Lammermoor Distillery – whisky from paddock to bottle

“Moonshine” Whisky has been distilled illegally on the Lammermoors since the 1860s.

But I think that what Lammermoor Distillery produces now would be a far cry from the stuff that was made 160-odd years ago!

The moonshine whisky was made for the thousands of gold miners travelling the Dunstan Trail.  The Trail was created during the Central Otago Gold Rush, and today lies close to the popular Otago Rail Trail.

The Lammermoor property lies in the Maniototo district of Central Otago, south of the town of Ranfurly.  Geographically, it’s a place pretty close to as far from the sea as it is possible to get in NZ!

Temperatures in the Maniototo can go from over 30C to -20C, hot enough in summer to ripen the local  fruit crops and cold enough in winter to require whisky!

The modern Lammermoor Distillery

Certified Master Distiller John Elliot and his wife, Susie, are the current owners of the 5,200-hectare property.  The Elliott family have owned Lammermoor since 1928.

In 2016 John and Susie restarted the Lammermoor distilling history. They built the present distillery in 2017, hand-milling the station’s trees into planks for the construction of the building.

The distillery is now four years old, producing exceedingly fine gin and whisky.

In the current age, Lammermoor is one of the few distilleries to grow their own grain, malt and mash, ferment, distill and mature on site to craft very legal gin and whisky from paddock to bottle.

200 hectares of Lammermoor are in fully certified organic cropping, growing feed for the farm stock.  Possibly more importantly for us, they grow barley for whisky and gin distillation.  A newly imported Laureate barley is used, reputed to have a very good alcohol yield.

I poured my first dram and then happily spent the next 30 minutes just breathing it in, finding a new and different aroma with each sniff.

Distillation Equipment

The sensible New Zealand attitude of “never throw anything away that might come in useful later” seems to work well at Lammermoor.  Major parts of the distillery’s operational equipment have been re-purposed from other lives.

The grain is malted in two Italian Vallero drums.  The drums’ original use was the tanning of lamb skins.  They were rescued from lying idle at the side of the road and now serve to steep the barley with warm water to start the grain germination process.

And a Glasgow-born grain drier has become the distilery’s drier and smoker.  It came from the Bell Tea factory in Dunedin, spending its early years as a tea mixer blending Bell Tea.  The factory was closed in 2014 when necessary earthquake strengthening proved too much.

But the tea mixer lives on!

The dried green malt is heated over a nix of Lammermoor peat from an area named the “Great Moss Swamp” (now the Loganburn Reservoir) and manuka sawdust from locally grown wood.  The Elliots also have plans to use pohutukawa sawdust, which will be an interesting innovation I will look forward to.

Lammermoor whisky uses French oak barrels, previously occupied by quality Central Otago pinot noir.  Out of etiquette to Scottish tradition, John has determined a maturation minimum three years for his whisky.

But the thing that stuns me about this Lammermoor whisky is the nose.

I poured my first dram from the bottle and then happily spent the next 30 minutes just breathing it in, finding a new and different aroma with each sniff. Simply astounding, and so complex!

Lammermoor Special Reserve Single Malt Whisky

46% abv, bottle #415, batch 002, bottled 6/7/21

Lammermoor Special Reserve

Appearance: tawny with a slight reddish tinge (undoubtedly from the pinot noir) and a nice hold on the glass. The whisky is presented in a beautifully decorative bottle with an almost cut-glass lattice finish – a bottle is so pretty that I am sure it will dodge the glass recycling bin when the contents are finished!
Nose: Extremely complex, caramel toffee, floral (clover), sweet, raisins and new bandages, cloves and ripe figs.  So many aromas – it is very hard to stop nosing it, and every time I come back to it I find something different.  I think the barrel is having a lot of impact here. Nose score: 9.7
Palette: Meaty, like the meat juice around a beef roast.  The dram starts with an oily mouth-feel then quickly becomes tannic & drying with a note of milo powder.  Sourish from the French Oak, but not in a bad way.  The initial mouth heat drops quickly.
Finish: A nice, complex, lip-smacking and hard-to-identify flavour lingers.  Fruit conserve is in there.
Comments: I could nose this all day!  And every new sniff gives me a different aroma to contemplate.  The amazing nose perhaps promises a little bit more than the flavour delivers – but I would hesitate to mark the whisky down because of that.  The nose is so superb that I don’t know that any taste could compete!

When I try to ignore the nose and concentrate purely on the taste this is a very attractive and excellent session whisky.
Score: 8.8.

As we’ve said here before, over the last few months we have been increasingly captivated by the standard of the NZ whiskies we have found.  Lammermoor Distillery has definitely added to that captivation!

Footnote: This article has not been sponsored by Lammermoor Distillery in any way – the opinions and views expressed are entirely my own. However, I would like to gratefully acknowledge the support and assistance provided to me by the distillery.

