they are producing. Then I will give you my tasting notes and opinion on the results.
It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!
Kiwi Spirit Distillery
The first distillery is the Kiwi Spirit Distillery in Takaka in the very beautiful Golden Bay at the top of the South Island.
The company is a family owned and operated distillery, specialising in unique spirits handcrafted from homegrown ingredients.
Almost all Kiwi Spirit Distillery’s ingredients come from the local region. The water is drawn from one of the aquifers that feed Te Waikoropupū Springs (the Pupu Springs) just out of Takaka. The malt is from the South Island, but Kiwi Spirits is looking to get their supply more locally.
The distillery produces a wide range of spirits – Tequila, two gins (Championz and Greenstone), three liqueurs, Honey Mead (of which more later), and two vodkas.
If you put the cork back in and leave it for 24 hours to absorb the little bit of extra air that has been allowed into the bottle, you get a whole different experience!
But the focus of our interest is, or course, Waitui Whiskey.
Waitui Whiskey is a unique New Zealand single malt that commenced production in 2002. The small batch output is one of only a few true honey malt whiskeys produced in the world today.
With no malt blends or other additives, the whisky spends eight years maturing in 200 litre barrels previously housing manuka honey mead.
The current production levels are in the process of being increased to 2000 litres, thanks to some new equipment on its way. The refining still is a very lovely looking Arnold Holstein unit, with a large ogee to encourage reflux and a level Lyne arm.
I purchased a bottle of Waitui Honey Mead matured whiskey to try. Although not as expensive as some other NZ drams, it did push my purchase tipping point a bit.
The bottle details are:
Waitui Single Malt Manuka Honey. Natural Colour, Manuka Honey Mead Oak Casks. Distilled 17 Mar 2012, bottled 2 June 2020, bottle 68 from cask 91.
An interesting point …
Sometimes when you open a new bottle of whisky the first dram is not as good as it is going to get. Put the cork back in and leave it for 24 hours to absorb the little bit of extra air that has been allowed into the bottle and you get a whole different experience!
So let it be with Waitui Honey Mead Whiskey.
My first dram was a bit underwhelming.
The colour was a lovely dark mahogany. But, against that, my tasting notes show a slightly sour nose, with honey and a sugar sack. The palette was not as sweet as I would have hoped either, and I felt it could have benefited from being bottled at a slightly higher abv – maybe around 46%. I scored that first dram at 7.4, a mark that I was a bit disappointed with.
I put the cork back in, hoping that things would improve with the benefit of a bit of increased air in the mix.
Fast forward 24 hours and we have a whole new ball game!
Nose: Mixed fruit with spice for a fruitcake. There is a slight metallic/coppery note in the background, cinnamon & dark chocolate with honey, wood and old varnish. Palette: A lot of sweetness, tongue heat and a slight fizz. Mouth-filling (despite the lower abv), metallic again but at a very low level, Madeira fruit cake and cinnamon. Finish: Way longer than the previous evening. A very lovely oily residue, with no drying tannic notes. Comment: An exceedingly attractive dram indeed. The added air in the bottle has made a tremendous difference and created a whole new whisky! I doubt that one bottle is going to be enough! Score: 8.5
Summary: Kiwi Spirit Distillery and Waitui Honey Mead Whiskey is the second direct contact I have had with a New Zealand distillery and its product.
Over the years there have been some fairly dire NZ whiskies unleashed on our citizenry, but if this Waitui dram is where NZ whiskies are headed our outlook for local whiskies is going to be brilliant!
I think that NZ whiskies will very capably hold their head up in any marketplace, and I am greatly looking forward to our future.
Footnote: This article has not been sponsored by Waitui in any way – the opinions and views expressed are entirely my own. However, I would like to acknowledge the support and assistance provided to me by the staff at the distillery who have been most generous with their time and information, and happy to answer some quite nosey questions.
Some time ago I commented on the effects that a lack of international travellers would likely be having on the duty-free market.
There is recent estimation that airport passenger traffic dropped nearly 40% in 2020 during lockdowns world-wide. That is 3.6 billion passengers! And it is likely that the travel industry will one of the last to return to “normal” – if indeed it ever does.
With the opening of our travel bubble with Australia some of the duty-free markets in NZ will have resumed, albeit to a limited extent.
