The New Zealand Whisky Collection 18yo 1993/2012 (51.9%, The New Zealand Whisky Company, Cask #21)

After one blend and three reduced bottlings from their standard range, here is finally the first example of an “untouched” New Zealand Whisky. A 1993 expression bottled at cask strength and from single cask #21. That’s more like it. This way we can finally find out what the distiller intended. How did the spirit interact with the wood from the cask. No information about the cask itself has been given so we aren’t handicapped with information this time, and can just dig in…

The New Zealand Whisky Collection 18yo 19932012 (51.9%, The New Zealand Whisky Company, Cask #21)Color: Light gold.

Nose: Fruity and dusty, carried with an undertone of fresh wood. I would say this came from a Bourbon cask. Not hard to tell since the wood impaired quite a lot of vanilla-flavours. One with green fingers too, since it has more traits from the kingdom of plants, than the wood alone. It’s easy to admit, this one is driven by wood. Even the spices are wood related, and what about the whiff of pencil-shavings and the aroma of freshly broken off twig? Does this mean this one is dominated by wood? Not at all. The wood gave of various elements of itself, without overpowering it. All in good measure. It has a promise of sweetness (toffee) and the big wood-vanilla synergy makes this a fruity and creamy nose with some backbone and character given by the wood. Slightly oriental (Indian) and floral. Restrained, elegant and wonderful.

Taste: Nice spicy, prickly and woody entry. It starts out with fresh oak and a quite big, nice vegetal sweetness. Tiny hint of bitterness. Right from the start it is obvious this one is carried by the cask strength. Good this wasn’t reduced. It doesn’t seem to have as many woody traits as the nose. Definitely simpler in design than the nose. The fruity bit I taste is a bit peculiar. To me it seems, the mixture of yellow and red fruits don’t combine perfectly here. More cereals and bread tones towards the end. The finish is shorter than expected and it’s the grainy, bread-like and slightly bitter bit that has the biggest influence on the finish.

The strength of this malt is the wonderful nose, as well as well on entry in the mouth. From there it goes a bit downhill. The body sort of disintegrated in my mouth and although the cask strength is noticeable, it doesn’t carry the aroma’s into the finish in a big way. This is a Malt that needs to be tasted, taking big sips. Good stuff nevertheless, easy drinking Whisky, but probably not the best single cask bottled by the NZWC. We’ll see because I have two more hidden away somewhere.

Points: 85

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The New Zealand Whisky Collection The 25yo (46%, The New Zealand Whisky Company, 2013 Pré Release)

In October 2013 I met Greg Ramsay (a.k.a. The Tasmanian Devil) and his Master Distiller Cyril Yates.  Three years earlier he bought the New Zealand Malt Whisky Company and all of its remaining stock of 450 casks. Under the new regime several new releases saw the light of day. Some reduced to 40% and some at cask strength. When Greg and Cyril came to London (where I met them), they also had a pré release version of their 25yo with them. They brought some sample bottles bottled at 46% ABV and asked a few people what they thought of it. Yours truly got on his high “reduction” horse and opted that all future releases should be 46% ABV as probably many others did. Yes I understand that reduction to 40% means lower tax and more output, but the Whisky tasted so much better. Earlier I reviewed The South Island 18yo and the South Island 21yo, which both are pretty good, but which I thought, suffered a bit by reduction to 40% ABV.  By now the 25yo has been released at 46%, but here I’ll review the sample I got of the pré release version. It should be the same Whisky.

The New Zealand Whisky Collection The 25yo (46%, The New Zealand Whisky Company, 2014)Color: Almost full gold.

Nose: Highly aromatic and super fruity. This brings back memories, because in London I liked this so much I couldn’t help myself and try it several times. Tropical fruits abundant. Sugared pineapple, mango and passion fruit. Old bottle waxiness. This leaps out of your glass with a big smile. Hints of bourbon vanilla and elegant wood. The wood here is just lightly present in no way does it interfere with the fruit, nor giving a big backbone, although it adds a little spice. No, this is another kind of Whisky.

Taste: Fruit and cream, Whipped cream and vanilla pudding. All of the fruits above but also maracuja. So much better at this strength. Warming and obviously a bit hotter. Slight hints of sawdust, slightly bitter oak and soapy florality. This one has it all. Slight nuttiness from the wood. Towards the finish a new kind of fruit enters the fold: citrus fruit. I get the smallest hints of red oranges and grapefruit (not the bitterness especially, that is still more woody). In the finish there are also hints of banana and banana foam candy, yes both. How is that for a fruit basket. Get me this when I ever wind up in hospital. This Malt has excellent balance and just tastes fabulous.

