NZ Whisky Co 1990, 1991, 15 year old and Water of Leith

NZ Whisky Co is producing some fine whiskies, including the South Island Single Malt 21 Year Old, the 1989 and 1988 bottlings (remember, these latter ones are single cask expressions so different bottles may taste different). The NZ Whisky Co range is vast, including a number of older whiskies which were distilled in New Zealand in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. This means that, with so many expressions, some may pale in comparison to other whiskies in the range. This post will provide tasting notes for the whiskies in the NZ Whisky Co range which we have simply not enjoyed as much as the others (hence the short notes on each whisky!)

NZ Whisky Co Water of Leith: Nose: Custard apple meets crisp cereal notes and honeyed oats as mild powdered vanilla and chocolate in interrupted by the piercing note of nail varnish and the waft of prune and dates. Taste: The whisky is thin on the palate, and breaks down quickly. It is astringent and drying, with hints of wood varnish, sultana and banana chips. Finish: A nagging bitterness lingers with fumes of alcohol and bitter cocoa, some pepper and golden syrup (Score: 75/100)

NZ Whisky Co 1990 23 Year Old: This whisky needs water, because it seems simply too aggressive and alcohol ridden with its high ABV of 60.3%. Nose: Cereal notes mingle with a distinctive farmyard theme, wet fabric, vanilla and harsh notes of varnished wood as watery hot chocolate, paw paw, banana chips and mild coconut partially soothes the harsh waves of character. Taste: Sharp oak cuts the palate, with bitter undertones. Wood all the way! Wood. Wood. Wood. Almost unpleasant, sorry to say. Finish: Bitter and burning, with black tea leaves, wood and alcohol evapourating from the tongue (Score: 69/100)

NZ Whisky Co 1991 22 Year Old 1991: This struck me as being better than the 1990 on both the nose and the palate – more character on the palate and more interesting on the nose with softer and more rounded sugars and vanillas. Nose: Banana chips and bread intermingles with sweet vanilla slice pastry as the smell of candle wax intrudes with dusty carpet, some Brazil nuts and yogurt coated raisins… and then comes the off note. That off note was difficult to identify, but it rekindled memories of a chicken coupe – that smell of sulphur, cracked egg, damp hay, and cereal notes with bird feed. This spoiled an otherwise lovely nose. Taste: Astringent and drying on the palate with wood notes, vanilla and alcohol as sugary dried fruit and chocolate develop. Finish: Drying, with cocoa and spice. There is not a lot to say about the taste of this whisky. (Score: 77/100)

NZ Whisky Co DoubleWood 15 Year Old: This whisky had a very interesting nose, but it was a let down on the palate. Nose: Rich sweet brown sugary caramel wafts up with vanilla pod, honeyed toasted oats, apple pie with caster sugar, cooked apricots, while chocolate coated hazelnuts and mild herbal notes. Beautiful nose. Taste: The whisky thins on the palate, and it becomes slightly astringent with notes of wood vanilla and a dry woody twang. Finish: Herbaceous and soapy, the whisky has an unusual finish that is not necessarily unpleasant but not hugely enjoyable either. (Score: 80/100)

NZ Whisky Co 1988 Vintage 25 Year Old


Spirit Name:
Spirit Type:

Rating:
NZ Whisky Co 1988 Vintage 25 Year Old
Single malt

86/100


ABV:
52.8% 
Region:
New Zealand 
Body:
Full
Intensity:
Medium-high
Texture:
Medium-creamy
Balance:
Near perfect 
Best served:
Age:
Neat
25 years

Theme(s):
Vanilla, white chocolate, cocoa, licorice, walnuts, hazelnuts, cherry cola, Dr Pepper, lime rind, polished leather, nectarine, yellow peach, soft oak, creamy, chocolate milkshake, cinnamon, grassy, dewy, mud cake, fudge, caramel, ripe berries, apricot jam, orange peel, dried apricots, crushed nuts, mild maple syrup, menthol
Summary:
This whisky explodes on the palate with oak notes that are softened by white chocolate, caramel and vanilla as sweet and tart apricot jam, berries, syrup and crushed nuts lead to an oak driven and medium-dry finish of vanilla, apricot jam and orange peel

Tasting notes:

NZ Whisky Co has acquired casks of whisky that have been distilled on the South Island of New Zealand at the Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin, and each cask provides its own unique story pf New Zealand whisky. This particular expression was distilled in 1988 and it sat maturing in New Zealand for 25 long years, until it was bottled at cask strength as a single cask offering. This means that this whisky is not cut down with water, which ensures that the pure snowmelt originally used to make this whisky remains untainted – after all, this snowmelt from the Southern Alps of New Zealand has been filtered through the Great Moss Swamp and it would be a real shame to mix it with another water source. Great thinking NZ Whisky Co! 
Nose: This whisky is dense in the glass, and its aromas are forcefully blunt rather than piercing. It is very complex, which is evidence of its long maturation in a high quality oak cask. Almost immediately the aromas of freshly polished leather rises up, interlaced with sweet stone fruit (nectarine, yellow plums) and dark berries. The tartness of the fruit balances the sweetness, as a creaminess develops with white chocolate drops and mixed fried fruit. As the whisky rests, the white chocolate develops into milk chocolate thick shake and, would you believe, cherry coke… and that cherry cola intensifies and then more closely resembles Dr Pepper. Chocolate coated licorice then develops with mud cake layered with cinnamon, whipped cream, dried apricots and crushed walnuts and hazelnuts. Within all that complexity also chimes a dewy and grassy, pristine and wet forest like, note with gentle shades of oak… this is never ending, and each nosing brings something different. 

Taste: Big sharp oak surges of oak and cocoa are mellowed by creamy vanilla, white chocolate and caramel. The sweet caramel lingers on the palate with fudge cake and the bitter buzz of cocoa acts as a counterbalance to the sweetness – a sweetness that changes form on the palate, from white chocolate and honey coated hazelnuts to ripe berries with maple syrup and crushed nuts and then to apricot jam. The oak keeps the sweetness in line, whipping it into line when it risks taking over. 

Finish: The apricot jam lingers with shavings of orange peel and nuances of subtle vanilla softens the oak which leaves a medium-dry finish and the gentle shine of menthol – this is beautiful! 
Likes:
Highly complex and uncut, which provides for a thoroughly enjoyable whisky that can be explored for hours 
Dislikes:
At first the oak is a powerful force, but its dominance diminishes on consecutive tastings. Once open for a while, this whisky loses some of its flavour. 
Price:
$300 (NZ)

NZ Whisky Co DoubleWood 10 Year Old

Spirit Type:
Rating:
Whisky
★★★★★
Score:
86/100 
ABV:
40% 
Region:
New Zealand  
Body:
Medium  
Intensity:
Medium  
Texture:
Medium 
Balance:
Excellent  
Best served:
Neat 
Theme(s):
Honey and mape, red grape, tannins, vanilla bean, ripe persimmon, wine 

Tasting notes:
Nose: Beautiful golden honey is drizzled over a some maple syrup drenched wholemeal crumpet, but develops even more complexity and resembles manuka honey with some herbaceous notes with crushed walnuts and freshly sliced red seeded grape. This whisky has a beautiful nose, absolutely delectable. 

Taste: A beautiful glowing maple sweetness is interrupted by a strange note, almost like burnt wood with hints of charcoal and “furry” tannins (almost like the peel of a ripe persimmon). The red grape has an initial syrupy sweetness that is mellowed by an oak led bitterness and some mild bay-leaf with sweet vanilla bean infused mulled wine. 

Finish: A bitter-sweetness lingers on the palate as fruity sourness interacts with sugary sweetness, almost akin to dry grape drizzled with honey. 
Likes:
Lovely sweetness that shines with some decent oak influence 
Dislikes:
A strange note develops, almost like burnt wood/over cooked bay-leaf 
Price:
$133 (UK) 

NZ Whisky Co 1989 22 Year Old

Spirit Type:
Rating:
Whisky
★★★★★
Score:
85/100 
ABV:
51.4% 
Region:
New Zealand  
Body:
Medium-full
Intensity:
Medium-high (not too piercing) 
Texture:
Medium 
Balance:
Superb 
Best served:
Neat
Theme(s):
Freshness, spicy oak (cloves, nutmeg), chocolate raisin/orange cake, citrus, earthy 
Tasting notes:
Nose: Gusts of freshness swirl in the glass with the beautiful aroma of dried barley as notes of vanilla and dark chocolate raisin cake topped with a wedge of lime add some sweetness and citrus tang to an otherwise earthy character  The oak does not dominate, and instead plays its moderating role while lovely spice in the form of cloves and nutmeg buzz with energy. As the whisky rests, the chocolate raisin cake becomes more noticeable with some roasted mashmallow and shavings of orange peel. 

Taste: A powerful surge of lime and lemon zest cuts through the oak as waves of dark chocolate and vanilla bean mellow the fierce onslaught of spice. This is seriously beautiful whisky, an old New Zealand whisky rescued by NZ Whisky Co and bottled at a great time in its maturation. 

Finish: A strong bitterness lingers on the base of the tongue, almost like a recently consumed honey coated block of dark chocolate. 

