Whisky Wednesdays at Hare and Copper

Whisky Wednesdays at Hare and Copper.

A catchy and pretty self-explanatory event title – What, Where, When and, to a certain extent, Why.

Hare and Copper is a delightful Eatery & Bar, located just outside Turangi at the southern end of Lake Taupo on NZ’s North Island.  Both the Eatery and Bar and its Whisky Wednesdays are the brainchilden of entrepreneurial owner, Andrew Wood and his wife Liliana.

Hare and Copper Eatery and Bar, Turangi, NZ

The name Hare and Copper initially conjured up an image of a large rabbit taking a nice warm bath in a large shiny cauldron, in the company of a selection of chopped carrots, onions and potatoes.

A nice concept, although maybe naming the kids’ pet rabbit Stuart was a little thoughtless!

But this Hare and Copper is not a recipe suggestion – at least not for rabbits.  The Hare and Copper is a species of fishing lure, used locally to invite trout to dinner.

A Hare and Copper Lure
The Hare and Copper Lure

NZ Whiskies

Three Whisky Wednesdays have been held at Hare and Copper this year, one each on the first Wednesday is July, August and September.

The first featured three NZ whiskies.

Very high interest in the event resulted in 30 attendees booking seats.

The event was sponsored by Central Otago’s Cardrona Distillery.  who generously provided their Territory Manager, Jonnie Cocks, to the event.  And they equally generously provided bottles of Cardrona Solera plus another as a door prize.  (The prize was won by Neville, who had travelled to Turangi from Havelock North especially for the event – a well worthwhile trip!)

As well as sampling the Solera, the event tasted Kiwi Spirit’s Waitui whisky from Takaka and The Spirits Workshop’s Divergence PX Sherry whisky from Christchurch.

Winner was Solera, followed closely by the Divergence.

Japanese Whiskies

August’s event was Japanese whisky focused.  Chosen drams were:

    • Nikka’s Rare Old Super, a 43% blend with a lot of colour,
    • Matsui’s Kurayoshi. An 8yo “pure malt” at 43%, and
    • Matsui’s Mizunara (Japanese Oak) cask, bottled at 48%.

The Nikka Rare Old Super is described as “an entry level premium blend” – whatever that is!  It is a good easy-drinking, simple, inoffensive blend.   It lacks a bit of character beyond the faint hints of peat and nuts.

The Kurayoshi from Matsui Shuzou is also a blend, this time made from whiskies sourced from Scottish distilleries blended with Japanese whisky and “volcanic-stone-filtered water”.  A big (and seemingly impenetrable) question is which Scottish distilleries were involved – no-one is saying!

The Mizunara is named for the Japanese oak used in the expression’s maturity.  At the end of World War II, Japan faced shortages of medicine, food and other daily necessities.   Against this backdrop, the lack of imported casks in which to age whisky was the least of the country’s problems.

However, whisky was popular with the occupational armed forces, so whisky makers had to do something.  Local distillers began to use the native oak, mizunara.

Mizunara-aged whisky is known to impart distinct sweet and spicy flavours with unique aromas reminiscent of sandalwood and incense. Coconut and vanilla are also pronounced characteristics.

The Islay Tasting

The last event for the winter season was September’s 5-dram Islay tasting.

A record 36 people turned out for this one, including Mike and his bagpipes.

Mike, with bagpipes

The dram selection was pretty much what you would expect, but with a couple of odd ones thrown in for interest and variety.

The starter was the standard Laphroaig 10 yo, 40%, 45ppm phenols (may as well get The Peat in first!).

Second was a new entry from Kilchoman – Sanaig, named after a local bay just north of the Kilchoman distillery.  I am generally a bit ambivalent about Kilchoman expressions, but this one is rather nice.

Then the old Standard, Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scottish Barley in it’s striking turquoise tube.

Next came Ileach, which I’ve not had before.  58% abv and around 40 ppm of phenol, the genesis of Ileach is a bit obscure.  Suspicion is that it is either a teaspooned Lagavulin or Caol Ila.  Either way, it’s totally drinkable, if a little youthful.

Last was the latest Port Charlotte, PC10, 59.8% abv and 40ppm.  I vividly remember my first introduction to the PC ranges – someone gave me a glass of PC7 and the peat in it nearly blew my head off!  PC10 is not like that – a wee bit underwhelming when you’re expecting a blast!

Group scores for the evening:

    • Classic Laddie 8.75
    • PC10 8.48
    • Sanaig 7.88
    • Laphroaig 7.86
    • Ileach 7.67

Whisky Wednesdays

It’s an informative title, if a bit bland.

It really doesn’t cover the essence of the events.

It doesn’t cover the roaring fire, the bonhomie of whisky tastings, and it specially missed out the extremely critical bit of the fantastic platters and service provided by hosts, Andrew & Lili.

