Tuesday, 29 July 2014

the New Zealand Whisky Collection

We had the pleasure to receive a set of samples from Erik Burgess, Great Britain & Ireland Brand Ambassador for the New Zealand Whisky Collection, an initiative that rescued the remaining casks of the closed Willowbank distillery in Dunedin, New Zealand.

From the website we have gathered some history of New Zealand whisky, the Willowbank distillery and the products that are now for sale at the company’s website, as well as several stores around the globe.
“Whisky distilling in New Zealand was born with the arrival of Scottish settlers in the 1830s. Many Scots settled in the Otago region and the industry flourished here until the 1870s, when onerous government regulations effectively shut it down. A distilling industry gradually re-emerged in the 1950s and in 1974, the Baker family opened the Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin, producing such popular whiskies as Wilsons and 45 South
The world’s largest distiller, Seagrams of Canada, bought Willowbank in the 1980s. The distillery thrived under Seagrams and its Single Malt, Lammerlaw (named after a nearby mountain range), was highly regarded. But in 1997, Seagrams sold Willowbank to Australian brewer Fosters, only for Fosters to mothball operations and send the stills to Fiji for making rum. In 1997 the last whisky distillery in New Zealand was closed down, and the hundreds of barrels of Cask Strength whisky auctioned off or mothballed. 
In 2010, we bought the last 80,000 litres in 443 barrels from what had previously been stored in an old airplane hangar. The whisky now resides in the towering seaside bonds store in Oamaru. These are exceptionally rare drams from what was once the world’s southern-most distillery. We hope to start distilling again in the future, and are looking forward to seeing the industry flourish around the country yet again. 
It all started in 2009 when Greg Ramsay, who had recently managed the development of Nant distillery in Bothwell, heard of these 443 barrels of mature-aged New Zealand whisky. After evaluating the stock, he knew he was onto something special and immediately brought together a group of investors to purchase the entire stock. 
Greg called on two Tassie mates ready to revitalise the branding, forge new export channels and re-launch New Zealand whisky to the world. Production manager and designer Tom Holder reinvigorated the bottles with fresh, modern packaging. Meanwhile Benalla-boy Troy Trewin, relocated to Hobart after a long stint in Oamaru and sought channels that today see the whisky collection available across Canada, Australia, the UK, EU and the US. Troy has now left the company to helm Tassie whisky legend Lark Distillery.

dunedin distillery doublewood - 15 yo
Thomas’ notes - Ansgar’s notes

A blended whisky, put together of 70% single malt, and 30% premium grain whisky produced from unmalted barley in the Willowbank Distillery. Aged for 6 years in American Bourbon barrels, before finishing in French Oak New Zealand wine barrels.
“The awesomeness of the Dunedin DoubleWood comes from the foresight of our predecessors, the Preston Family, to transfer a large number of six year old MasterBlended whisky from American Oak to French Oak ex-red wine barrels. The new barrels came from the North Island and previously contained New Zealand Pinot and Cab Sauv. The Prestons released their DoubleWood after 2 years in French Oak. Our current release has benefited from at least nine years in the new barrels giving it a truly unique flavour.”

south island single malt - 21yo
Thomas’ notes - Ansgar’s notes

Made completely from New Zealand malted barley in the Willowbank distillery, Dunedin. Aged in American Oak, Ex-Bourbon barrels for 21 years.
“The original release of the South Island Single Malt was in an 18 and 21 year old. The barrels were picked via a multitude of barrel samples sent to Hobart, tasted and matched in CEO Greg Ramsay’s lounge room during the Rugby World Cup by Greg himself, production manager Tom Holder, and, to keep things civilized, good friend and lawyer Brendan. The results spoke for themselves, with the first batch picking up the coveted Double Gold in San Fran.”

cask strength collection - 1990 - 23yo
Thomas’ notes - Ansgar’s notes

A single cask, cask strength single malt bottling, with hand written numbers and details, matures in American oak ex-Bourbon barrels.
“Our Cask Strength range of Single Malts is a collectible series for the discerning drinker. Aged between 20 and 26 years, these are hand bottled straight from the wood at our Oamaru Cellar Door. No two barrels are exactly the same, so these always have a pleasant surprise up their sleeve. With alcohol content between 49-60%, these Single Malts will satisfy the inquisitive pallet and provide a tasting experience that cannot ever be repeated.”

We are grateful for getting a chance to try these whiskies, which each are little works of true craftsmanship. We are looking forward to getting our hands on more of the stock of these rescued 443 casks.

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