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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Cardrona Distillery, New Zealand

I first heard of this new distillery while listening to WhiskyCast in December 2015. It turned out that they had just opened and it so happened that I was going to be on vacation in Queenstown, a short but very impressive drive away, over Christmas. A few emails later and I had a tour set up for December 26th, within just a few days of their official opening. The site is impressive and well designed and will also house a small museum focused on the town of Cardrona however that was still in development when I visited. The highlight was that I also got to spend some time with many of family who built it and experience their passion and excitement for what they are doing here. If their product is half as enjoyable as their hospitality (and I see no reason why not based on the excellent site and investment they have made) then we will have very nice Kiwi whisky in a few years’ time.

After the tour there was a lot to try (I had to take samples as I drove there) including their excellent Reid Single Malt Vodka, which is one of the best white spirits I have tried in a long time and a good solution to the “how do we make money for first three years of a whisky distillery” problem, the Rose Rabbit Orange Liqueur (not my thing but for sure someone’s thing) and their Single Malt new make. I have tried a lot of new make spirit but do not consider myself qualified to project on how well a new make will mature and develop but I have posted tasting notes for all of three of these Cardrona products on the website.

So if you find yourself in the Queenstown region of New Zealand and perhaps need a break from flinging yourself off a bridge with just an elastic bungy cord tied to your legs and are tired of gorging on the region’s stunning Pinot Noirs can I suggest you add this to your NZ Bucket List along (and blue cod “fush and chups”). You will thank me.

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St George's Distillery, Norfolk, England

St George's Distillery, Norfolk, England English whisky sounds like an oxymoron. How can whisky be English? Well apparently there is no reason why not, it just can't be scotch whisky, and here we go with some more Scotch and Irish whisky industry myth busting.  Apparently a good distillery doesn't require a special, preferably magical, spring of gentle soft water, a hundred years of tradition and a master distiller who has worked on the site since he was 6 years old and was born in a cottage in the distillery grounds.   Apparently you can just build a distillery and make good whisky.  Who knew (other than the folks at Penderyn)?  You can also build a nice gift shop and a small cafĂ© to go with it and attract a healthy trade in tourists.

A different spin on the distillery tour, in that rather than a standard  tour guide (usual attire at the large Scottish tours include tartan skirt, blue jumper, a branded rain jacket or fleece and name tag) after a short video (I have seen better) the distiller comes and talks to you about the distillery and the process and then leads you around the small site.  I really enjoyed this interaction with the person who actually makes the whisky.  This particular distiller had been working in the brewing industry prior to coming to St Georges just a few years previously.  He was not born in a cottage on the site.  He also discussed St Georges water source, a hard water at 360 ppm Calcium, which is very different to the soft water espoused in Scotland.  Even Glenmorangie who famously use "hard water" in Scotland only has 160 ppm Calcium.  The process, other than aforementioned water hardness, is exactly the same as the major distilleries in Scotland with pot still double distillation at its core (unlike Penderyn) and as far as I could tell it would meet all criteria for being single malt scotch whisky if the whole operation was transplanted north of the border.  The other difference is they claim due to warmer climate in Norfolk, the whisky matures quicker so even the young expressions were comparable to the 10 to 12 years single malts from Scotland.

At the end of tour we tasted both the peated and non-peated expressions and I bought a bottle of Chapter 9, the peated one, and if you want you can read my review (3 out of 4stars).  I liked them both.  English whisky can be good.   I also a bought a coffee mug with the words "I would be rather be drinking English whisky" but that has since gone missing from my office!

I later realised that I had now visited a distillery in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (Jameson) and only a trip to Bushmills in Northern Ireland would be required to complete a distillery visit in every country in the British Isles.

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