We love whisky and wanted to make our own, it was dream, to see if we could do it, not just any whisky, but a whisky we can be proud of, the result is why you’re here.
Imagine you are on a small island, not unlike Islay, its 2010, no one is distilling anything so it was back to first principles. In the words of Dave Broom, "Whisky is boiled beer", so we started with a great brewer, one of Nz’s best, a ledgend. New Zealand is known for its produce, and we have access to some incredible organic malts and innovative yeasts from the brewing industry.
We called in some favours, an engineer to help with still design, and a bee keeper as our partner in crime, someone who knows how to nurture natural forces.
These stills by the way, why do that have to look like the ones in Scotland?We went back to first principles again, copper contact. Large surface area geodesics and worm tubs.
there was no one to make our stills so we had to make them ourselfs. The country is 80% renewable energy so we decided to use electricity, and while we’re at it, rain-water, lovely briny rain, fresh from the sea.
There were no master distillers on Waiheke, so we had to learn from books and info we could glean from the internet. It was hit and miss to start with, takes practice, learning a new palate, making the cuts, but the new make was fruity, flavourful and encouraged us on.
We had no access then to sherry and port barrels, but Waiheke is the home of wine, and sherry and port are wine, so we give those a go. They’re can be a bit tannic and extracted so we learned to cooper and re-toast ourselves, but there is was no shortage of interesting oak.
5 years in, a wine maker joined the team and we learned a whole new subset of skill and nuance, and applied that to the whisky. So now we had a collective with a whisky fanatic driving and funding the process, the only objective to make the best liquid we can, and started to really experiment with different malts, with yeasts, fermentation lengths and wood.
We tried Viognier and Chardonnay barrels, the new American oak was just too active after a while so multiple casking experiments started. No plan to rush to market, we just keep going till it’s ready.
Port barrels? but we still can’t get them so first we made some port for Mudbrick winery then after a year sold the port and used the barrels for whisky. The collection of barrels was growing, so we sent some for tasting. At the 2018 SF Spirits awards we got a silver medal, so it's good, back to making whisky.
Nz non GMO, non GN peated malt hit the scene, a new dimension for experimenting, also manuka beer was becoming popular, so we tried some smoke in the whisky. Manuka is interesting but the peat is where it’s at. It’s a sweet, gentle peat from the coast of the South Island, different to Scotland, [that’s the terroir again, Mark Reynier was onto something], turns out NZ is covered with peat. We went back to the barley growers, can we have more peat in the malt please? Start working with the farmers to get the peat we want, all the time we keep experimenting, triple distilled peat anyone?
Along comes Matt Johns from Tulabardine, [ he lives in NZ ] with an incredible source of information and experience, not to mention a great source of bourbon casks from Tennessee , sherry casks from Australia, we now have an arboretum of wood, a variety of malts, ferments and flavours.
We’re 10 years in, haven’t released a drop, it’s just so much fun, new wood, new ferments, new stills, worms and ideas and most importantly liquid we love, but eventually we have to let others into the secret. This is Waiheke Whisky.