This is a again a step up from the 21yo. Although that one was very good, when you compare that one to this 25yo, wow what a fabulous Malt this turned out to be. This Whisky needs the higher strength. Guys 46% is the way to go. Wonderful.

Points: 89

South Island 21yo (40%, The New Zealand Whisky Company)

And here is already the third review of a Whisky released by Mr. Ramsay’s New Zealand Whisky Company. After the Dunedin Doublewood and the South Island 18yo, both very good Whiskies. Time to step up the stakes with this even older 21yo. Let’s see if it is also a step up in quality and taste.

South Island 21yo (40%, The New Zealand Whisky Company)Color: Light gold.

Nose: Fresh, citrus fruits, waxy and herbal. Quite complex and instantly likeable. Tarry toasted wood in the distance. Toffee and cookie dough that is also present in the 18yo. I really like the unusual grassy toffee this has. The fruits shift from the initial citrussy freshness toward more sweet an cloying yellow fruits like (dried) apricots. After some breathing there seems to be a hint of smoke and a floral note as well. Well how is this for complexity! Given time, the nose keeps developing, it gets better and better. (Even later again: grassy bonfire and pencil shavings)…

Taste: Wood and cardboard upfront (huh?), but that is quickly surpassed, yet again, with yellow fruits, but not as citrussy as the nose suggested. Small hint of bitterness from the wood to give the fruitiness more character, as does the little bit of sweetness this has. Just one sip and the Whisky already shows great balance. It all fits nicely together. As with the 18yo, this could benefit from a little bit more alcohol. Nice waxiness again.

What a wonderful nose, you kan sit comfortably somewhere and keep smelling this over and over. At 21 years of age this has remarkably little wood, and the wood that’s there makes for great balance. Lovely stuff and a good step up from the 18yo.

Points: 86

Thanks Mr. C!

South Island 18yo (40%, The New Zealand Whisky Company)

Earlier I reviewed the DoubleWood blend of the New Zealand Whisky Company (NZWC). Please have a look at that review for some more history of the NZWC. Here we’ll move on to the first single malt of the NZWC on these pages. They call it the South Island 18yo, because it’s made in the Willowbank distillery in Dunedin on the South Island and its age is no less than 18yo. The Whisky was originally intended to be Lammerlaw single malt. But a new owner stepped in and there is no Lammerlaw in the collection anymore, but what is?

First of all the NZWC has some blends. The DoubleWood 10yo we know, but there also is a DoubleWood 15yo. Both blends had some extensive finishing in New Zealand wine casks. The Water of Leith is another blend by the NZWC, that one is 70% Single Malt, and 30% Grain Whisky.

Another speciality is Diggers and Ditch which they call a ‘Double Malt’ Whisky. Once we all called something like this a Vatted Malt and nowadays we should call this a Blended Single Malt or something if it were Scottish, which it isn’t so Double Malt it is! Diggers and Ditch is a vatting of NZ Single Malt and Tasmanian Single Malt.

Next in the collection is the Milford Range. Here we have a 10yo, a 15yo, a 18yo and a 20yo. All bottled at 43% ABV.Only two series left. First the South Island range of Whiskies. Here we have a 18yo, a 21yo and a 25yo. The 18yo and the 21yo are bottled at 40% ABV. and the 25yo is bottled at 46% ABV. Hurray!

Last but not least the Cask Strength collection. Finally some examples of single casks that are bottled like it sits in the warehouse, at natural strength. For the time being the following Single Cask bottlings are released (the list may not be complete):

  • 1988: 23 year old (casks #70 and #72)
  • 1989: 22 year old (casks #58 and #148)
  • 1990: 21 year old (cask #90)
  • 1993: 18 year old (casks #21 and #32)

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Fresh, lively and fruity. Hints of cream butter, toffee, flower and cookie dough. Very rustic, light, sunny and fruity. Apple compote. Tiny hints of creamy wood. It smells like a summer’s day in the country, where a warm wind moves the curtains, and a freshly baked apple pie sits on the window sill.

Taste: Light, fresh and fruity again. Chalk and the slightest hint of malt. Apples in all its guises. Apple skins, apple compote, warm apple pie. The sugary sweetness tastes a bit watered down, but the nice fruity acidity keeps the whole fresh. The apples taste fantastic in the finish. A happy Whisky!

I wasn’t a firm believer of the “summer dram”, but if they exist, this is one of them! Extremely happy I bought myself a bottle of this 🙂 This gets the same score as the DoubleWood but it is a completely different Whisky.

