“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.
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
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.
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.