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

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!

Scotch22, Round 3 -The Final Gathering

The third Scotch22 club event was held in the Howff at Whisky Galore, in Christchurch.

As for the previous two gatherings, members Mel Bromley and Ian Stopher attended.  They have generously provided us their thoughts and tasting notes on the event.

All photography is by Mel.

The Tasting Sheet

Ian’s introductory notes:

When I arrived at the venue I found some members already started on the kindly offered Glentauchers.

While I was talking, I was consuming the G&M distillery labels bottling Glentauchers.  We had had one of the other Pernod Ricard distilleries – Miltonduff – at the Light Fantastic tasting, but this one was the lighter side of Glentauchers and a great conviviality initiator.

The Main Proceedings

The six bottles of the tasting had been voted for by the members earlier in the year.  This was now the third attempt to host the evening, to find what had made the lineup and what had not.

I had voted for Lochside and voted for the Glendronach.  The whiskies had been poured in a light-to-heavy sequence. There is nothing controversial about that, but what was surprising was how well it worked.

The established format for the gatherings is for Michael Fraser-Milne to say something about the distillery and/or the whisky, with his various related digressions and jokes.  At some point he gets to the whisky at hand and then the ensuing conversation as we ruminate.

Personally, I like  this format, although I have to say Mel’s notes next to mine were far more comprehensive as I got too easily distracted talking and didn’t always put enough into the note-taking.  But the important thing is to enjoy the evening, and that was certainly the case for me.

Note about scoring: I scored them in my normal 10-point fashion.  Michael also added another scoring, from 0 to 5, to be used so he could more easily calculate the room favourite. With really only a few values to reasonably use for such good whiskies (3, 4 or 5) it makes for some rather hard decision making. I include this second score in brackets.

Glass 1:
  G&M Rosebank, 30 year-old from 1989, 55%, Refill Sherry Hogshead



I have only ever had the FF Rosebank bottle, many moons ago.

Rosebank might be considered a light floral style but this one, being from a Refill Sherry Hogshead, was quite a departure.

The nose had a creamy character along with dry fruity sherry.

The palate offered more of that dry fruity style but more tangy orange came through.

The finish was a bit more spirituous than I was expecting, and medium in length. Adding a bit of water softened it a bit but did not dramatically change its nature.

A very good start.

My score: 8.5 (4)


Nose:  Shortbread, pear, soft, a pear crumble, orange liquer, honeysuckle

Palate: Pear crumble, much punchier than the nose, hint of cocoa on the finish, gingernut biscuits, a hint of licorice

Comment:  Very pleasant!!   Which surprised me, having previously decided long ago that I was not a fan of Rosebanks on the basis they were too light and floral – this one I liked!

My score:  8.3  (5th place)

Group score:  6th place.

Glass 2:
 Murray McDavid Lochside, 18 year-old, 1981-2000, 46% abv,  Refill Sherry



This was the one I was really here for!

I have only had three Lochside before, two of which were single grain.  This, then is only my second Lochside single malt.

Mind you, I suspect many in the room had fewer data points to go on than I did.  Michael has only had about seven before, so it was going to be novel.  How was this diluted bottling going to compare to my second favourite whisky of the past 2 years, my own Cadenhead (1981-2000)?

The answer was very well indeed – this was a stunner!

The nose is very orange tangy for me – others thought it was somewhat sour-smelling and tasting but that was not my personal experience.

The palate offered lovely orange notes and some burnt character as well with just a hint of sourness.

My only criticism of the Cadenhead Lochside was the finish was not long enough and this was the case here as well.  Perhaps I was just wanting the lovely liquid experience to go on longer than was realistic.

That is now two Lochsides from Refill Sherry and both excellent – if you can count two data points as enough this would be my new favourite distillery, albeit a rather expensive one.  At least with Tobermory, I can afford to purchase more bottles.