But I suspect the most limiting factor is now going to be the supply line, especially in the alcohol arena.
The imposed down-turn in duty-free shopping since March 2020 has created some interesting workarounds for the industry.
With the market now gasping for new breath, a goodly part of the stock-holding is no longer there, sold to retail and leaving big spaces in the shelves of duty-free.
The glorious DNS duty-free at Singapore’s Changi Airport has been opened to on-line shopping with free delivery (if you live in Singapore).
In Brisbane, the Brisbane Airport Corporation launched an on-line trading platform called BNE Marketplace. That allowed duty-free shops to continue trading, even though the airport was closed. It’s brilliant: the place is open 24/7 and seems to have the range of stocks that were in Brisbane Duty Free. Downside is that it only ships to what the Australians define as “Oceania” – just the states and territories of Australia.
And the same approach was in NZ too.
In the concourse of the Auckland Airport domestic terminal, in the little corner shop next to the bar, I spotted a pop-up shop that appeared to contain the contents of the Auckland duty free but with duty added.
These have been really good ideas, effective during assorted lockdowns.
But, with the market now gasping for new breath, a goodly part of the stock-holding is no longer there – it has been sold to retail and leaves big spaces in the shelves of duty-free.
The assumption has to be that distilleries are mashing, distilling, fermenting and bottling their hearts out trying to catch up
The latest reports from Scotland indicate that things are slowly returning to normal over April.
Businesses are back in business – the pubs and bars and restaurants are up & about and, although information is a bit hard to come by, the assumption has to be that distilleries are mashing, distilling, fermenting and (especially) bottling their hearts out trying to catch up.
A quick discourse on human behaviours. You’ve been in and out of lockdown (mostly in) since mid 2020, stuck indoors with not a whole lot to do, bored rigid, and trying to entertain screaming kids. Two things are likely to increase as a result: the birth rate and the consumption of mind-numbing liquids.
The getting of stock levels back to normal will be a long and slow process.
Stocks of whisky are dwindling on shelves around the world. A recent (and highly unscientific) survey of whisky stock in NZ indicates that your choice of dram here is at least 35-40% down on normal levels. Given that there has been a severe restriction in the production of whisky over the last 12 months and that there has been heightened consumption through lockdowns, it is my guess that the getting of stock levels back to normal in NZ will be a long and slow process.
Where will production go first?
In the UK super markets there are some very good whiskies available in Waitrose, Marks & Sparks, and Tescos, But their stocks have been under tremendous pressure in the last six months.
Let’s face it – if you’re producing whisky in Scotland and a UK chain of supermarkets is screaming for stock, are you going to put all your hard-gotten bottles in a container and send them halfway around the world? Or will you opt to fork-lift them on to a truck and driving them down the road to London? Economically, really a no-brainer!
And with the US now tariff-free, there’s another place to try to recoup the estimated £500m the Trump years cost the Scottish whisky industry.
So, where is NZ in all this? And what do we do now?
There are suppliers closer to home and now is the time for New Zealand whisky distillers to take the initiative, get their product to market and build their brand awareness within NZ.
In no particular order, there is Cardrona in Central Otago, Thomson Whisky, Canterbury’s Divergence, Kiwi Spirit in Takaka and the Reefton Distilling Co currently claiming to produce whisky. And I don’t believe that is an exhaustive list!
Other recent local output has come from Stoke Distilling Co in Nelson.
There are some seriously nice drops of whisky emerging from NZ’s West Island
And there is opportunity, too, for some Australian distillers to help.
Aussies may have issues with rugby and cricket skills, but there are some seriously nice drops of whisky emerging from NZ’s West Island – Lark, Fannys Bay, Nant and any one of the other 30-odd Tasmanian operators just for starters.
How about Starward Australian whisky? They have just released some new expressions and are backed by Diageo as the distillery showed promise. Judging by what I have tried they aren’t wrong: a particularly interesting offer is their Two-Fold double grain bottling or a batch-numbered Single Malt called Fortis at 50%.
The next year or two might well be very exciting in the New Zealand whisky world!
This article is assembled from detail kindly provided from Daniel’s highly competent whiteboard notes, and with Ian & John D’s best recollections of proceedings. Scoring is from Ian and John, together with the overall group average scoring and the group’s final placing.
There is a book being written somewhere that will be entitled The Book of Great Whisky Tastings.
