It's pouring with rain as I make my way into Sam Snead's House of Whisky - it's about the time of year to start thinking about those warming drams and Auckland is lucky enough to have a couple of decent specialty stores. I'm meeting Matt Thomson of Thomson Whisky to hear how he managed to rescue casks of precious cargo from the long-closed Willowbank distillery.
A set builder for film, TV and commercial work by trade, Matt had toyed with building his own still before deciding to go in search of the Willowbank barrels abandoned some time after the family-started distillery (1968) passed into corporate hands. The barrels were deemed no longer necessary for production in 2000.
Luckily for Matt, making whisky takes a long time, so even shutting the doors to the distillery left a considerable stockpile sitting in nigh-on perfect conditions for aging whisky in the Scotch style.
Matt is very passionate about his product - naturally when your name is on it you want to be proud of it. It's available in an 8-year-old blend, a 10-year single malt and a single cask, single malt 18-year-old, all aged in bourbon barrels.
Matt's palate is worth trusting, as he samples and chooses only the best of each of the products.
Each changes slightly every bottling, while staying in keeping with the flavour profile.
The result? We're reminded of a Highland-style of whisky, with lots of vanilla and light floral notes and just a hint of spice to the 8-year-old.
The whiskies grow progressively most robust: the spice becomes a distinct cinnamon flavour in the 10-year-old and it develops a creamier, toffee-like roundness. It's almost salty at the very finish, making it very moreish.
The 18-year-old single cask, single malt is a distinct whisky that should take pride of place among any collection. It's really very good and won't be around forever. You can smell the crisp, cold sea air as you taste gorgeous spice, toffee and banana notes that hint at Scapa.
This whisky is a labour of love - from its handmade wooden presentation boxes, to the painstaking design of the label and endless searching for the very best casks.
But that is what legends are made of and we think Thomson Whisky is on its way to being one of New Zealand's greats.
Where to buy:
Available from Sam Snead's House of Whisky. A full list of stockists is online.