My score: 8.8 (5)


Nose:  Malt biscuits, cream of tartar, orange rind, nectarine stone

Palate: Sweet, nectarines, malty, crème brulee (especially the burnt brown sugar on top), slight salty note, coffee, orange

My score:  8.8  (3rd place)

Group score:  1st place

Glass 3:
 HL Glen Elgin, 44 year-old, 1975-2009, 45.6% abv, Bourbon Hogshead (given the number of bottles) 

    Glen Elgin


This Speyside wasn’t the oldest distillation of the lineup but had  the longest maturation.

I have had a mixed bag from Glen Elgin in the past. I had a bottle earmarked for a tasting last year but it was so ridiculously spicy and ginger hot that I removed it as being too disruptive.

Michael said that this ginger taste was more the distillery character than the wood itself, something that I didn’t know.

On the nose, it was quite malty but with a rich mature bourbon character that already reeked of age, but no fierce spiciness.

The palate aligned with the expectations of the nose, a bit musty but a character.

Probably the lengthiest finish of the night, with no woodiness or undue bitterness.  There was a slight liquorice note that lingered – that might be how I interpret the remnant of a decent amount of peat at distillation. Others got ginger cookies, I only got a hint of ginger loaf and I was concerned that the talk of ginger had primed my expectations.

A solid old whisky that I feel we didn’t have the time to really get to grips with.  In terms of scoring, that was a bit of an undoing (see Springbank below).

My score: 8.6 or 8.7 (4)


Nose:  Apples, apple peel, shortbread, custard, iodine hint, cinnamon, marshmellows covered in dessicated coconut, hint of licorice again, orange again

Palate: licorice, savoury, a ginger cake or ginger loaf

My score:  8.5  (4th place)

Group score:  5th place

Glass 4:
 Diageo Pittyvaich, 29 year-old, listed as 51.4% abv but I think it is 55.3%, double matured in PX and Oloroso seasoned casks



If we include the Rosebank, this is the third ghost distillery of the evening – clearly, people wanted to try whiskies from distilleries where the supplies are dwindling.

I have previously only had the FF bottle and a 12 year James Macarthur which I did not like very much. Would this official bottling improve matters?

Yes, it does, but not dramatically so. The nose was very sharp, seeming very alcoholic and spirity which didn’t make sense for 51.4% but makes more sense at 55.3%.

There was also quite a significant malt vinegar on the nose, which does not bode well.

In the mouth, it is a very mixed experience, some yeast, sourness, leather, dried fruits.  I found myself rather all at sea with this one.

The finish was possibly the best aspect, with a good malty character.

This, as it turned out, was my least favourite of the night. Not dreadful, but not really my kind of style it seems. I am not sure whether it was a divisive whisky but it could be deemed so.

My score: 8.3 (3)


Nose: Tinned pineapple, honey, plums

Palate: Chocolate wheaten biscuits (those malt biscuits with chocolate on the bottom), honey, slight rusty note, custard (minty note?)

My score:  7.8  (6th place)

Group score:  4th place

Glass 5:
 DT Springbank, 18 year-old, 1993, 56.4% abv, I would guess a First Fill Sherry Hogshead, but I don’t know for sure



If you had shown me the list in advance I would probably have the least interest in including this one (even more so than the Glendronach).

But I was very wrong.

In its day this bottling won a lot of awards and I can see why. This is heavy Springbank!

The nose is very heavy sherry (Oloroso) and dark burnt orange.  The palate is very chewy, quite tarry and oily and I did remark a lot of coca-cola.

This was a lot to digest and the finish was medium to long and almost as impressive as the Glen Elgin.

I don’t think anyone present voted this low. It became my second favourite, edging out the Glen Elgin because it is a lot more instant.  You cannot exactly call an 18yo young but it has lots of instant appeal – hard to resist in a short-format like a tasting.

It could have been dirtier for me, but otherwise, this was really solid and something way too expensive to purchase these days.