To be fair, in my experience there are not many bad whisky tastings.
However, every now and again one comes along that absolutely hits the headlines – the Springbank and associates tasting in Wellington after the 2018 Dramfest is a memorable example.
But now we have new heights! Kurt’s Dark Matter tasting – the seven Sherry Bombs Tasting to rule the world!
On our arrival, Kurt welcomed us and offered us an introductory dram. There were a dozen black Glencairn glasses on the kitchen top, so Kurt had been busy ensuring that we could not even guess the whisky from the colour. After a lot of educated – and a few less so – guesses were made, Ian shouted “Imperial” and got lucky. It was one of the G&M Imperials that was the most common way people got to try product from this demolished Speyside distillery.
The Seven Tastings Line-up.
All seven whiskies were tasted blind. What was in each glass was not revealed until the commentary, the scoring and the guesses were complete.
In glass order (the names have been added with the advantage of hindsight):
Adelphi Laudale Batch Release No 3, 12 yo, 46%
Nose: Rum & raisin, a cardboard box of stewed raisins, sage with peach and marker pen. It smells old, like a dirty barrel, a forest floor and fresh cut grass with pineapple lumps, liquorice and marshmallow. Palette: Christmas cake with custard, thin, bitter, lemon, metallic. Finish: Short, going tannic. Slightly bitter, tamarillo, waxy, chocolate orange and roasted coffee. Score: John 7.4, Ian 8.5, The Group 8.92 Place: 6th
There is a book being written somewhere that will be entitled The Book of Great Whisky Tastings.
Adelphi Hororata Linkwood 11yo, 55.4% ex-sherry
Nose: Dark chocolate, coffee caramel chews. Young and feisty, with vinegar, leather, sherbet and Turkish delight, lavender, and asparagus. Palette: Oranges, boiled sweets, dry but balanced. Finish: Lapsang tea leaves, not fully together, young, dusty and slightly ragged. Score: John 8.3, Ian 8.3, The Group 8.7 Place: 7th
The Whisky Barrel One Giant Leap – Deanston, 10yo 61.6%, first fill Pedro Ximenes
Nose: Stinky, marmite, dark chocolate, decomposing cabbage, potato chips, almonds, bonfire, buddha stick, earl grey tea, gun powder Palette: Hot, better than the nose, chilli, chocolate cake, marmite, creamy Finish: Spicy, stewed tea, sage bonbons, menthol, waxy & alcohol Score: John 7.5, Ian 8.2, The Group 9.37 Place: 3rd
G&M Balblair 1993, 49/6% first fill puncheon
Nose: Meadow grass, apple tarts, Turkish coffee, condensed milk, brown sugar, stale chocolate, nectarines, aged ham, modelling glue, Palette: Raw runner beans, sherry casks, pleasant plums, soft. Finish: Huge, sweet, dry, a drinker, sticky, chocolate, PX. Score: John 7.8, Ian 8.4, The Group 9.03 Place: 5th
Adelphi Glenrothes 8 yo 66.6% one of 315 bottles
Nose: Walnuts, plums, mahogany, bee pollen, oranges, simple and elegant. Palette: Not very old, anaesthetic, grubby Finish: Alcohol buzz, chocolate powder Score: John 9.4, Ian 8.7, The Group 9.46 Place: 2nd
Adelphi Blair Athol, 21yo, 57.2%, Sherry Hogshead (The Mystery)
Nose: Dark fudge chocolate, floral, raisins, camphor, copper, an unlit cigarette, blueberry tarts, toffee apples, plum pudding Palette: Pureed fruit pudding, Turkish delight lollies, a menthol cigarette, chocolate-covered plums. Finish: Chewy date pudding and hospitals. Fantastic! Scores: John 9.5, Ian 8.8, The Group 9.1 Place: 1st
Adelphi Teaninich 12yo 55.9% first fill Sherry Butt
Nose: Autumn leaves, caramel, a leather seat in a new car, cooking apples and figs, and a dirty bookcase. Palette: Liquorice, spearmint and vine fruit. Finish: Chewy and yummy Scores: John 9.1, Ian 8.6, The Group 9.1 Place: 4th
The “After-Match” Function
From Ian’s notes:
Once the main proceedings were finished. Kurt offered some yummy food to soak up the alcohol and attention turned to a range of novel drams that people had brought for others to try.
