Thursday, December 31, 2015

South Island 21 Years Old

South Island 21 Years Old
When it comes to New Zealand whisky distilleries they are few and far between (at this time). If the explosion of micro distilleries in Australia and the world is anything to go by then in short order New Zealand will be smashing out distilleries all too soon. Right now there is a handful of distilleries either producing small batch whisky or intending to produce whisky but I believe no dedicated distillery just making whisky. I would love to get my hands on some other spirit coming out of NZ but, for now here in Australia we are generally limited to what has been released by The New Zealand Whisky Company. At this point we might just compress New Zealand Whisky Company to NZWC from here on end as is a bit long to keep repeating.

NZWC don’t produce whisky through distillation or at least now yet. Initially a collective of investors led by Greg Ramsa purchased a sum of 443 mothballed casks of whisky produced at the closed Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin. Willowbank was purchased by Seagrams and in 1997 the distillery was closed with the stills and most of the spirit auctioned off. These few mothballed barrels existing were relocated and stored in Oamaru. Taking these barrels NZWC moved to get the ageing stock onto the markets as quick as possible repackaging as The New Zealand Whisky Collection. We saw a few of these whiskies hit the Dan Murphy’s shelves back in 2010 and to be quite frank I, as have several club members, have been scared ever since. No really the whiskies we tasted were outright paint stripper. They burnt, they were musty, and they felt wrong and there was little to gauge in anticipation of what the other casks were to give. I would like to give more details specifically on what products they were but, chances are they are no longer on offer and, if I got the name wrong now by matching it to something still being sold I would damage what may well be a great product currently on the shelf. I did write to the distillery several times to gain more insight and to give my feedback as I was receiving a lot of media from them directly at the time but alas they never ever responded.

Yes, even after those scarring experiences, I am happy to say things have changed for the better. Yes NZWC has been winning awards but I care very little for what value these awards give. I want to try these whiskies and know for myself where it sits.

In mid 2014 I was at the Lark Cellar Door bar. My guide for the day encouraged me try The South Island 21 Years Old Single Malt by NZWC after some discussions about past experiences. With trepidation I asked may I nose the whisky before I purchased a dram. To my surprise it was warm, rounded, with notes of cereal and butter. Wow what had changed? What was going on to display this as something so different. My advisor had made a few comments about NZWC getting some help in refining and blending casks better, how to pick them and when to release. Can I validate this? No. Regardless it was a spotlight bulb moment. This was really good!

South Island 21yo Single Malt
Distillery: Willowbank (deceased)
Distilled: Dunedin, New Zealand
Matured: Oamaru, New Zealand
Released by: The New Zealand Whisky Company
ABV: 40%
Wood: Ex-Bourbon American Oak

Colour: Drying wheat (The colour is goes where there is just a little green in the stalk)

Nose: Rich buttery malt biscuits, gentle light smoke, caramelised cereals, brown sugar, with delicate grassy textures with some cardboard boxes.

Taste: Malt biscuits, cereals, fruity and nutty, classic light aged american oak vanillas, marginal metallic banding and a slight dryness.

Finish: Medium dry with mellow stored furniture. Spices begin to tickle the front of the tongue shortly after.

Overall a great dram and a solid representation of what Willowbank was, could have been, but never will be thanks to the destructive winds of business. If I was to give a dram then a nice 5.5 out of 7 is deserved. At $99.99AU this was a good buy but I fear it may not be seen again as stocks of course are horribly limited. I wager any Scottish Speyside released at this quality and age would be hitting the $250Au mark easy if if you are keen for a dram then be on the mark now to get it.

It would be wrong to class this as a definitive example of New Zealand whisky but it is certainly a snapshot of a era past that could have continuing to this day had fortunes past differently. Well done New Zealand Whisky Company and thanks for redeeming my expectations against those earlier experiences.

The Baron