My acore: 8.7 (5)


Nose:  Salted caramel (GORGEOUS), iodine, licorice, banana cake (in a good way), home-made hokey pokey (mixing golden syrup and cream of tartar so that it fizzes up then baking it), unshelled almonds, a slight smokey note, nectarine stone

Palate: Smooth caramel and home-made hokey pokey

My score:  9.5  (1st place)  [WHO would’ve thought I’d rate the Springbank over the 1971 Brown & Gold Glendronach? Huh!]

Group score:  2nd place

Glass 6:
GlenDronach Batch 1, 38 year-old, 1971-2009, 49.4% abv, Oloroso Sherry Butt



There was no doubting this was the darkest of the whiskies, and probably the most expensive.

All I could get from the nose to start was a heavy sherry, so I added some water to open it up a bit.

In the mouth it was very earthy and plenty of tannins, so I was not looking forward to the finish being that welcoming.

I was wrong there!

The finish was not too bitter but it was tarry and pretty long.  I felt this was a bit too much – possibly too long in the cask and should have been bottled earlier.

Given it was Batch 1, was there an urge to get this whisky out to market before it got worse?

I am sure I was somewhat in the minority camp on this one, but it was still a very enjoyable whisky and I rated it sitting in the middle of the pack – above both the Rosebank and the Pittyvaich

My score: 8.6 (4)

Mel defines this as Sacrilege!   Ian adding water to the Glendronach.


Nose:  Christmas cake, soy sauce, marmite, oranges, raisins, figs, vegemite on Vogel toast, slight vinegar note

Palate: Tobacco, prunes, soy sauce, heavy sherry, earthy, christmas cake, marmite, slight chocolate note?

Comment: I loved all the character, and the personality involved in the little hints of soy sauce – but tend to agree with Ian that it was possibly in the cask too long.

My score:  9.2  (2nd place)
Group score:  3rd place



Now it was for Michael to get a show of hands for scores and tot them up.

In the end, the Lochside won; probably not everyone’s favourite but pretty high for many, which helped carry the day for it.

Bringing up the rear was the Rosebank.  I certainly felt it did better than that placing.

In summary, this is the order I placed them in:

Glen Elgin



For me the final ranking was:

Glen Elgin

And for the Group voting as a whole it was:

Glen Elgin

All that was left was to do a final toast and to bid our fond farewells to Scotch22 and 2020.


Best Regards,
Ian & Mel

The Glenlivet – Reflections on a Tasting

from Pat Phipps

I recently had the great pleasure to go to a Glenlivet tasting at Thorndon Glengarry’s in Wellington.

The Glenlivet is currently one of my favourite distilleries.  They seem to be doing great things, with products ranging from the outstanding but pricey black bottle series (Alpha, Cipher and Code) to the just-released and very affordable Illicit Stills 12yo.

Jack Potter, the NZ brand ambassador was the tasting host.  Jack is an enthusiastic, bright, extremely knowledgeable ambassador and a delight to listen to.  He invited any questions from those assembled and was able to answer most of them effortlessly.

Possibly more importantly, after the tasting he gave the opportunity to have another small dram of our favourite whisky – in my case the single cask 18-year-old.

For those of you who went to Dramfest this year, Jack was also responsible for selecting the two drams for The Glenlivet session with Alan Winchester at Dramfest 2020.

The tasting list

For a ticket price of $30, the line-up for the Glengarry tasting was quite outstanding.  It included:

the 25-year-old at 43%,
the 18-year-old single cask NZ limited edition at 56.8%,
the Illicit Still 12-year-old at 48%,
the standard 12-year-old at 40%,
the Founders reserve at 40%, and
the Nadurra Peated at 61.6%.

Glenlivet Tasting Line-up

Plus, of course, a cheese plate to go with them.

I want to talk first about the newly launched Illicit Stills 12yo.

This retails for around $70 at the moment, a good price for a non-chill filtered 48% abv.  It has a higher sherry barrel finish content than is normal for a Glenlivet and a subsequent wonderful mouthfeel.  On the nose there are green apples with a little cherry and leather polish. On the taste, cherry and a wonderful sherry influence with a long finish.