Meeting in a convivial atmosphere brings out the sharing nature: there is too much whisky in the world to buy a bottle of, and each of us has only a limited exposure. It is nice to try something someone picked up in some store or on their pre-Covid travels that they think is worth a wider audience.
Pat brought a bottle of peated French whisky. It was a little synthetic to start with and a bit raw, but I liked how the peat worked with the spirit – I scored it a 7.9 but I did not make any detailed notes. The French consume a lot of whisky so it makes sense that they also have a few distilleries of their own. This was a first for me and probably for many people present – a great choice by Pat.
From Mel, a dark Adelphi Benriach 8yo 59.1% #34 to fit into proceedings: dark chocolate, Phoenix cola – score 8.5. Matt’s comment: a face full of salty raisins
From Kurt, an Adelphi Inchgower 2007 12yo 55.8% Hororata bottling. I didn’t score it but it was in the 8-8.5 region.
I poured a mystery sherried whisky which no-one seriously objected to – a 12yo Jura, from Douglas Laing, finished in PX. I would say you would be hard pushed to recognise it as a Jura.
For someone with mobility issues, it is quite a walk up paths and stairs to Kurt’s house. It’s a more perilous trek back down the paths and stairs four-and-a-half hours later.
But the time spent in between the climb and the trek back was sublime.
And mobility issues are taken for granted after drinking a wide range of good whiskies for that long. My personal thanks to Pat for moral and physical support on the return journey.
And an enormous vote of thanks to Kurt for the event, for his organisation and especially his hospitality.
A very Happy New Year, and a hearty welcome to 2021!
I have seen a few new years, but I never been so glad to see a year go as I am about the passing of 2020 – it has truly been horrendous.
However, it is now in the rear-view mirror and I’m looking forward to much better things ahead. Including some really good whiskies.
Over the break, I opened three new bottles. One from “stock”, the other two were greatly appreciated manna from the Whisky Gods.
And I have to say that all three are extremely interesting and lovely drops!
Here, then, are my tasting notes and comments for you.
Young Prince English Malt Whisky
Distillery: Ludlow Distillery, South Shropshire.
The Ludlowdistillery is part of a vineyard, located south of Shrewsbury (of the biscuits fame), parallel with Birmingham and about two thirds of the way to the Welsh border.
Back Story: Cousins found this bottle and very thoughtfully brought it back to NZ for me as a gift. I am delighted they did, not only for the thought but also for the quality of the whisky!
I am generally not crass enough to ask the price of gifts but, as it was so unusual and they knew I would be writing it up on this website, my cousins were happy to say that the price was in the order of £38 (around NZ$80) for a 35cl bottle at 40% abv.
Made in a 200-litre pot still, the Young Prince was first released in November 2018. It has won a Gold Award at the Cotswalds’ Artisan Drinks Awards in February 2016 – in my opinion, most deservedly
Colour: Light amber.
Nose: Sweet stewed apricots in syrup, with dark wood and fruit jubes. There is a slight brine note, but the nose unfolds with exposure to become quite complex.
Palette: Again, sweet but with a slightly sour undertone. I found a light tongue heat, and cereal. Slightly floral, softly creamy & buttery.
Finish: Medium+, with a lingering wood taste.
Comment: How can I get some more??? This bottle is way too small! And I really want to try this at an abv somewhere around the late 50% range.
I went looking at their on-line shop over Christmas, but sadly it was shut.
Then, in early January, it came to life again! And they do have a 60% Cask Strength at £65 for a 70cl bottle – around NZ$165. Even if I add freight costs to NZ, that would still be a bargain!
It doesn’t appear that Ludlow send on-line purchases to NZ, but I am making enquiries with them to see if we can overcome that difficulty. It might require some heavy-duty disinfect if it arrives, but it’s got to be worth a shot!
The Flower of Youth– SMWS 72.75 (Miltonduff, Speyside)
ABV 61.3%, described as a “tiptoe through a summer forest with aromatic flowers, confection and savoury nourishment.”
Colour: Lighter amber
Nose: Sweetness, with fresh fruit and berries. There seems to be a sherry barrel influence, possible oloroso. The whole is rich & full.
Palette: Alcohol heat is my first impression. And fruit.
