gavin smith

 home    about    forum    tasted    features    whisky A-Z    directory    books    links    sign-up    beer    wine

    stories features

Josie Brennan worked as administrator for the original International Scotch Whisky Festival held in Edinburgh and Speyside in 1997, during which her love affair with whisky was born. After spending five years living in Edinburgh, she returned home to New Zealand in 2000 with the lovely job of marketing her home country to international visitors. Josie grasps every opportunity to sample a new dram, especially taking great joy in beating her male colleagues in whisky tasting competitions! It's a bit harder to get hold of her favourite Lagavulin these days, so she's looking forward to making some new discoveries at New Zealand's inaugural Dram Fest later this month.

New Zealand rediscovers its whisky heritage

by Josie Brennan, 02/07

Michael Fraser Milne, a Scot hailing originally from Strathspey-Strathbogie, has taken up the challenge to help New Zealanders experience a phenomenon that has swept the world in the last few years, organising New Zealand's first whisky festival - Dram Fest 07. The festival is taking place this month in the South Island city of Christchurch, and Milne has attracted some of the big names in the industry to go Down Under. "It is an idea whose time has come," he says. "New Zealand has a small base of whisky drinkers compared to some other countries. But those that do enjoy it are really loyal to it."

Milne (right) has experienced New Zealanders' views on the subject at first hand, importing whiskies into New Zealand since 1992. His business, 'Whisky Galore', is New Zealand's only dedicated whisky store.

The demographics of whisky drinking in New Zealand are changing, according to Milne, matching trends he has observed on his trips overseas: "At events such as Whisky Live in Paris, it was obvious that the whisky drinker is becoming younger," he notes. "In the last couple of years I have noticed more and more people their late 20s and 30s in my shop and at tastings, and a far greater number of women too."

The festival has brought a few interesting bottles out of Kiwi cupboards, with a 1938 Macallan already surfacing. An estimate of its value will be made by guests Charles MacLean and Keith Hewitt during the festival. "I think there will be a few more like this to come," says Fraser Milne. "There is a real connection between New Zealand and Scotland, and a bit of sentimental value placed on these sort of items. But people may not realise just how much they are worth."

New Zealand, of course, has a long connection with Scotland, with Scots being part of the first group of settlers in the country. Although the city of Dunedin has come to be associated with Scottish settlers, the first to arrive - the Hay's, McKays, Sinclair's, Matheson's and Deans - actually disembarked in the Christchurch region. In a nice twist of fate, this is also the location of Dram Fest.

The first distillery followed soon after, with the New Zealand Distillery producing whisky from 1867, though by 1873 it had already stopped operating. Crown Distillery in Auckland found a similar fate, closing around the same time after only operating for three years.

Wilson's took over the mantle of serious whisky distilling in New Zealand, producing its first whisky in 1969. Wilson's spirit had a variable reputation, but when Seagram took over the distillery and changed the stainless steel stills to copper, the whisky produced - Lammerlaw - had a more respectable flavour. But the distillery was mothballed altogether in 1994. With the last stocks of Lammerlaw recently having been bottled, it seemed that quality New Zealand whisky was soon to be relegated to the history books.

   Step up the New Zealand Malt Whisky Company. NZMWC are planning a distillery in the appropriately-named town of Bannochburn near Cromwell (again in the South Island) to produce whisky under the Milford brand. The distillery is in the process of going through resource consent with local councils, but the company is confident of getting approval. So confident, that it has already opened a retail-warehouse base in the town of Oamaru, where it intends to age, bottle and label the new whisky.

There are plans for a tasting bar, sales area and a restaurant whisky bar in the town, renowned in New Zealand for the historic value of its buildings. The precinct in which the business will be located is New Zealand's most complete Victorian streetscape.

The company also hopes to develop an interactive whisky aging and bottling experience for visitors, including whisky tasting, and NZMWC has had the remaining stocks of single malt whisky produced at the Wilson's Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin bottled as Milford.

"To quite an extent, whisky is about heritage, tradition and history," says Warren Preston, owner of the Oamaru development and NZMWC director. "The trust's building and Oamaru's heritage and harbour history all come together beautifully to support the Milford whisky brand values that we have established."

The proof, of course, is in the tasting. Whisky lovers in New Zealand will be watching with interest as the first bottle of eight-year old from the new distillery appears on whisky shop shelves in 2015. But in the interim they can experience their first real whisky appreciation event very soon. If interest in the festival is anything to go by (many masterclasses are already sold out) it is something for which New Zealanders have most certainly been waiting.


 home    about    forum    tasted    features    whisky A-Z    directory    books    links    sign-up    beer    wine