Whisky Connosr

Dom introduces our end of the year issue

By Dominic Roskrow

As memorable moments go, it was right up there: a Cardiff rugby club only a few hundred metres from the mighty Millennium Stadium just three days before the two most passionate rugby nations in the world would face each other; a rare chance to hear a traditional Welsh male voice choir in rehearsal; and a whisky tasting featuring three whiskies from each of the same two countries set to play rugby.

for world whisky this may well have been a symbolic milestone moment

Memorable certainly, but for world whisky this may well have been a symbolic milestone moment, too; six excellent whiskies matched against each other not from one of the five traditional whisky making regions, but from Wales and New Zealand.

This occasion reminded me a little of a bizarre Monday morning a few years ago when I stood at St George's Distillery in Norfolk, England, and listened to managing director Andrew Nelstrop and David Baker, the owner of Bakery Hill near Melbourne, Australia, dissect and criticise Scottish single malt. I remember thinking how far we'd come in such a short period of time.

That was then, and here we were again - talking and tasting quality whisky from countries which had barely featured on the whisky map, if at all. I've mentioned the evening a lot at the flurry of tastings I've done recently and most people find it hard to believe.

But it's not just that we were gathered in Cardiff to taste Welsh and New Zealand whisky, it was the nature of the event we were at. Many of you know that I hold New Zealand citizenship, and am very proud of it. And that I am a diehard All Blacks fan. So when Greg Ramsay, who owns the New Zealand Whisky Company, contacted me and suggested a whisky challenge between three of his whiskies and three from each of the countries the All Blacks were playing against, I leapt at the chance.

Thankfully I didn't to the Scottish one, because I don't think anyone would ever have believed that it was staged fairly and independently. In the event the Edinburgh Whisky Club matched three Scottish whiskies against the New Zealand ones and organised a blind tasting for club members on the day of the Murrayfield test. And, amazingly, in the three head to head encounters, the Kiwis won two and the other was drawn. The big shock was the New Zealand 1990 Cask Strength Single Malt beating Ardbeg Uigedail on its home turf.

I suspect Penderyn knew this because the cask strength entry entered by the company for the Welsh event is Jim Murray's world whisky of the year this year; a single cask, cask strength Penderyn with an ABV close to 60%, matured for its entire life in a port cask and bottled to celebrate Swansea's promotion to the Premiership.

This is a big boy whisky, but so is the 1990 New Zealand bottling, so we had the whisky equivalent of two hefty second rowers rucking down for the scrap of a lifetime.

It doesn't matter that New Zealand won, or that it completed the hat trick by rolling over the English in West London a week later. What this was about was great whisky representing a new world and most importantly of all, being presented in a new and exciting way.

Greg is an Australian and like most Australians he is thick skinned and fearless when it comes to knocking over the traditional statues, and he thinks out of the box. A whisky Autumn test series based around a rugby tour just isn't the sort of thing Scotch whisky would do.

And we'll see a lot more of this progressive marketing in the coming months and years as new whiskies from different parts of the world take the whisky standards we expect from the Scots and Irish and combine them with their own cultures and unique presentation styles.

I find that very exciting indeed - it gets all my journalistic nerves tingling, and for me it's proof positive that this ride is only just starting.

A full report of the New Zealand whisky tour and the company behind it is in this issue, and there's an interview with Thomson, the other New Zealand whisky company helping to put the country on the whisky map. I take an in-depth look at how the likes of Tasmania, Wales and New Zealand are putting port casks to new uses, and there are features on new whiskies popping up in Israel, France and Argentina.

As always, I'd love your feedback - in the meantime, have a great Christmas and New Year.