McCashin’s – From Beer to Whisky

For the last 40-odd years McCashin’s Brewery have been supplying New Zealand with the iconic Macs beers.

And now they have turned their skills to the production of NZ whisky – luckily for us!  The company have been unobtrusively making whisky for the last six years.  In that time two really good whisky expressions have been released – one of which you can buy and the other you can dream of buying.

The first expression was an 800-bottle limited edition release entitled Stoke IPA Whisky – essentially a distillation of IPA beer.  Beer and whisky both come from fermented grain, then it makes sense!

The second offering is a whisky named McCashin’s Single Malt Whisky (link), a 6-year-old that has been matured in a combination of used NZ and overseas French Oak (wine and bourbon) barrels.  In current NZ terms for age-identified drams, 6 years is quite a while for a whisky to sit just getting older!

The Equipment

The distillery operates a huge 4,000 litre wash-still and two 400 litre Jacob Carl Plated Stills.

The sheer size of that wash-still amazes me – in the NZ distilleries that we have reviewed so far, most of the stills seem to be around the 500-litre mark (which some have admitted cramps their production capability a bit).  A 4,000-litre unit is massive in comparison.

We started on this voyage of discovery to see what there was in the way of locally produced whiskies.  There are a lot of craftspeople out there working very hard to make some very good drams indeed and the bar is being set high!

the whiskies

We reviewed the Stoke IPA in December 2019 and scored it very well – our original tasting notes are below.  Given the limited bottling run I would be surprised if you can still purchase a Stoke IPA but if you can you won’t regret it.  It’s quite an unusual drop.

The McCashin’s Single Malt is still available at around $130 – $155 for a 70 cl bottle.  Again, in my opinion, it is well worth having!

Stoke IPA Whisky

Stoke IPA Whisky

59% abv, matured in a Pinot Noir cask, from McCashins Brewery in Stoke, Nelson, NZ.

Appearance:  Colour 0.8.  A nice, rugged, squared-off, dark bottle.
Nose: Berry fruit, wine cask, and sour washing.
Palette: Smooth, strong, soft honey note, mouth-filling, with a bit of a beer note.  Yummy!
Finish: Short, with the beer note remaining.
Comment: I talk about the beer note, but I was given this dram as a totally blind tasting.  I had no hint at all about its background other than it was cask strength, one of only 800 bottles produced and cost NZ$80.

Which was absolutely no help at all, really!

And my tasting notes were all written before I knew anything more about the whisky.

It was very hard to pick this whisky’s antecedents from the information I was given.  But once you find out it’s distilled IPA beer everything becomes very clear!  The sour washing note on the nose is hops.
Score: 8.7
I want one, and now I have one!
With only a little bit of gloating, the rest of you will have to wait until the next batch.  If there is one!

McCashins Single Malt Whisky

McCashin’s Single Malt Whisky

6yo, 40% abv. Bottle 1030 of 2,300.  Matured in used NZ and overseas wine and bourbon French Oak barrels.

Appearance: A light gold colour with a good hold on glass and light legs.
Nose: Toffee (those old tough and chewy toffee bars in the blue wrappers we used to get as kids – why do I think they were made by Whittaker’s?). Sweet, with the memory of warmed golden syrup poured over hokey pokey and vanilla ice cream.
Palette: The sweetness continues into the taste.  Parsley & radishes add to quite complex flavours.  Drying on the mouth.
Finish: Shorter, and some spice flavour remains.
Comment:  A great “session” whisky if one was settling in for the evening.  I am left with the impression that I would have liked to try it with the abv a bit higher – say 46-50%.

However, in saying that, I would not want to detract at all from the whisky as it is presented.  It is a great drop, every bit as good and better than a lot of whiskies that can be got from around the world.
Score: 8.4

Preachy bit

We started on this voyage of discovery to see what there was in the way of locally produced whiskies that could cover us in the case of – heaven forbid – a whisky drought in New Zealand.

So far, we have been most impressed with what we have found.  And we still have quite a few miles and a raft of local distilleries yet to look at.

For whisky lovers in New Zealand, we strongly recommend the local products.  We are really looking forward to continuing our voyage and bringing you drams from around NZ.  As that old TV ad used to say, “Don’t leave home until you’ve seen the country”.

There are a lot of craftspeople out there working very hard to make some very good drams indeed and the bar is being set high!

Slainte

Level 4 Lock-down – Sampling Time!

Want to get creative during lockdown?

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!

To top it off, there is the chance to stretch your metaphorical legs and stroll gently through your whisky stocks without having to drive home. Continue reading “Level 4 Lock-down – Sampling Time!”

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

 

 

The Joy of Whisky Tastings

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.