It is wide in the mouth then going a bit sour – if I am right about the oloroso barrel, this could be from there. Lollies and lingering sweetness follow.
It leaves an oily mouth film and lining on my tongue. There is Christmas pudding, and the alcohol level clears the nasal passages.
Finish: Long and going a bit tannic. Again the high abv left my lips slightly numb.
Comments: Yummy! To quote Oliver Twist, “please sir, can I have some more?”.
But I am starting to wonder if the SMWS is tending to bottle at too high an abv level. The up-front alcohol here initially overrides the real pleasantness in this dram. In my view, the abv could be dialled back a bit without adverse effect.
Islay Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
This bottle was given to me by very kind friends .
Colour: Amber yellow
Nose: Maritime, like a trip on the Interisland Ferry: ozone, salt air and sea spray. This is followed by a (thankfully) brief nose of sheep shed in mid-summer.
Palette: Sweet start. Tongue heat is followed by that taste of sheep shed, then sweetness and the salty air returns. A bit thin in the mouth at first, but then it builds.
Finish: Medium +. Slight sourness with a small amount of tannin and waxy
Comment: Somewhat against my expectations, I found this to be very interesting and a pleasant drop. It is not particularly peaty, but there is an obvious peat influence in the background.
It is hard to pick the contributing whiskies, but I suspect Ardbeg is involved.
About half an hour after finishing my dram I had a faint lingering taste of soil in the mouth, like you’re not washed your hands properly after gardening.
Sheep on Islay are a bit weird. They are black at the front and on the bottom of their legs, they graze on the beaches and they have total right-of-way on the roads.
And they get bathed in the best tasting Sheep Dip ever! Can’t be all bad.
An interesting by-story: The Sheep Dip title comes from days when people in the West Country used to make their own whisky and hide it in barrels marked “SD” to avoid paying taxes on it.
The third Scotch22 club event was held in the Howff at Whisky Galore, in Christchurch.
As for the previous two gatherings, members Mel Bromleyand Ian Stopher attended. They have generously provided us their thoughts and tasting notes on the event.
All photography is by Mel.
Ian’s introductory notes:
When I arrived at the venue I found some members already started on the kindly offered Glentauchers.
While I was talking, I was consuming the G&M distillery labels bottling Glentauchers. We had had one of the other Pernod Ricard distilleries – Miltonduff – at the Light Fantastic tasting, but this one was the lighter side of Glentauchers and a great conviviality initiator.
The Main Proceedings
The six bottles of the tasting had been voted for by the members earlier in the year. This was now the third attempt to host the evening, to find what had made the lineup and what had not.
I had voted for Lochside and voted for the Glendronach. The whiskies had been poured in a light-to-heavy sequence. There is nothing controversial about that, but what was surprising was how well it worked.
The established format for the gatherings is for Michael Fraser-Milne to say something about the distillery and/or the whisky, with his various related digressions and jokes. At some point he gets to the whisky at hand and then the ensuing conversation as we ruminate.
Personally, I like this format, although I have to say Mel’s notes next to mine were far more comprehensive as I got too easily distracted talking and didn’t always put enough into the note-taking. But the important thing is to enjoy the evening, and that was certainly the case for me.
Note about scoring: I scored them in my normal 10-point fashion. Michael also added another scoring, from 0 to 5, to be used so he could more easily calculate the room favourite. With really only a few values to reasonably use for such good whiskies (3, 4 or 5) it makes for some rather hard decision making. I include this second score in brackets.
I have only had three Lochside before, two of which were single grain. This, then is only my second Lochside single malt.
Mind you, I suspect many in the room had fewer data points to go on than I did. Michael has only had about seven before, so it was going to be novel. How was this diluted bottling going to compare to my second favourite whisky of the past 2 years, my own Cadenhead (1981-2000)?
The answer was very well indeed – this was a stunner!
The nose is very orange tangy for me – others thought it was somewhat sour-smelling and tasting but that was not my personal experience.
The palate offered lovely orange notes and some burnt character as well with just a hint of sourness.
My only criticism of the Cadenhead Lochside was the finish was not long enough and this was the case here as well. Perhaps I was just wanting the lovely liquid experience to go on longer than was realistic.
That is now two Lochsides from Refill Sherry and both excellent – if you can count two data points as enough this would be my new favourite distillery, albeit a rather expensive one. At least with Tobermory, I can afford to purchase more bottles.