I noticed there were a few bottles of this expression sold on the night and I was one of the lucky people to purchase one, although the thought did go through my mind if I should buy two.

Glenlivet are releasing a limited-edition original series each year as a salute to their origins and if this is anything to go by then bring it on.

I have had the 25-year-old before at Dramfest when I attended a wee Dram session with Alan Winchester, the Head of distilling at The Glenlivet distillery.  I knew to expect a wonderful smooth whisky matured for 23 years in ex bourbon barrels, then finished for two more years in sherry barrels. Again, there is great mouthfeel, flavour and a long finish.

What I did not expect was to taste an 18 year old single cask.  Boy, what a whisky!  From cask 21087, bottled Feb 2020 as a New Zealand Limited edition, it is 56.8% abv with great mouthfeel, rich taste and way too easy to drink.  I remember thinking to myself that I could drink this all night then a friend next to me said “No you couldn’t”.

They used to give away miniatures to travellers in the Pullman luxury carriages on the trains.

As a comparison we also had the Founders Reserve.  This is Glenlivet’s entry level single malt.  It exhibits the classic distillery floral nose but reminds you that this is a young, quite frisky whisky but still easy drinking

The standard 12-year-old highlights just how much of a step up 12 years of maturing has on the Founders Reserve.  The 12 is smooth but still floral and I personally use this as a benchmark for 12yo Speysides.  One of the reasons I was so impressed by the Illicit Stills version is that Glenlivet managed to up the ante and still stick to the same price point.

The last dram was the Nadurra Peated a Non-Age Statement at cask strength.  I have an open bottle of this at home and love both this edition and the Oloroso finish. Glenlivet again have priced this perfectly for a cask strength whisky.

I was fascinated to learn that the whisky was not peated during production.  Rather, the required taste profile is achieved by putting the liquid is into ex-Islay whisky barrels during fermentation.  As the Glenlivet is owned by Pernod Ricard, you may speculate as to the source of the barrels.

Another interesting titbit from history – when The Glenlivet was first launched into America it was labelled Unblended Whisky as the term single malt was not yet coined.  They used to give away miniatures to travellers in the Pullman luxury carriages on the trains – the equivalent to business/first class air travel today.

How much would I give to get my hands on a few of those minis to add to my collection!

The Angel’s Share Returns

The Angel’s Share – that unfortunate percentage of whisky lost to evaporation while the dram is growing better in the barrel.

In Scotland, the angels are relatively frugal and only claim about 2%.

To be fair, though, that 2% is calculated to be in the order of 131.8 million litres each year – the equivalent of 44 Olympic swimming pools.  In anyone’s language, that is a staggering amount of “lost” whisky (pun intended)!

But in other warmer climates the increased humidity means that, comparatively, the angels can be a lot fiercer – in India, for example, it is estimated that the angels reap about 12% of the whisky harvest.

Every now and again the angels take pity and give back some of their ill-gotten gains.  There is no fanfare, brass band or big parade involved, no arrival of Air Force One.   No flashing light.   Not even a lighted match.

Something drops into your lap, in the most unlikely and unprepossessing place at the most serendipitous time.

And that Something is frequently unrecognisable as a windfall.

The Back Story

I was looking in a small, out-of-the-way liquor shop I infrequently visit.  I have found a few unusual things there previously so, when I can, I go to look because you never know what might turn up.

There was the usual range of standard bottlings – a Bunnahabhain, a couple of Glenfiddichs, a selection of Johnnie Walkers.   Nothing too spectacular.  Nothing too wildly dramatic.

Then, from a dark and rather dusty corner at the back of the bourbons section my wife reached up for a bottle and said “What’s this?”.

“This” turned out to be one of those ecstatically happy drams that the angels give back – a bottle of Old Potrero 18th-century-style 100% rye whiskey.  The label advised that the contents were “aged in uncharred oak barrels”, which means it ain’t no bourbon!

There is no fanfare, brass band or big parade involved, no arrival of Air Force One.   No flashing light.   Not even a lighted match.