Likes:
Sensationally smooth and boasting a beautiful balance, this is very drinkable whisky with a beautiful freshness and earthiness 
Dislikes:
While it is drinkable, the whisky needs (and deserves!) lots of attention to be unpacked properly  
Price:
$206 (NZ) 

Thomson 2 Tone

Spirit Type:
Rating:
Whisky 
★★★★★
Score:
87/100 
ABV:
40% 
Region:
New Zealand  
Body:
Medium  
Intensity:
Medium (initially piercing not bot overly so)  
Texture:
Medium 
Balance:
Superb  
Best served:
Neat  
Theme(s):
Piercing oak and and wood spice (nutmeg in particular) moderated by beautiful NZ wine influence, berries and candied fruits 

Tasting notes:
Nose: Soft shimmering nutmeg rests on a bed of subtle licorice inspires spice (star anise, anise seed) and fresh oak that glows with maple and a moist sap. This is extremely well crafted whisky, with striking notes of oak and spice  that are mellowed by a luscious berry fruits and candied apricot. This superb whisky has been aged in two kinds of casks, including European oak that has held New Zealand whisky. This wine influence from one of the world’s supreme white wine (and pinot noir) growing regions explains the beautiful dry-sweetness in this whisky, that reacts very nicely with the oak. I have tasted the older Thomson expressions, but the 2 tone is by far my favourite of the bunch because it offers superb balance. 

Taste: A surge of oak bitterness hits the palate with wood spices as candied apple brings a wave of sweetness to moderate the dry wood. The apricot on the nose becomes more subdued, as raspberry and blackberry offer a sharp tartness with a lovely gooey caramel sweetness.

Finish: The wood spices linger on the palate as the caramel sweetness balanced out the oak. 

Likes:
This is seriously beautiful whisky, without the sharp cutting oak I found in the older Thomson expressions. The influence of the NZ wine is beautiful .   
Dislikes:
While this whisky is smooth, beginners should be wary because it (in my opinion) offers a distinctive character  
Price:
$66 (NZ)

Thomson 18 Year Old

 

Score: 76/100

ABV: 46%
Body: Medium 
Intensity: Medium-high
Texture: Medium
Balance: Good, though skewed towards the end 
Best served: Neat
Likes: Nice body and intensity, superb nose
Dislikes: Skewed finish, too spicy and intense

The Thomson 18 Year Old has an impeccable nose, busting with blackcurrant and spicy oak. It is quite a presence in the glass, and it is not hard to take delight in it. Then, on the palate, the character of this whisky is also very enjoyable, with bitter oak merging with some hints of spice and dense berry fruits. It is all very lovely, until the most peculiar flavour begins to shine through almost like soap suds cutting the back of the tongue; overly spicy at this stage. It is an experience I did not much enjoy, but as I have said this occurred towards the end of the tastings.

Also, this is a single cask offering so the character of the whisky might be a reflection of the cask. 

I blind tasted this whisky several times, and again alongside whiskies of a similar style and strength. Because of its peculiar finish that whips the tongue in a way I do not much like, I like this whisky but do not think about having another dram.

NZ Whisky Co South Island Single Malt 21 Year Old 1990

Score: 87/100

ABV: 40%
Region: New Zealand
Body: Medium-heavy
 
Intensity:
Medium-high
Texture: Medium – oily
Balance: Superb
Best served: Neat
Theme(s): Old, wood, leather, hay, cigars, blackberry
Likes: Power and complexity

Dislikes: Can be peculiar, with farmyard notes
Price: $148(NZ)
The New Zealand Whisky Company is in an enviable position, because it very wisely purchased some old barrels of whisky produced by a New Zealand whisky operation that ceased decades ago. It all started with the Willowbank Distillery which was opened in 1974 and taken over by the Canadian company Seagrams in the 1980’s and then Foster’s which closed the company in 2000.  The New Zealand Whisky Company website reads:

“The New Zealand whisky company purchased the last 600 barrels of mainly Lammerlaw malt and the whisky has been maturing in the towering seaside bondstore in Oamaru’s famous heritage precinct ever since.”