My score: 8.8 (5)
Nose: Malt biscuits, cream of tartar, orange rind, nectarine stone
Palate: Sweet, nectarines, malty, crème brulee (especially the burnt brown sugar on top), slight salty note, coffee, orange
My score: 8.8 (3rd place)
Group score: 1st place
Glass 3: HL Glen Elgin, 44 year-old, 1975-2009, 45.6% abv, Bourbon Hogshead (given the number of bottles)
This Speyside wasn’t the oldest distillation of the lineup but had the longest maturation.
I have had a mixed bag from Glen Elgin in the past. I had a bottle earmarked for a tasting last year but it was so ridiculously spicy and ginger hot that I removed it as being too disruptive.
Michael said that this ginger taste was more the distillery character than the wood itself, something that I didn’t know.
On the nose, it was quite malty but with a rich mature bourbon character that already reeked of age, but no fierce spiciness.
The palate aligned with the expectations of the nose, a bit musty but a character.
Probably the lengthiest finish of the night, with no woodiness or undue bitterness. There was a slight liquorice note that lingered – that might be how I interpret the remnant of a decent amount of peat at distillation. Others got ginger cookies, I only got a hint of ginger loaf and I was concerned that the talk of ginger had primed my expectations.
A solid old whisky that I feel we didn’t have the time to really get to grips with. In terms of scoring, that was a bit of an undoing (see Springbank below).
My score: 8.6 or 8.7 (4)
Nose: Apples, apple peel, shortbread, custard, iodine hint, cinnamon, marshmellows covered in dessicated coconut, hint of licorice again, orange again
Palate: licorice, savoury, a ginger cake or ginger loaf
My score: 8.5 (4th place)
Group score: 5th place
Glass 4: Diageo Pittyvaich, 29 year-old, listed as 51.4% abv but I think it is 55.3%, double matured in PX and Oloroso seasoned casks
If we include the Rosebank, this is the third ghost distillery of the evening – clearly, people wanted to try whiskies from distilleries where the supplies are dwindling.
I have previously only had the FF bottle and a 12 year James Macarthur which I did not like very much. Would this official bottling improve matters?
Yes, it does, but not dramatically so. The nose was very sharp, seeming very alcoholic and spirity which didn’t make sense for 51.4% but makes more sense at 55.3%.
There was also quite a significant malt vinegar on the nose, which does not bode well.
In the mouth, it is a very mixed experience, some yeast, sourness, leather, dried fruits. I found myself rather all at sea with this one.
The finish was possibly the best aspect, with a good malty character.
This, as it turned out, was my least favourite of the night. Not dreadful, but not really my kind of style it seems. I am not sure whether it was a divisive whisky but it could be deemed so.
My score: 8.3 (3)
Nose: Tinned pineapple, honey, plums
Palate: Chocolate wheaten biscuits (those malt biscuits with chocolate on the bottom), honey, slight rusty note, custard (minty note?)
My score: 7.8 (6th place)
Group score: 4th place
Glass 5: DT Springbank, 18 year-old, 1993, 56.4% abv, I would guess a First Fill Sherry Hogshead, but I don’t know for sure
If you had shown me the list in advance I would probably have the least interest in including this one (even more so than the Glendronach).
But I was very wrong.
In its day this bottling won a lot of awards and I can see why. This is heavy Springbank!
The nose is very heavy sherry (Oloroso) and dark burnt orange. The palate is very chewy, quite tarry and oily and I did remark a lot of coca-cola.
This was a lot to digest and the finish was medium to long and almost as impressive as the Glen Elgin.
I don’t think anyone present voted this low. It became my second favourite, edging out the Glen Elgin because it is a lot more instant. You cannot exactly call an 18yo young but it has lots of instant appeal – hard to resist in a short-format like a tasting.
It could have been dirtier for me, but otherwise, this was really solid and something way too expensive to purchase these days.
My acore: 8.7 (5)
Nose: Salted caramel (GORGEOUS), iodine, licorice, banana cake (in a good way), home-made hokey pokey (mixing golden syrup and cream of tartar so that it fizzes up then baking it), unshelled almonds, a slight smokey note, nectarine stone
Palate: Smooth caramel and home-made hokey pokey
My score: 9.5 (1st place) [WHO would’ve thought I’d rate the Springbank over the 1971 Brown & Gold Glendronach? Huh!]
