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. Slainte 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. John