Now that was a great investment! The New Zealand Whisky Co South Island 21 Year old was distilled in 1990, and placed in a an American oak ex-bourbon barrel that sat idly and risked being lost through indecision. It was rescued just in time by the NZ Whisky Co which bottled it and stopped the onslaught of oak and wood. 
This whisky is now included in my “TOP WHISKY” list. It is a unique whisky with a peculiar character, but that peculiarity is what makes it a beautiful whisky with “individuality”!  It is bottled at 40% alcohol volume, but packs a nice strong New Zealand rugby tackle!
Tasting Notes – NZ Whisky Co South Island Single Malt 21 Year Old 
This whisky has a peculiar character that is quite unique. This is not a bad thing, because while it is very oak dominated the phenolic flavours in the whisky are pleasant and do not cut the tongue with a sharp gust of bitterness.  Instead, that strange but enjoyable oak smacks against the palate bluntly releasing a denseness and mustiness that somehow also shines with some sweetness.The character on the nose does not seamlessly move onto the palate, but despite this perceived mismatch it is lovely!
Nose 
This whisky was strange, pure and simple. This is not bad, but it had a peculiar smell which I could not quite put my finger on. Then it hit me – old library books! The leather bound variety, almost like walking along law reports from the 1880’s. It is a dusty library and the smell of aged paper mingles with the leather and carpet. Then, suddenly, youthfulness and colour fills the glass as sweet blackberry and mint fuse with the spritz of lime as dense orange cake and aniseed are held together with that lovely old wood. Moving on from the library, I can smell the tobacco stained cigar box that was common in Melbourne bars before the anti-smoking laws and, a childhood memory of chocolate bullets (chocolate coated licorice). Now, this may sound strange, but the waft of wet wool also presents itself. This is strange because all my tastings are done blind and I almost fell off my char when I realised I could smell wool in a New Zealand whisky! Well, there you have it, there is wool on the nose; but not any wool, a thick lambswool. 
Taste 
Obviously, I do not eat library books or wool so I could not detect any of these flavours on the palate. Some mint notes here and earthiness there as you can see in the flavour map, vanilla and blackberry too. Again, that peculiar flavour was present. “What is that?”, I wondered while tasting this whisky.  It was hard to identify, but it was very much like the dry bursts of fructose from sour grapes combined with sweet licorice and some sprinklings of dry basil with hay. It was weird but very nice! Thoroughly enjoyable.

Finish
The finish is powerful and this whisky ends with a bang! Though it fizzles a bit towards the end, it is still a high quality finish.

Thomson 21 Year Old



♛- Distinctive, but the oak cuts too sharply 

Score: 70/100

New Zealand can produce seriously good whisky!… pity about the quality of the casks.

One example of a superb New Zealand whisky is the Thomson 21 Year Old, though frustratingly that sharp painful jab of oak unsettles the experience. Bursts of blackberry and blackcurrant work with notes of licorice to rescue this whisky from the over-influence of sharp cutting bitter oak, as notes of vanilla and sea salt develop to create a whisky that is very complex and enjoyable. This whisky seemed to be on the brink of no return, but it appears to have been rescued from the barrel just in time. Even still, that oak influence is there. 

The Thomson 21 Year Old is a limited edition New Zealand whisky, so if you enjoy in a whisky the sharp bitterness of oak against sweet licorice and blackberry all carried by a salty sea breeze then you better hurry! It is a single cask release from the Willowbank Distillery.

I blind tasted a group of nine whiskies four times, and this group included the Thomson 21 Year Old which was certainly a stand out whisky. Its nose is superb, though its taste is less impressive. I gave its nose a high rating but its taste (3.5 stars in my opinion after a FIFTH blind tasting) dragged it down. That sharp cutting oak… such a pity. As taste is a major consideration I’ve decided to let that be the overall rating for this whisky, especially because it was downhill after an additional blind tasting with whiskies I consider to be 5 stars. 

Tasting Notes – Thomson 21 Year Old

Nose 


Gusts of fresh pine and blackberry twirl around the dense spicy oak, as helpings of vanilla add creaminess to an otherwise bouquet of dried fruit. As the whisky rests in the glass its nose develops with hints of blackcurrant and raisins as a mild licorice and marshmallow weave in and out of a salty sea breeze and milk chocolate. This whisky has such a beautiful and complex nose, as nutmeg adds a buzzing spiciness.

Taste 

Spicy bursts of dry oak strike the palate, and just when I think the oak has hijacked yet another promising nose in comes that spark of blackberry and blackcurrant. Heavy on the oak, this whisky would have scored higher if its fruity character was a little brighter and moderated more the bitter dry oak. Though it does dominate at the start, bursts of sweetness weigh against it to provide a character that is somewhat balanced. The milk chocolate develops into dark chocolate as the licorice gains in intensity. All the while the gentle sea breeze gently blows bringing with it a saltiness and notes of dried seaweed.

The problem is that the oak almost cuts the palate sharply, and an additional (fifth) blind tasting made it clear that this was probably not going to go away. 

Finish

The finish on this whisky is moderate, though its flavours do radiate from the tongue mildly for a long while.