Points: 84

Dunedin “Double Wood” 10yo (40%, OB, 6y American Oak, 4y French Oak, ex-New Zealand Red Wine barrels, Blended Whisky)

Here at Master Quill, when writing about whisky, we foremost are keeping up busy with the Scottish version of the tipple. However in the early 19th century lots of Scots moved across the world and settled in New Zealand. Finding a lot of Scottish (Whisky) heritage in New Zealand is not all that unusual. Even today a lot of small or micro-distilleries do pop up in the country. (like Southern, Hokonui and Thomson, to name but a few).

This time we’ll concentrate on the biggest and best known of the New Zealand Whisky producers, al be it under a lot of different names, and also under quite some different management.

In December 1969 the Baker family started distillation in Dunedin (on the south Island, to the south of Oamaru). They named their distillery “Willowbank”. The Whisky was released under their Wilson’s brand name since 1974. By 1974 The distillery was named after it’s Whisky “Wilson Distillery”. In 1981 the giant Seagram’s bought the distillery. Seagrams made a “minor” contribution by replacing the copper necked stainless steel stills for more traditional whole copper stills. Seagram’s released their Whisky as Lammerlaw. Lammerlaw being a nearby mountain range, but also the source of water for Whisky production. The distillery was mothballed in 1995 and Seagram’s sold the distillery to Foster’s in 1997, who had it untill 2002. The two copper stills and the four column grain still were eventually sold to Fiji to distill rum, but the gin still remained in New Zealand. It is now located in pieces at the McCashin’s Brewery in Nelson, and may be used again in the future.

First Warren Preston bought the Distillery and some 600 ageing casks of amongst others Lammerlaw Malt Whisky and starting a firm called The New Zealand Malt Whisky Company (NZMWC). The Casks were laid down in Oamaru. Some 150 of those casks were bottled (under the Milfort brand name, but also Blended Whisky under the Preston’s brand name). Alas NZMWC went bankrupt and in 2010 the Forward looking entrepreneur Greg Ramsay (leading a consortium of investors) took over and renamed the firm The New Zealand Whisky Company (NZWC). Mr. Ramsay bought the last 450 casks of Whisky of which half were Lammerlaw Malt Whisky (18 to 24yo) and the other half Wilson’s Whisky (at least 12yo). By 2012 some 90 casks were bottled for the current range, so by now only 360 casks are left. In the grand scheme of things and the good promotion for the Whisky being carried out, I guess that the whole stock will be sold by the end of 2016. So be quick, because, this New Zealand whisky is rapidly becoming extinct!

Plans are to build a new distillery (or two). Obvious choices for new sites are Oamaru, but also Dunedin. Less obvious choices would be Auckland and Nelson, both Auckland and Nelson showed more interest than Oamaru and Dunedin in being the home of a new New Zealand Whisky distillery.

Color: Red copper.

Nose: Fresh and woody at first, and a little bit winey, well that’s a surprise! Spicy and a little bit of sweet, toffee-like wood. It does have a sweet side to it, but overall pretty dark, with already hints of grain whisky. Maybe some cask toast and influences (tannins) from the wine. Spicy Syrah? Next, the grain whisky starts to play its part. This is spicy and definitely smells like a volcanic red wine, so I got even some terroir in this (Syrah again). That’s not completely strange since the Red Wine finish was done for a whopping 4 years, whereas others finish their whiskies for mere months. (I understand that there also is, or was, a 15yo Double Wood that was finished for 10 whole years in Wine casks!) This one is dark and brooding after the initial freshness right out of the bottle. Very appetizing.

Taste: Less woody than one might think, half-sweet cookie dough and nicely fruity. Slightly acidic at first, but quickly taken over by the sweet red fruits. Not even a lot of Wine to this, so the 4 years in Wine barrels didn’t do the Whisky any harm. Maybe the grain balances the Whisky out? That said, it doesn’t mean the wine didn’t impair a lot of taste onto the Whisky, because it did (sweet fruits, red fruits, plums, Merlot?), especially after some breathing. The Whisky just doesn’t taste like Wine, although some markers are definitely there. Seems to me that the 70/30 ratio of malt and grain is pretty much spot on. Nice and half-long, warming and sweetish finish, with some hints of oak. Very well made, likeable and drinkable blend.

Yes, this is a blended Whisky, the NZWC itself calls it a Master Blended Whisky. With 70% Single Malt this really is a sort of super premium luxury blend. Stuff that the Scots these days put into expensive crystal decanters. Nice aroma’s and pretty different and bold. For the Whisky it is, this is bottled at the right ABV. Recommended!

Points: 84 Points

Thanks go out to Cyril and Greg for the Whiskies and the additional info!