“That’s been there for a few years” was the shop owner’s comment when we took the bottle to the counter.

I would love to know how many years a few was – 10 or more, I suspect.

Old Potrero
What is the provenance of Old Potrero?

Old Potrero is made by the Anchor Distilling Company of San Francisco.  Although there is a heap about the company on the internet, researching just what happened to it over the years is like trying to un-make an omelette.

The company founder, Fritz Maytag, bottled his first Old Potrero rye whiskey at what became Anchor Distilling in 1996.  The Anchor Distilling Company bit is now under Hotalings Ltd.

Old Potrero is 100% malted rye, made in a small copper pot still and matured in lightly toasted oak casks.  In the 18th century, barrels were made by heating the staves over a fire of oak chips, allowing them to be bent and formed into a barrel shape.  During this process, the inside of the barrel would become toasted – but not charred.

The (sadly undated) bottle was labelled Old Potrero Barrel Strength, Pot Distilled.  It contained 750ml, bottled over-proof at 61.6% alcohol by volume (abv), with No Age Statement.    However, output from the current distillery owners seems to indicate maturation time at around 30 months – a bit shorter than Scotland.

The whiskey is a good colour for an arguably short maturity!

Notes – by committee

This bottle was such a find that it seemed reasonable to get some knowledgeable whisky-tasting friends to sample it and give me notes.  To limit preconceptions the samples were provided “blind” – no indication on what they were tasting or its origins.

Notes I received were extremely fulsome.  A very abbreviated summary:

Colour: Burnished, golden.
Nose: Sweet, grainy, floral almond croissants with coconut.  “A newly refurbished cricket changing room”, with putty, heat and caramel.
Palette: Sweet (again), spicy cinnamon and vanilla ice-cream.  Dark chocolate and more vanilla with a liquorice background.
Finish: Starts hot, then mellows to well-balanced.  Beautiful, with a slight woody dryness.  Long and consistent.

“One of those almost indescribably fantastic drams that come around only too infrequently! “
“I settled on a score of 8.9 but then upped to 9.1 when I found myself still wanting more, long after I’d finished my sampling and note making!”
My overall comment:  Beautiful. One of the top five whiskies I have tasted.

The final:

The Tasting-Notes-by-Panel plan brought me to the rather eccentric titles and tasting notes found on Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottlings.  The Society bottles single cask whiskies from a wide range of distilleries., and each bottling has a very distinctive name that “tells a story”.

Two titles were suggested to me.  I have to say that they were both so evocative of the Old Potrero that I could not pick between them – so both are presented here for you.

“An innings before teatime”

“Passionfruit topping on vanilla ice-cream”

My grateful to the Tasting Crew (in alphabetical order):  Alec, Brian, Bruce, Evelyn, Graeme, Ian, John S, Karen, Matt, Mel, Pat, Peter, and Talia


You can still buy Old Potrero.  It is now made by Hotalings Limited and marketed under the Anchor Distilleries name.  These days it seems to be bottled at 48.5% abv, although I have seen it available at 51%.

Get some!

Collecting Whisky Miniatures

By Pat Phipps

The original purpose of miniature bottles (“minis”) – be they a whisky, a rum, or even a liqueur – was to allow the customer the chance to try an inexpensive sample before buying the full-sized bottle.

Too often overlooked on the shelf in the bottle store, collecting whisky miniatures has been one of my passions for over 30 years.

During my big OE in 1989, among other countries my brother and I ventured to Scotland where we visited Glenturret, Scotland’s oldest working distillery.

A tour of the distillery and a tasting afterwards was the start of my love affair with whisky.

At the distillery shop I bought my first minis – the full range.  I still have them, unopened.

The Glenturret Miniatures

At the time, I thought to myself that surely there can’t be many miniatures around.

How wrong can you be?

The great thing about collecting miniatures is that they don’t take up that much physical space.  Unless of course, like me, you let them!

