The Great “Down Under” Tasting Tour – Part 6
For the next-to-last stop on our Down Under Tasting Tour we head to New Zealand for a tasting and review of a 15 year-old blended whisky sold under the rather lengthy, cumbersome name of The New Zealand Whisky Collection DoubleWood Dunedin MasterBlended Whisky.
About The New Zealand Whisky Company
The New Zealand Whisky Collection DoubleWood Blended Whisky* has an interesting, if slightly circuitous origin. This whisky was originally distilled by the Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin, which was founded in 1974 by the Baker Family. Considered to be the world’s southernmost distillery, during its existence Willowbank produced the popular whiskies Wilson’s and 45 South.
In the 19080’s the Willowbank distillery was acquired by Seagrams and underwent a period of success, expanding their range to include a single malt whisky named Lammerlaw for the nearby mountain range. After a relatively brief period of ownership Seagrams subsequently sold the Willowbank Distillery in 1997 to the Australian brewing giant Fosters who, in just another sadly typical corporate decision, promptly closed the distillery, transferring the stills to Fiji for the production of rum.
The entire remaining stock of Willowbank’s maturing whisky was acquired in 2001 by Warren Preston who began selling the whisky under the Milford label. Preston had plans to open a new distillery, but by 2009 those plans had not panned out. In 2009 Preston’s business went into receivership and in 2010 he was evicted.
All was not lost, though! Following Preston’s eviction in 2010, the maturing whisky was rescued by Greg Ramsay and two friends, Tom Holder and Troy Trewin, who lead a group of investors that acquired the remaining 443 barrels – nearly 80,000 liters of aging whisky. The new ownership group set up the New Zealand Whisky Company to bottle and distribute the matured whiskies under various labels, including South Island Single Malt, The Oamaruvian, The 25 Year Old, along with a series of Vintage Single Cask offerings. Like Preston, The New Zealand Whisky Company has plans to establish a distillery in either Dunedin or Oamaru, but as yet the distillery has not yet been constructed.
Review: New Zealand Whisky Collection DoubleWood Blended Whisky 15 year old
The New Zealand Whisky Collection Dunedin DoubleWood 15 year old is a “Master Blend” consisting 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 a 10 year “finishing” in French Oak NZ red wine barrels. Normally “finishing” would mean a rather short period in a different cask and 10 years would be considered more of a “secondary maturation”, but semantics aside, at least we know how this whisky was produced and matured!
Color: A medium amber color with subtle reddish tints
Nose: The nose is interesting with perhaps not the best of starts as it has a slight hint of lacquer thinner, but thankfully that eventually dissipates leading to a rising fruity-vanilla nose. In some ways this is very “Bourbon-like” – a wheated bourbon, more specifically – with its strong vanilla note, cherry, molasses, ripe berries, a touch of brown sugar, soft spice notes of nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove. With water it continues along the same “bourbony” path, sweet vanilla, berries, brown sugar, the ripe berries, maybe a touch of coconut.
Taste: Somewhat thin on the arrival. Loads of vanilla, sweet, soft spice notes, but I also get a rather prominent sour tannic note which must be reflective of the red wine barrel maturation – not terribly bad, just a tad surprising and slightly out of balance. I don’t know if it is the power of suggestion from the label, but I do seem to also get a touch of grape juice…..I wonder if I would get that if this was tasted blind??? This is definitely less “bourbony” on the palate. The development is unfortunately short leading to a somewhat disappointing tasting experience. The addition of any water just seems to further dilute the already thinnish body without any improvement in the flavors.
Finish: The red wine really takes over in the finish with that slightly sour, drying tannic note. While there is a bit of the vanilla sweetness and hints of the fruits, they really struggle to push through the winey notes. In the end, the finish is rather short, almost evaporating on the tongue, with the drying, slightly bitter tannic notes driving the experience.
Overall: The New Zealand Whisky Collection DoubleWood Blended Whisky is a bit confusing. The first time I tried it I liked it slightly better (rated it 81) than I did in this second tasting. Perhaps the additional time in the opened bottle adversely affected this whisky more than the other “Down Under” whiskies in this series, or perhaps I misjudged it the first time. I still have a small sample remaining, so I will have to do one more evaluation to see which side of the fence I finally land on!
If you like wine-finished whiskies, you might really enjoy this one, but if you don’t, you may want to pass….or at least try a small sample before spending your money on a full bottle.
Region: Distilled in Dunedin, matured in Oamaru, New Zealand
Distillery: The New Zealand Whisky Company*
Type: Blended Whisky
Age: 15 years
Maturation: 6 years American Oak ex-Bourbon, 10 years French oak ex-New Zealand red wine barrels
Price: $85 (AUS)
Availability: Currently Available in AUS (www.danmurphys.com.au)
Sample Source: Mike D.
Malt Whisky Yearbook 2014, Ingvar Ronde, MagDig Media, Ltd.