While Australia has its own whiskey category here at Drinkhacker, New Zealand does not. Why? Because we’ve never reviewed any New Zealand whisky. Until now.
Our friends at Anchor have recently embarked on a project to expose America to kiwi whisky — and this is some old, rare stock. Here’s the lowdown, from the horse’s mouth:
New Zealand might not be the first place that comes to mind when sourcing great single malt whisky, but thanks to Scottish settlers in the 1830s a whisky tradition was born in a place you’d least expect. Beginning this month, thanks to importer Anchor Distilling Company, the award-winning New Zealand Whisky Collection, comprised of the oldest and rarest whiskies produced in the Southern Hemisphere, will be available in the U.S.
Critically acclaimed by the likes of Jim Murray and Charles Maclean, the New Zealand Whisky Collection features expressions produced between 1987 and 1994 at the Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand. In 2010, New Zealand Whisky Collection founder Greg Ramsay discovered and purchased the last 443 barrels of cask strength whiskies at the distillery, which had been mothballed at the end of the 20th century; Ramsay saw the potential for the complex range of flavors among the quietly maturing barrels. Today, this extensive stock of old and rare whiskies is continuing to mature in a seaside bondstore in Oamaru, on the eastern coast of New Zealand.
Distilled using the finest local barleys and snowmelt from the Southern Alps, the single malt whiskies in the New Zealand Whisky Collection, which reflect the last remaining stock of what was once the world’s southern-most distillery, are produced using traditional Scottish methods of copper pot stills.
Production details follow in the details for each of the four spirits reviewed. Without further ado, let’s dive in. Please note that all bottles are 375ml half-bottles, so do a little math on the pricing.
Dunedin DoubleWood 16 Years Old – “A blend of 70% single malt and 30% grain whisky (made from unmalted barley in the Willowbank Distillery). After aging in American Oak for 6 years, transferred to French Oak ex-New Zealand red wine casks for 12 years.” On the nose, a Scotch-like aroma percolates, offering notes of rich grain, leather, burlap sack, and coffee bean. The grain whisky component is hard to tamp down here, and on the palate it takes on a distinct character of mushroom, dried spices, and cedar chest. Stony, with tons of cooked cereal notes, the grain whisky component of this one ultimately dominates, despite its age. 80 proof. B- / $85 (375ml)
High Wheeler SingleWood 21 Years Old – This is “a blend of 70% single malt and 30% grain whisky (made from unmalted barley in the Willowbank Distillery), this expression is aged in American Oak, ex-bourbon for 21 years.” This is a full-formed whisky, punchy on the nose with notes of fresh baked bread, some baking spice, and banana nut loaf. The palate is malty, with some apple and vanilla notes, leading toward a gently chocolaty finish. What endures however is a note of salt spray that give this otherwise straightforward spirit a surprising maritime quality. Engaging from start to finish. 86 proof. A- / $95 (375ml)
Oamaruvian Cask Strength DoubleWood 16 Years Old – Single grain whisky, aged for six years in ex-bourbon barrels and finished for ten years in ex-red wine French oak barrels. This is a cherry-picked single cask offering, bottled at cask strength. An incredibly dark whisky, this unusual offering finds a nose of darkly toasted nuts, roasted meats, and a touch of baking spice. It’s a distinctly savory entry when you take a sip: A heavy nuttiness and old wine character gives it an intense amontillado sherry note, studded with hints of clove, leather, tobacco leaf, and eucalyptus. The finish is a bit gummy — surprising at this abv — and vegetal. Normally I love wine-finished whisky, but here I’m just not impressed. 116.8 proof. C- / $115 (375ml)
South Island Single Malt 25 Years Old – The only single malt in this collection, here we have a pot-distilled whisky from New Zealand-grown barley, aged in bourbon barrels for 25 years. Lots of depth on the nose, with notes of red pepper, fresh bread, charcoal, and roasted vegetables. The palate is restrained, round and dusky, with notes of walnuts, oily wood, and a touch of brown sugar on a cereal-heavy core. It certainly doesn’t drink like a 25 year old anything, retaining a freshness and a youth that feel more appropriate to a 10 year old than something of this age (and price). The woody, nutty finish is fun and aromatic. 80 proof. B / $230 (375ml)