By Richard Thomas
New Zealand Whisky Company is unique among independent bottlers because it exists in a country with no active distilleries, and their stock in trade is whisky made by a single distillery, Willowbank, that was shuttered in 1997.
The Oamaruvian story starts with Dunedin DoubleWood, which in turn began with 200 ex-Bourbon barrels of grain whisky. This was dumped and transferred into New Zealand red wine barrels made from French Oak for a second round of maturation, hence the “double wood” designation. The best casks were kept for bottling as The Oamaruvian, a 16 year old single grain cask strength whisky.
In the glass, this single grain shows its high strength and wine barrel aging in its deep red, amber coloring and thick legs. The rich nose is loaded down heavily with caramel, toffee, old leathery wine and rosewater.
The flavor sits in a moodier place. It’s rich and has plenty of that big bodied, old wine and toffee character too, but then a spicy, dry woodiness washes up at the back. The finish is warm and full of drying tobacco leaves.
The Oamaruvian is a flavorful, sumptuous dram that manages to offer a little complexity despite its heft and richness. All of this comes from grain whisky, no less, which is so often associated with lightness. It serves as another case in point that the malt snobs get it wrong in disdaining grain whisky so.
It’s listed at $150 in New Zealand Dollars, which comes to roughly $110 USD.