I recently found a Macallan 1824 series of four miniatures for a cool $2,000 – at $500 for a 50cl bottle, well past my tipping point!   

Over time I have accumulated over 1,000 examples, laid out in display cases to show them off.  Each case is complete with felt backing and a clear poly-carbonate front so that the contents won’t succumb to a passing earthquake.


When I first started collecting minis the price was about $2 – 3 each.  But, like just about everything, inflation has got to that and now a mini price is generally north of $10 a unit.  The price of some gems that I’ve bought, I admit, have made me wince and I’ve had to remind myself of their rarity – such as a 40-year-old Glenfarclas at $150.

These days, miniatures are not really provided as samples.  They are aimed squarely at marketing and at collectors.

Minis come in widely varied shapes.  Wild Turkey produce 50cl ceramic turkeys in different poses filled with Bourbon.  St Andrews did ceramic golf bags clad in different tartans; some with gold-plated golf balls to celebrate famous players.

I recently found a Macallan 1824 series of four miniatures for a cool $2,000 – at $500 for a 50cl bottle, well past my tipping point!    Obviously, some distilleries put out these sets purely to go straight for the collectors’ jugular, which I don’t think really meets the original purpose of the miniature.

Collector “Specials”

In my collection I have golf balls, golf bags, barrels, stills and ceramic jugs.  When times were not so Politically Correct, even cigarette companies had offerings made for them: I have a Dunhill Cigarette Company scotch whisky mini in a pot still-shaped bottle.

Another is a Balvenie whisky in a cognac bottle shape which I picked up on a Pacific Island trip.  This bottling shape, sadly, is long gone.

I take great pleasure in finding a mini that comes with a tube or box.  Putting the bottle next to the tube adds a delightful extra dimension to the display.

An entire distillery core bottling range of minis, displayed in line, really makes the labels stand out in a way that you might not notice if you only had one or two.

We know that distilleries change their core range labels from time to time.  A selection of minis of the same bottlings, but with labels from different times, becomes an excellent reference library.

As time goes on and you add new bottlings to existing lines you get a history of how the marketers have tried to get their offerings to stand out. As miniatures usually don’t get opened and consumed, the result is acquiring historical significance as an archive

There is an amazing website for miniature collectors as well.   The site has thousands of images from people who have sent in pictures of their unique collections and once you get past the wow factor – enjoy.


Believe it or not, another collecting line are fakes minis.  These come from all sources.

Fake Minis

The first two I purchased from Vanuatu about 20 years ago.  One was a rum, the other a whisky in the loosest of terms.  It was more like neutral spirit with flavouring and imaginative labels such as Captain Cooks No. 1 rum and McBrewsters fine old whisky.

Another source of fakes is Egypt.  Whisky Magazine did an article on fake miniatures a few years ago with mainly Johnnie Walker bottlings being produced.  The writer, possibly wisely, was not anxious at all to taste the products, but was very interested in collecting them.

The labels were badly misspelt so it was easy to spot them as fakes.  Labelling such as John Warder, John Whler and Chefas Rijal were a big clue, although the bottle shapes and label quality were good judging by the photos.

A Minis Display in an Edinburgh Whisky Shop

Next time you are in your favourite spirits shop take a moment to look at the miniatures they have.  There might be something to try for a fraction of the price of a full size one!

The Affordable (and Available) Whisky List

Earlier this year we had an article on whiskies that won’t break your bank.

We observed that over a third of the total advertised drams on offer in the 2020 Dramfest Catalogue were priced below $100 retail.    Note: we didn’t count the ones hidden underneath the tables!

It was interesting that a lot of these “cheaper” offerings were from established mainstream distilleries, were not from start-up operations trying to make a name.

At Dramfest we also put ourselves out to doing some personal research into the quality of some of the less costly whiskies.  We checked them against their more highly-priced cousins and remarked pretty favourably on their quality.

Whisky Books

There are a lot of whisky books that encourage you to try this whisky or that other one.

