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.