Willowdale Distillery

Review: High Wheeler 21 Year Old Single Grain New Zealand Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Ex-bourbon for 21 Years
70% Malted Barley; 30% Unmalted Barley
Distiller Willowbank Distillery (Dunedin, New Zealand)

In 1997, the last remaining distillery in New Zealand was shut down, auctioning off all of their remaining stock. At the time, it was the world’s most southernmost distillery. In 2010, a company bought the remaining 80,000 litres and began to release some of it. The company hopes to get to producing their own distillate.

This whisky was made from unmalted barley whisky distilled in a column still, which was then mixed with single malt and laid down in ex-bourbon barrels. Non-chill filtered.

On a side note, the label is simple but packed with the information I’m interested in. Nicely done.

Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2020

A great aged barley nose – rich in apple and pear, grape candies, mixed fruit drop candies, as well as a very nice bit of earth and some sundried tomatoes. There is also a bit of baking spice and a great tension between the big fruit, the sweet vanilla, and an earthy grain character very reminiscent of unmalted barley. It does, indeed, have a bit of an oily irish edge to it.

The palate continues with a bright burst of fruit, but also with a smoky edge. It tastes a bit diluted – but, I am tasting from a heel that has been open for a while. This, undoubtedly, can have this “diluting” effect from my experience and I can tell that it was better before. The fruit seems to be increasingly candied on the palate, compared to the nose, and it leads into a very slightly drying, sweet, fruity finish.

If this is indicative of all New Zealand whisky, we should all try to get our hands on more of it!

Highly Recommended (50% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low, since this is understably a bit pricy. Depends on how much you want to explore some well aged New Zealand whisky, I suppose!