Sadly many of whiskies they recommend are not available in New Zealand.   And the ones that you can buy can often be too expensive for what they are.

And that started us thinking – why don’t we do some more investigation into the whiskies that may not have seemed “elite” enough to own up to drinking?

The issue of Availability

There are a large number of whiskies available in NZ that deserve to be noticed but that are not at all expensive.  So why not create a list f some of the ones we’ve found as a starter-for-ten guide for others to try?

Stepping out of our comfort zone has been an enriching experience.  Letting your taste buds do the walking may make your whisky world become a fuller colour palette.

One dram well-worth trying is the Loch Lomond 12 year-old.  This won a Platinum at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition this year.  It also has garnered two Golds and a Silver from other competitions, plus a Gold spirits business award.  That is no mean feat for a 12 year-old!

The Loch Lomond distillery also has an outstanding Single Grain, on show at Dramfest.   Another award-winning dram at San Francisco, it also won the world whisky awards best Scotch grain and a Gold at the Berlin International Spirits Competition 2017.  the Inchmurrin range of whiskies is another product of Loch Lomond distillery.


I went out and purchased three bottlings of West Cork Irish whiskey.

Because they were new to the market, I knew nothing about them other than the labels looked pretty cool and the price was right.

West Cork

They were very nice indeed.

With a little assistance I’ve emptied two different bottles already.  Now I only have the blend left – at a whopping 62%, it’s the highest abv blend I have tasted and, much to my surprise, very smooth.

On a whim – because it was distilled in Wellington, South Africa, – I decided to try the Bains single grain.  From the Sedgwick Distillery, this dram is double matured in ex bourbon barrels for five years.  Again, it is a super smooth drop with loads of vanilla. This entry level grain was awarded the world’s Best Grain Whisky at the 2018 World Whisky Awards.  Bains also produce a 15 year-old and three 18 year-olds, currently only available through travel retail.


Our list includes some really impressive blends.  They have broken the traditional mould for exploring flavour, most made deliberately to be mellow and served over ice.

The first of these is Cutty Sark Prohibition.  This is a healthy 50% abv, and described as full flavoured and complex.  You might well think you’re having a single malt.

Next up is the West Cork blend.  At 62%, the flavour is loads of grapefruit, mouth feel and very smooth.

The Skibbereen Eagle blend took me by surprise.  It is reasonably cheap and from the same distillers as West Cork but has a completely different flavour profile.  It is sweet, with caramel, toffee notes with green fruit, chocolate and cocoa.

Antiquity Blue is a cheap Indian blend at 42.8%.  This was awarded “Silver Best in Class” in the Spirits Tasting competition by the International Wine and Spirit Competition WSWA in 2012.  At its price point it gives many other blended Scotches a run for their money.

So here, in no particular order, are our picks of reasonably priced (NZ$40 to $105) bottlings that are usually available in New Zealand. For convenience the list has been divided into whisky types.

Single Malt, Scottish, Irish and world

Glenlivet 12 year old
West Cork Irish sherry finish
West Cork Irish Port Wood finish
Tomatin 12 Year old
Benriach 12 year old sherry wood finish
Glenlivet Nadurra oloroso cask strength
Loch Lomond 12 year old
Arran Bothy Quarter Cask
Glen Grant 10 year old
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve
Paul John Classic Indian Whisky
Glendronach 8 Year old The Hielan
Bunnahabhain 12 year old
Glen Scotia Double Cask
Inchmurrin Madeira Wood Finish

Single Grain Whisky

Bains Single grain South African Whisky
Teeling Single grain Irish
Loch Lomond Single Grain

Blended Malt Whisky

Wemyss Treacle Chest Blended malt
Wemyss The Hive
Wemyss Family Collection Flaming Feast
Wemyss Family Collection Blooming Gorse
Wemyss Spice King Batch Strength

Blended Whisky (Malt and Grain)

Cutty Sark Prohibition 50%
West Cork Blended cask strength 62%
Skibbereen Eagle Irish
Antiquity Blue Indian