Whisky Wednesdays are sadly parked now for the summer months.  But look forward to them resuming again next winter!  I’ll be queuing up to be there!

The Bagpipes

I have always liked the skirl of bagpipes.

I used to sit on a summer Sunday in Wellington’s Botanical Gardens and listen for as long as my parents would let me.

For future reference, hearing the bagpipes played outdoors on a hillside is one thing.  Having them played indoors and a metre from your ear is a whole other matter entirely.

By quite a few decibels!

Slainte mhath

John

 

Opportunities Abound – a Glimpse into the Future

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

Stock availability

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?

Local producers

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.

Fannys Bay maturing room

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!

Cardrona “Just Hatched”

Two and a half years can be a very long wait.  But when the wait is over the outcome will prove that it was all worthwhile.

Two and a half years ago I was fortunate enough to be part of a group that got to taste the new spirit from a New Zealand distillery. The universal group view was that waiting for marketable output from this major new distillery was going to be extremely worthwhile.

And so it has proved.

The western mountains of Central Otago on NZ’s South Island are some of the most picturesque in the world.

New Zealand’s newest producing distillery – Cardrona – is located on the highest alpine pass tourist route through the mountains.  Up until now the Cardrona area, some 40 kilometres from the southern tourist mecca of Queenstown, has been best known for winter sports,

I confidently predict that is about to change!

One of the non-skiing attractions of Cardrona is the quality of the local water source.  That has been one driving reason for building the distillery there.  The current Concerto grain used in production is imported from the UK, and the water is able to be added unfiltered to the mash.

The first release bottlings, appropriately entitled “Just Hatched”, were bottled two weeks ago from barrels casked at the beginning of December, 2015.

Two expressions have been released.  A bourbon cask and a first fill Oloroso cask.

Both releases have been in 375 ml bottles.  There are 474 bottles of the bourbon cask and 1,295 bottles of the sherry.  Both are presented in a very attractive, professionally designed wooden outline box, with a bespoke locking arrangement to keep it all securely together.

The Whiskies

Just Hatched – Bourbon Cask

66.7% abv, colour 0.2

Caution: undiluted, this is in the top five strength whiskies I have ever tasted.

Nose: Taking the cork from the bottle, you are met by a strong, endearing aroma of honey.  From the glass, the first thought is of the sweetness.  There is alcohol and a distant memory of the glue boys used to put model aeroplane kits together when we were young.  Then it quickly turns to pears, green apples, and another memory of those lovely baked apples stuffed with dates, brown sugar and cinnamon that your mother used to cook.

Taste: Taking a large mouthful and holding it for ten seconds is not for the faint-hearted, unless you have medical insurance to put your head back on.  There is capital A alcohol, hot, full, a huge mouthful and the honey coming through.   The second – and more judicious – mouthful still has the big flavour, but now it has smoothed out to deliciousness.  At rest, there is gentle perfume and, most surprisingly, a hint of fresh mushrooms.

Finish: The finish is long, equally of flavour and heat with a comforting warm throat.

Comment:  The time in wood has had an effect.  The whisky is quite light in colour, and I didn’t find the vanilla notes that normally come from bourbon casks.  There is a New Zealand mythical “Southern Man” – tough, climbing a steep hill in snow carrying a sheep under each arm.  This, in its undiluted form, would be his whisky.  It is, in a word, magnificent!

But, as my brother-in-law observed, “This is definitely not a session whisky!”

I’ll be back for more.

Overall: 9.0

 

“Just Hatched” – Oloroso

63.2% abv, colour 1.6

Nose: first nose from the bottle is a slight rubber bike tyre (sulphur).  That goes very quickly with exposure to air, and turns to honey.  From the glass, there is more honey, a sharpness, with golden syrup and rolled oats, and a gentle sugar sack.

Taste: There is grain and honey, rolled oats, leather polish, a slight bitterness that is typical of oloroso casks, and pepper on the tongue.  There is a beautiful roundness and fullness in the mouth, reminiscent of a low Christmas cake.

Finish: The finish is long on the flavour, and I wish it would stay even longer!

Comment: As with the bourbon cask expression, from the bottle this is a high abv whisky but very drinkable, even undiluted.  The dark oloroso engenders a much darker colour than its bourbon sister.  I am becoming quite a fan of sherried whiskies, and this is at the top of the very nicest I have tasted.  I’m just sad that the bottle isn’t bigger!

On a personal level, I prefer this whisky to the bourbon expression but I stress that is only my taste and nothing at all to do with the whiskies.

Score 9.5

 

Overall comment: These whiskies may not be old enough to go school unaccompanied, but they are both more than capable of playing for the college First 15!

Or carrying a sheep up a hill.

These are two excellent whiskies!  The two and a half years was well worth the wait, but I hope it isn’t going to be another two and a half years before we get a second release.

Note: this article is unsponsored, but I would like to extend my thanks to staff at the Cardrona distillery for background information provided so willingly.