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About a week ago I received a PM through the site from @tomholder who works for the NZ Whisky Company mentioning that I looked familiar from one of the Tasmanian Whisky Appreciation Society pissups, uh, I mean 'meetings!' These are of course very sober serious affairs which are in no way an excuse for a group of people to get together try several different whiskies and have fun. Ahem.
He was wondering, seeing as I obviously don't mind the odd drop and don't mind expounding my thoughts about them, if I was willing to try some of his product and put together a review. Having been through a dry spell recently due to having a young child (soon to be children) and moving to a single income, I thought why not!
We got in contact via email and he dropped by my work a couple of days later to hand over a bottle of DoubleWood 10 year old, and here we are!
Firstly, some history.
The Willowbank Distillery was originally opened by the Baker family and they were soon distilling and marketing whiskies and blends under various names, including Wilsons and 45 South. During the 1980s a large Canadian company, Seagrams, purchased the distillery and made various improvements, and started to release single malts under the moniker 'Lammerlaw.' Production finally ceased in 1997 when Seagrams rationalised the world-wide holdings and the distillery was sold to Fosters, who mothballed it in 2000, and shipped the stills off to Fiji to make rum.
In 2010 the remaining stock, after passing through a few different hands, was set to be appraised by Greg Ramsay and (I believe) Bill Lark (of the Lark Distillery) in order to set a value for the liquidators to try selling off. Instead Greg decided to make an offer on the remaining 600 barrels.
Since then they have released several small range bottlings, which do very well in New Zealand (unsurprisingly) but are fairly hard to come by elsewhere.
Anyway, on to the actual whisky in question!
According to the various bits of blurb Tom sent me and that I have gleaned from around the place, it is a blend of 70% single malt and 30% premium grain whisky. It is matured for 6 years in American oak bourbon barrels and then finished for up to 7 years in French oak red wine barrels (according to Tom there were various types of wine barrels, but all were red). It's labelled as a 10 year old for legality reasons - they are absolutely certain the stock is all at least that age, but with some barrels they purchased not being stamped with any dates, they have to err on the side of caution.
Tom assured me that no colouring was added, however on a (slightly) negative note, it was filtered (although I forgot to ask how, although I'm assuming he meant chill-filtered - Tom could you clear that up in a comment?).
Without doubt it is one of the finest whiskies to look at I've ever come across. The bottle has an outline map of New Zealand printed in white onto the glass with minimalist labeling, which means there is no distracting from the very deep rich coppery-burgundy colour of the whiskey itself. You can see the influence of the red wine barrels even when it sits by itself, but next to other whiskies, this is really very dark. It certainly is nice and enticing to look at on the shelf!
The nose is full of syrupy rich red fruits and toffee, with subtle floral and vanilla highlights. I'm not a big red wine drinker, but there is a hint that this smells like an excellent fruity red wine that has had the slightly acidic edge taken off it with the bourbon cask undertones. It's also very strong for something bottled at 40%, don't sniff too quickly or you will start to get a little spirit burn in the nose. The first glass I had took me a while to even start, the nose really is that good!
The taste is initially gentle and sweetly creamy. This builds slowly and starts to dry my mouth out as we get some oak, nut and dried red fruits. Over several seconds the similarities to a good dry fruity red wine start to just hover in the background. All-in-all, a bit gentler and tamer than the nose, but very pleasant and dangerously easy to come back to!
The finish is moderate long, smooth and gentle, being pleasantly warm with initial notes of toffee, oak and nuts, fading leaving just the gentle fruity dry red wine notes.
In a nutshell, this was a pretty nice surprise. The nose is up there with the best of them, and the taste and finish are dangerously smooth and enticing. It's the kind of dram that is easy for people starting their whisk(e)y journeys, but that will have old salts raising their eyebrows with appreciation when they try it.
Normally when I try a new bottle I have a glass and then leave it a few days before coming back to it to see if my first impressions were accurate when I come to reviewing. This one is a little charmer though, and keeps drawing my eye back to it. Something that looks this good shouldn't be allowed to have this much substance... :p