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Tasting New Zealand Whisky

by Oliver Klimek on May 30, 2014

When I met New Zealand expat Erik Burgess in Glasgow earlier this month he gave me a few samples of New Zealand whisky to try. Erik has been touring whisky festivals to promote the New Zealand Whisky Company in addition to his regular job.

New Zealand does have a long tradition in whisky distillation, but unfortunately at the moment there is no operational distillery left. The Willowbank distillery in Dunedin where the whisky from my samples was made closed in 1997.  The New Zealand Whisky Company bought the remaining stock of 600 barrels which they have been selling under various brand names.

I have never tasted whisky from New Zealand before, so I was eager to try the samples:

dunedin_doublewood15Dunedin DoubleWood 15 yo – Blended – 40%

Colour: Dark amber
Nose: Cherries, strawberries, eucalyptus, cedar wood, hints of camphor.
Palate: Strawberry jam, amarena cherries, vanilla, almonds, cinnamon, hints of pepper.
Finish: Long, fruity and slighly spicy.
Overall: The 10 years of second maturation in wine casks give this single blend a very fruity character. For my taste the wine influence is too strong, although the whisky is not unpleasant.

Rating: 82/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$


south_island21South Island Single Malt 21 yo – 40%

Colour: Bright gold
Nose: Polished eucalyptus wood, light honey, vanilla, spring flowers, hints of mace and mxed herbs.
Palate: Mild honey with a touch of smoke, vanilla, candied ginger and nutmeg, slightly savoury, later aromas of dried mediterranean herbs emerge.
Finish: Long, slightly spicy and minimally smoky.
Overall: This whisky has an unusual savoury element that I like very much. It is light and delicate but offers a lot of complex aromas.

Rating: 87/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$


Single Cask 1990 23 yo – 63.5%

Colour: Dark gold
Nose: Freshly cut pine wood, bee’s wax, vanilla, lemon zest, hints of ginger and nutmeg.
Palate: Vanilla, fried banana, lemon zest, buttersotch, ginger and black pepper.
Finish: Long, spicy and slightly fruity.
Overall: Closer in character to Scotch whisky than the other two, the spiciness is quite pronounced in this expression. Very nice but it does not quite have the complexity of the 21 yo.

Rating: 85/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$


The story of the Willowbank stock reminds us a bit of Karuizawa. These are the last casks of New Zealand whisky, and when it’s gone it’s gone forever. The whisky is quite distinctive and defintiely different from Scotch, but comparable in quality. Fragrant essential oils are the main aromas without dominating the other notes. I hope the plans to buld a new distillery in New Zealand will materialize. It would be a pity if this country was erased from the whisky world map.

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