Here are a few examples of recent exchanges …

G&M Caol Ila (Islay), from Mel

Cask Strength 57.8% abv.
Bottle 6 of 223
Refill Sherry Butt
Distilled 27 Nov 1988, Bottled 10 Jul 2002 (14 yo)

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.

Score: 8.8

  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.

Score: 8.4

  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.

Score: 8.5

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.

Score: 8.0

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

Score: 7

 

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

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!

Kurt’s Dark Matter Tasting

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. 

Many thanks to Richard Mayston for his photography.
 

The Book of Great Whisky Tastings

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!

Kurt – Mein Host

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.

Under Starter’s Orders

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.

And it was right up to here!

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.

The Wrap-Up

Earnest Discussion

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.

Slainte mhath

Les’s Damson Plum Gin, Batch 2, the Lockdown Gin, guaranteed Covid-free.

In November 2019 we brought you the exclusive story of Les’s Damson Plum Gin,  homemade from homegrown damson plums and a couple of bottles of London Dry.

Les – master of the damson plum

The basic, very simple premise is that you put a whole lot of damson plums into a jar.  Then you add the majority of the contents of a bottle of gin and a bit of sugar to taste, screw a lid on the jar and go away for a while.

When you come back, about nine months later, with luck you will have a jar of a ruby-red, plum flavoured gin.

And a whole lot of very gin-flavoured plums that look wrinkly like your skin does when you’ve spent too much time wallowing in a hot bath.  The plums feel like prunes to eat, but they taste way better!

Not much more to it than that, really.

The first batch of Les’s Damson Plum Gin was most successful.

It had a fairly limited circulation.  It was consumed mostly by the manufacturer, his immediate enclave and a few cognoscenti.  To my knowledge most of the batch was used up by these worthies, and only a skerick of the Batch 1 Damson Plum gin remains.  The by-produced gin-infused plums found another lease of life as a foundation for a boozy dessert at a local eating establishment.

The 2020 – LockDown Gin

Now we come to the second tranche.  The 2020 expression.

This has been dubbed the Lockdown Gin.  It was constructed in February 2020, just before the shutters came down on NZ.  It was exposed to air again just after Auckland was released from its second lockdown in October last.

Hence Lockdown Gin.

In the Lockdown Gin, Les has increased the repertoire to three London Dry gins – a Tanqueray 40% abv, a traditional Gordon’s at 37.5% and a repeat of last year’s Greenall’s, also at 37.5%.  To ensure that the relativities between components was maintained, the damson tree in the back yard was called upon for greater productivity.  It obliged.

The decanting of the rubied gin has become quite a ritual, with photographs, note-takers and a range of admiring on -lookers.

The audience awaits!

The audience for the Official Opening of Batch 2 was also enlarged from those present at the first release.  The guest list was increased to three couples who, I am sure. were chosen for their discernment in matters alcohol.  Or possibly for their air of mild inebriation.

Or the lack of it. (the discernment, not the mild inebriation)

The jars of damson gin are carefully aligned with their donor bottle to ensure that there is no confusion as to sauce source – sorry, my American roots sometimes die hard!

Undoing the lid requires determination and strength!

Then begins the painstaking decanting of the liquid and plums into a bowl via a clean muslin filter cloth to keep the plums out of the new gin.  This is, in turn, followed by tipping the bowl’s liquid contents into a sealable bottle – all, meanwhile, being kept with the parent gin to avoid confusion.

Decanting

As with the first batch in 2019, all the new damson gins display a beautiful, stained-glass window ruby red and a flavour predominantly of almonds.

The output:

The output.

Tanqueray:

Nose: sweet, almonds and honey
Palette: almonds and stewed rhubarb, plums but no gin flavour.
Finish: tart. But not unpleasantly so.
Score: 8.5

Gordons:

Nose: lighter almond than the Tanqueray
Palette: tarter, but smoother and well balanced.  The gin taste is apparent.
Finish: Plum in the flavour lingers
Score: 8.7

Greenalls:

Nose: the almond flavour is present, but greatly reduced.
Palette: slightly harsher than the other two.  The plum crumble that your Gran used to make.
Finish: More acerbic and biting.
Score: 8.5

Et voila! The finished products.

There is a school of thought that Les might consider broadening the gin base for batch 3.

Following the success of his first two batches, it would seem fitting to include a wider range of gins – The Botanist from Islay’s Bruichladdich distillery, or perhaps a good NZ gin such as Island from Great Barrier Island or a Reid & Reid.

Les took an unmarked bottle to the annual wine club barbeque on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  It was very popular, especially amongst those who might have wondered where the CleanSkin Rosé came from.

New Beginnings and Openings in 2021

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

Ludlow Young Prince
Distillery:  Ludlow Distillery, South Shropshire.

The Ludlow distillery 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.

 

Sheep Dip

Islay Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

Islay Blend Sheep Dip

ABV 40%

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.

Good for them!