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New Zealand’s 1987 Single Malt Whisky (40 % ABV)

Review: New Zealand’s 1987 Single Malt Whisky (24 years Old)    (91/100)
(Part of the New Zealand Whisky Collection)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on May 05, 2013

My reviews of the New Zealand Whisky Collection continue with theNew Zealand’s 1987 Single Malt Whisky (40 % ABV). The now closed distillery at Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand once produced both Single Malt and blended whisky. After the distillery’s closure, about 600 barrels of single malt and blended grain whisky remained and were left to mature. Two years ago (in 2011), Mr Greg Ramsey, an Australian whisky enthusiast from Tasmania, bought those barrels and set about bottling the whisky as part of a plan to revive the New Zealand whisky industry. As part of that plan, he created the New Zealand Whisky Collection.

New Zealand’s 1987 Single Malt Whisky was produced from Single Malt stocks which were distilled in 1987  at the Dunedin Distillery and then left to age for 24 years. The Whisky was bottled in two formats; 750 ml bottles were captured at Cask Strength, with the alcohol by volume varying depending upon the casks selected (anywhere from 49-60%), and smaller 150 ml flasks were bottled at 40% alcohol by volume. Both formats of this whisky are currently available in Ontario, Canada through the LCBO (and may soon be available here in Alberta as well).

I was sent a small 150 ml sample (40 % ABV) such that I could share my thoughts with respect to the whisky here on my website:

SAM_0727 New Zealand's 1987 Single Malt WhiskyIn the Bottle 4/5

I snapped a picture of my 150 ml sample bottle on my back deck, and you can see that picture to the left. The label is attractive featuring the 1987 New Zealand All Blacks who won the first Rugby World Cup in 1987. I do, however, have some quibbles with the bottle presentation beginning with the corkage. This is the third 150 ml sample from the New Zealand Whisky Collection which I have received, and all of them have had corks which were too small to seal the bottles properly. Simply put, these corks simply slide off the bottles once the black foil which covers them is removed. Once you open your bottle you are pretty much forced to consume the contents within a few days or find another cork. A second quibble I have is the 40 % ABV strength of the 150 ml configuration. This is supposed to be a smaller version of the 1987 cask strength whisky, however, with an alcohol content well below that of the larger 750 ml bottling, the usefulness of this sample in determining whether you might like the larger bottle is rather limited. Frankly it is a different whisky entirely at the lower strength, and I shall treat it that way in my review.

In the Glass 9.5/10

Once poured into my glencairn glass the whisky displays itself as a light straw coloured liquid which belies the 24 years of oak cask aging. Very little colour has been imparted while the whisky has sat in storage. Despite the pale appearance, the aroma is very nice. Almond scents rise into the breezes above the glass followed by a mild butterscotch impression and playful wood spices. As the whisky breathes, the air above the glass begins to remind me of the smells I would encounter in the early spring when I was a young farm boy growing up in central Alberta. The scents of sweet lowland grasses and willow trees pushing out their first buds beside a muddy creek are easily recognized. I also notice accents of fresh honey and a mild impression of vanilla.

In fact, this reminds me very much of the previously reviewed South Island 18 Year Old Single Malt (also part of the New Zealand Whisky Collection), however the aroma of the 1987 Single Malt seems more refined and balanced. As the glass sits even longer, the wood spices gain a little strength; but everything remains in balance. The complexity of the nose is subtle and implies an excellent whisky.

In the Mouth 55/60

The first swallow was wonderful. A lightly bitter flavour of wood spices is perfectly melded into a lightly sweet butterscotch. I taste a light but firm herbal character running through the whisky with indications of heather, sawgrass, timothy, and willow. The whisky also carries a sweet maltiness which is persistent throughout the taste experience, and a mild fruitiness which reminds me of lightly tart green apples and ripening pears.

The whisky is bitter-sweet and moderately spicy; but the combination works. I am quite willing to take a few more sips from my glass. If you allow the whisky to sit, the flavours intensify; but the spirit remains very easy to enjoy. I notice dabbles of almond and a light winding of vanilla have joined in, and I find myself in a zone of contentment with the evening and the whisky.

In the Throat 13.5/15

Whenever I use the term “bitter” in my tasting notes, I feel as though I am easily misunderstood. This whisky ends on a lightly bitter note with flavours of sawgrass and willow having the last word. However, that light bitterness is actually welcome as it was preceded by equally welcome lightly sweet flavours of butterscotch and vanilla. The bitterness provides counter-balance, and provides a place for some wonderful wood spices to reside which serves to further complement the ending.

The Afterburn 9/10

I lament that my sample was bottled at only 40 % alcohol by volume. At 40 % this is a fine whisky full of subtle nuances and elegantly balanced. I wonder how much more the whisky has to offer at cask strength.  Hopefully it will eventually make its way into the Alberta market such that I can find out.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

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