By Richard Thomas
Whisky-making is a feature of the Anglophone world, forming a complete circle when Australia changed its laws in the 1990s and allowed whisky distillation. Across a deceptively vast expanse of ocean in New Zealand, however, they had been up to it off and on since the 1860s.
Ironically, the last distillery in New Zealand, Willowbank, was shuttered in 1997, ceasing operations just as the first wave of distilleries in (sort of) neighboring Australia began to find their footing. Today, no distillery operates in New Zealand, but the New Zealand Whisky Company is working to change that. In the meantime, they have a large stock of whisky acquired from the defunct Willowbank, serving as the basis for their bottlings.
High Wheeler is a 21 Year Old blended whisky, with an amazingly high proportion of 70% malt whisky. Both the malt and the grain were aged in ex-bourbon barrels. The grain whisky in question was unusual because Willowbank made it using unmalted barley and in pot stills, rather than the more usual pattern of a mix of grains and in a column still. The blend was bottled at 43% ABV.
In the glass, the liquid looks a lot like white wine and drops some legs, but also forms a crown of reluctant tears around the top of the coating. The nose is thick with fruit, akin to pear preserves seasoned with vanilla, and a touch musty.
High Wheeler has a light presence on the tongue and tastes of pears in the main, accented by a little oakiness and a little smokiness. The finish left a lingering trace of salt and smoke.
This is a light dram, but not a subtle one. Nonetheless, High Wheeler shows some sophistication and is a very enjoyable sipper, if not one that jumps out as outstanding in any particular way.
High Roller is priced at $85 in New Zealand currency (roughly $60USD in conversion), and comes in 375 ml bottles. It’s available in Europe and the U.S., although I was unable to find any direct pricing data for those regions.