I recently had the great pleasure to go to a Glenlivet tasting at Thorndon Glengarry’s in Wellington.
The Glenlivet is currently one of my favourite distilleries. They seem to be doing great things, with products ranging from the outstanding but pricey black bottle series (Alpha, Cipher and Code) to the just-released and very affordable Illicit Stills 12yo.
Jack Potter, the NZ brand ambassador was the tasting host. Jack is an enthusiastic, bright, extremely knowledgeable ambassador and a delight to listen to. He invited any questions from those assembled and was able to answer most of them effortlessly.
Possibly more importantly, after the tasting he gave the opportunity to have another small dram of our favourite whisky – in my case the single cask 18-year-old.
For those of you who went to Dramfest this year, Jack was also responsible for selecting the two drams for The Glenlivet session with Alan Winchester at Dramfest 2020.
The tasting list
For a ticket price of $30, the line-up for the Glengarry tasting was quite outstanding. It included:
the 25-year-old at 43%, the 18-year-old single cask NZ limited edition at 56.8%, the Illicit Still 12-year-old at 48%, the standard 12-year-old at 40%, the Founders reserve at 40%, and the Nadurra Peated at 61.6%.
Plus, of course, a cheese plate to go with them.
I want to talk first about the newly launchedIllicit Stills 12yo.
This retails for around $70 at the moment, a good price for a non-chill filtered 48% abv. It has a higher sherry barrel finish content than is normal for a Glenlivet and a subsequent wonderful mouthfeel. On the nose there are green apples with a little cherry and leather polish. On the taste, cherry and a wonderful sherry influence with a long finish.
I noticed there were a few bottles of this expression sold on the night and I was one of the lucky people to purchase one, although the thought did go through my mind if I should buy two.
Glenlivet are releasing a limited-edition original series each year as a salute to their origins and if this is anything to go by then bring it on.
I have had the 25-year-old before at Dramfest when I attended a wee Dram session with Alan Winchester, the Head of distilling at The Glenlivet distillery. I knew to expect a wonderful smooth whisky matured for 23 years in ex bourbon barrels, then finished for two more years in sherry barrels. Again, there is great mouthfeel, flavour and a long finish.
What I did not expect was to taste an 18 year oldsingle cask. Boy, what a whisky! From cask 21087, bottled Feb 2020 as a New Zealand Limited edition, it is 56.8% abv with great mouthfeel, rich taste and way too easy to drink. I remember thinking to myself that I could drink this all night then a friend next to me said “No you couldn’t”.
They used to give away miniatures to travellers in the Pullman luxury carriages on the trains.
As a comparison we also had the Founders Reserve. This is Glenlivet’s entry level single malt. It exhibits the classic distillery floral nose but reminds you that this is a young, quite frisky whisky but still easy drinking
The standard 12-year-oldhighlights just how much of a step up 12 years of maturing has on the Founders Reserve. The 12 is smooth but still floral and I personally use this as a benchmark for 12yo Speysides. One of the reasons I was so impressed by the Illicit Stills version is that Glenlivet managed to up the ante and still stick to the same price point.
The last dram was the Nadurra Peated a Non-Age Statement at cask strength. I have an open bottle of this at home and love both this edition and the Oloroso finish. Glenlivet again have priced this perfectly for a cask strength whisky.
I was fascinated to learn that the whisky was not peated during production. Rather, the required taste profile is achieved by putting the liquid is into ex-Islay whisky barrels during fermentation. As the Glenlivet is owned by Pernod Ricard, you may speculate as to the source of the barrels.
Another interesting titbit from history – when The Glenlivet was first launched into America it was labelled Unblended Whisky as the term single malt was not yet coined. They used to give away miniatures to travellers in the Pullman luxury carriages on the trains – the equivalent to business/first class air travel today.
How much would I give to get my hands on a few of those minis to add to my collection!
The Angel’s Share – that unfortunate percentage of whisky lost to evaporation while the dram is growing better in the barrel.
In Scotland, the angels are relatively frugal and only claim about 2%.
To be fair, though, that 2% is calculated to be in the order of 131.8 million litres each year – the equivalent of 44 Olympic swimming pools. In anyone’s language, that is a staggering amount of “lost” whisky (pun intended)!
