An interesting and informed motto:
“Don’t make Whisky to get rich in New Zealand, do it for love”
When in Rome, do what the Romans do.
Now, Romans may be in short supply in Christchurch, but a smart pastime for whisky lovers is to book a tour of the local distillery. Just out of the Christchurch CBD is The Spirits Workshop, the home of Curiosity Gin and (more importantly) of Divergence Whisky.
As we were brought up on the Boy Scout manual, we had prepared for the Monday afternoon after Dramfest by booking ourselves a distillery tour.
We had deliberately decided against the idea of a Monday morning tour.
This booking was a two-pronged process. We thought it would be kind to let the good people from Spirits Workshop get back to earth from their tough weekend of revelry at Te Pae. On a more personal level, we thought to let the revelers from the same weekend get back to some semblance of order and cohesion.
Note to self: On a smartphone’s Google Maps it looks just a short and simple pleasure stroll through the shops and attractions to The Spirits Workshop. The reality is actually long enough for an Uber ride.
Getting there is half the fun
The walk from our hotel was about four lengthy blocks south, through a largely commercial area with precious few redeeming scenic attractions. We trekked (later becoming “trudged”) along a very busy multi-lane street, across three very busy multi-lane pedestrian crossings and over a very busy multi-lane bridge.
We finally made it to the distillery, located in an anonymous commercial building off Durham Street. No big, bold Islay distillery lettering – the only clue that we had found the right place was the pretty Curiosity logo in gold on the building’s gable end.
Our little party was warmly invited in by Founder, Chief Gin Officer and Managing Director, Antony Michalik.
Not counting Antony, there are six of us sitting around sitting around a large, very solid and imposing board table: four dedicated whisky drinkers, two dedicated gin drinkers and a couple who could swing either way depending on what was being offered.
Antony started his wide-ranging presentation on the development of Curiosity gin and Divergence whisky with a slide show. He covered the history of first setting up the Spirits Workshop, the owners’ previous incarnations and experience, and starting to make distilled spirits. As the presentation progresses, he hands everyone a sample of all of Curiosity’s range of gins – Classic, Ruby, Dry, Pinot Barrel Sloe, Recipe #23 and Negroni. My personal favourite is the Classic, but as with any group we all have different choices.
We started on a guided walk around the distillery, beginning at the still room with its lovely polished copper bits. The stills, all bought from China, appear to be very good quality.
But the most exciting room for me was the barrel-aging room, containing a selection of very small barrels which are aging for private owners. There are custom engraved casks with capacities ranging from about 10 litres up.
I oddly found myself wanting to be very quiet in this room – it looked like a nursery with rows of babies sleeping. Just beautiful!
As we were the only people in the distillery we took our time on the tour.
Walking finished, it was back to the boardroom and the unleashing of Divergence whiskies on this over-eager audience.
First dram up is the Virgin French Oak, the stock distillery expression. This is followed by the latest edition of Port Wood (matured in Tawney Port barrels) and then FIVE (Spirits Workshop’s capitals, not a misprint)
Then Antony brought out his Big Gun, his last bottle of Pinot Noir Finish. This expression officially sold out ages ago. The Pinot Noir Finish is fantastic stuff, and Antony politely declined my asking really nicely if I could buy the open bottle: so now I’m left to look forward to a new bottling being released some time in the future.
Antony also mentioned that they also make an Absinthe as well – at about 70% abv. They haven’t yet sold very many as they didn’t know quite how to market it. He offered us each a small nip to try – a tiny sip nearly blew my eye balls out! One of us was so excited and loved it so much that he bought a bottle.
After a lot of semi-informed questions from the tourists and a lot of very informed answers from the Director, the tour drew to a reluctant close. With formalities completed, we all bought a bottle or two to take away or be delivered by courier.
I can totally recommend taking a visit to The Spirits Workshop. We couldn’t have wished for a better host who made us all feel very welcome, answered all our pesky questions as whisky fans are bound to ask and left us in high spirits.
Contact The Spirits Workshop for to arrange your own tour, please click here.
Note: Since this article was written, both the Divergence FIVE and the Virgin French Oak have been awarded gold at the NZ Spirit Awards 2023.
Some Random Tastings
Inchmurran Highland Single Malt
Sample from Pat
Distiller: Loch Lomond
46% ABV. NAS, NC2
Eye: Good viscosity
Nose: Sherry, oranges, Vanilla, Old leather boots
Palette: Smooth, Soft. Black Jellybeans. Oloroso sherry? Sawdust (oak). Not much heat.
Comment: A quaffer. Right up with the standard we’ve come to expect from Loch Lomond. I would definitely have one.
12 year old, 40% ABV.
Eye: Medium viscosity. The legs seem a bit weak.
Nose: Sherry.; Slight nose prickle. Citrus Juice.
Palette: Hot tip and centre of tongue. Tannic-y. Sour. Well integrated, Golden Syrup/Treacle. Soft
Finish: Sweetness stays for the duration. Very slight smoke.
Comment: Other than the bald 12 yo note on the label, there is very little info on casks or maturation etc, and the dram is almost anonymous.
SMWS 16.54 (Glenturret)
Age: 10 year old
Sample from Ian
Eye: Medium viscosity, wide legs
Nose: Strong, wood, high nose prickle. Rum & Raisin ice cream, oak sawdust, slightly “dirty” aroma, back of the nose hit of alcohol
Palate: Sweet marine. Hot tongue! Sharp at first. Rich and hot. Very nice.
Finish: Long & spicy. Yummy, want to take another sip (moreish). Slight smoky (a bonfire breath – interesting that there has not been a hint of smoke anywhere else before this!
50% abv, NC2
Barrels: First fill ex-Bourbon, NC2
Nose: Prickle, Red Wine on nose, honey, butterscotch, bit of vanilla. Promising!
Palate: Smooth and HOT! Wow Factor right through. Tongue Heat, and then drying. Coconut. Dark caramel. Promise kept.
Finish: Tongue slightly drying, but not a problem.
Comment: Wow Factor! Would get a bottle (around $110
Score: 8.2 – 8.5
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No AI has been used.
Bet you couldn’t have guessed that!