Divergence: Kiwi-ness in a bottle

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 Process

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.

Divergence Pot Still
The Spirits Distillery Post Still & Condensers

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.

Divergence Virgin French Oak

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!

Manuka Experiments

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!

PS:

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.

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!

FootnoteThis 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.

John

 

 

A Closer Look at New Zealand Distilleries – Kiwi Spirit Distillery, Takaka

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.

Arnold Holstein Still
The Product

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.

Waitui Honey Mead Whiskey
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.

Slainte

FootnoteThis 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.

John