But in other warmer climates the increased humidity means that, comparatively, the angels can be a lot fiercer – in India, for example, it is estimated that the angels reap about 12% of the whisky harvest.
Every now and again the angels take pity and give back some of their ill-gotten gains. There is no fanfare, brass band or big parade involved, no arrival of Air Force One. No flashing light. Not even a lighted match.
Something drops into your lap, in the most unlikely and unprepossessing place at the most serendipitous time.
And that Something is frequently unrecognisable as a windfall.
The Back Story
I was looking in a small, out-of-the-way liquor shop I infrequently visit. I have found a few unusual things there previously so, when I can, I go to look because you never know what might turn up.
There was the usual range of standard bottlings – a Bunnahabhain, a couple of Glenfiddichs, a selection of Johnnie Walkers. Nothing too spectacular. Nothing too wildly dramatic.
Then, from a dark and rather dusty corner at the back of the bourbons section my wife reached up for a bottle and said “What’s this?”.
“This” turned out to be one of those ecstatically happy drams that the angels give back – a bottle of Old Potrero 18th-century-style 100% rye whiskey. The label advised that the contents were “aged in uncharred oak barrels”, which means it ain’t no bourbon!
There is no fanfare, brass band or big parade involved, no arrival of Air Force One. No flashing light. Not even a lighted match.
“That’s been there for a few years” was the shop owner’s comment when we took the bottle to the counter.
I would love to know how many years a few was – 10 or more, I suspect.
What is the provenance of Old Potrero?
Old Potrero is made by the Anchor Distilling Company of San Francisco. Although there is a heap about the company on the internet, researching just what happened to it over the years is like trying to un-make an omelette.
The company founder, Fritz Maytag, bottled his first Old Potrero rye whiskey at what became Anchor Distilling in 1996. The Anchor Distilling Company bit is now under Hotalings Ltd.
Old Potrero is 100% malted rye, made in a small copper pot still and matured in lightly toasted oak casks. In the 18th century, barrels were made by heating the staves over a fire of oak chips, allowing them to be bent and formed into a barrel shape. During this process, the inside of the barrel would become toasted – but not charred.
The (sadly undated) bottle was labelled Old Potrero Barrel Strength, Pot Distilled. It contained 750ml, bottled over-proof at 61.6% alcohol by volume (abv), with No Age Statement. However, output from the current distillery owners seems to indicate maturation time at around 30 months – a bit shorter than Scotland.
The whiskey is a good colour for an arguably short maturity!
Notes – by committee
This bottle was such a find that it seemed reasonable to get some knowledgeable whisky-tasting friends to sample it and give me notes. To limit preconceptions the samples were provided “blind” – no indication on what they were tasting or its origins.
Notes I received were extremely fulsome. A very abbreviated summary:
Colour: Burnished, golden. Nose: Sweet, grainy, floral almond croissants with coconut. “A newly refurbished cricket changing room”, with putty, heat and caramel. Palette: Sweet (again), spicy cinnamon and vanilla ice-cream. Dark chocolate and more vanilla with a liquorice background.
Finish: Starts hot, then mellows to well-balanced. Beautiful, with a slight woody dryness. Long and consistent.
Comments: “One of those almost indescribably fantastic drams that come around only too infrequently! “
“I settled on a score of 8.9 but then upped to 9.1 when I found myself still wanting more, long after I’d finished my sampling and note making!” My overall comment: Beautiful. One of the top five whiskies I have tasted.
The Tasting-Notes-by-Panel plan brought me to the rather eccentric titles and tasting notes found on Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottlings. The Society bottles single cask whiskies from a wide range of distilleries., and each bottling has a very distinctive name that “tells a story”.
Two titles were suggested to me. I have to say that they were both so evocative of the Old Potrero that I could not pick between them – so both are presented here for you.
“An innings before teatime”
“Passionfruit topping on vanilla ice-cream”
My grateful to the Tasting Crew (in alphabetical order): Alec, Brian, Bruce, Evelyn, Graeme, Ian, John S, Karen, Matt, Mel, Pat, Peter, and Talia
You can still buy Old Potrero. It is now made by Hotalings Limited and marketed under the Anchor Distilleries name. These days it seems to be bottled at 48.5% abv, although I have seen it available at 51%.