1987 whisky released for RWC

GREG NINNESS
Last updated 05:00 21/08/2011
A 1987 whisky, which was made in Dunedin.
NATASHA MARTIN/Fairfax Media
SPECIAL DROP: A 1987 whisky, which was made in Dunedin.

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A malt whisky made in New Zealand in 1987, the year the All Blacks won the Rugby World Cup, has been released to coincide with this year's tournament.

The whisky was made at the former Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin, once owned by Seagram, which marketed the whisky under the Lammerlaw brand. The distillery was closed in 2000 and most of its remaining stock sold overseas.

However, some unbottled whisky was left in its barrels and put into storage, where it has quietly matured for the last 11 years.

That whisky is now appearing on the market, thanks to Australian businessman Greg Ramsay, who owns a distillery in Tasmania. Ramsay's company Extra Eight Ltd bought the remaining 450 barrels of Willowbank whisky, enough to fill around 120,000 750ml bottles, and has been bottling it under the Milford brand.

The oak barrels contain whisky of various ages, and the youngest, Milford 10-year-old, retails for $92 a bottle, while the 20-year-old sells for around $195.

The tipple has garnered good reviews, with the Whisky Galore website describing Milford Single Malt as "similar in style to the Lowland malts of Scotland, lighter in body and aroma than the malts of the Highlands – elegant with a delicate nose, soft citrus in flavour and a very smooth finish".

But the oldest vintage was in seven barrels filled in 1987, the year All Blacks captain David Kirk held the world cup aloft in victory.

That whisky has now matured for 24 years and, to coincide with this year's tournament, it is being bottled with a rugby-themed label, featuring an image of players about to engage in a scrum, under the words, Touch, Pause, Engage.

The 750ml bottles are priced at $299, the 150ml bottles at $69, and Extra Eight director John Evans expects them to appeal to two main groups: whisky connoisseurs who wanted a bottle of a unique whisky in very limited supply, and rugby enthusiasts wanting something different from the usual souvenirs to commemorate this year's tournament.

Evans said there is only enough of the 1987 whisky to fill around 1000 bottles of each size, and the company had already sold more than 300 of the 750ml bottles.

However, it has plans which go beyond the existing barrels of whisky it has acquired.

Evans said it wanted to recommence distilling whisky in New Zealand, as soon as the company can overcome the bureaucratic hurdles.

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Once a new supply of malt whisky comes on-stream, this will also be put into barrels to be aged, and eventually blended, with the older stock. But the existing barrels of mature whisky had given the company a head start, meaning it doesn't have to wait 10 years before its supplies of aged whisky become available.

Evans is also putting a few whole barrels up for sale.

Buying whisky by the barrel is relatively common in Scotland, where several distilleries have barrel sales programmes. However, they usually sell barrels that have been been freshly filled with newly distilled whisky, so buyers have to wait 10 years, or more, for the whisky to mature. Only then can it be bottled and enjoyed.

The advantage that Extra Eight is able to offer with its barrels of Milford whisky is that it is already mature in the barrel, and can be bottled immediately.

Barrels of the 22-year-old Milford single malt are priced at $34,500, while 15-year-old barrels containing a blend of single malt and grain whisky cost $20,700. Those prices include the cost of bottling and labelling. Each barrel contains about 220 litres, but how many bottles that produces will depend of the strength of whisky each customer requires.

Whisky straight out of the barrel probably contains around 52% alcohol, but many buyers prefer to have it diluted to around 40% for bottling, which will make it go further.

greg.ninness@star-times.co.nz

- Sunday Star Times

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