Respecting and learning from tradition is key to the new world of whisky, allowing new distilleries to understand the technical knowhow and adapt proven techniques in whisky making and marketing to develop strong new brands within the industry. This month we are travelling over 11,000 miles to find a family owned distillery, nestled in the stunning Southern Alps of New Zealand, focused on grain to glass production of a modern icon.
Following a dream
It was over 10-years ago, when Desiree Reid-Whittaker decided to pursue her dream of making a New Zealand single malt whisky that could compete on the international stage. She then became a student of whisky distillation and spent two and half years travelling the world and educating herself in the art of whisky making, working with some of the whisky industries greats and spending much time in Scotland and America. Her time spent on researching, studying and planning, meant that in 2013, when she found the perfect location, she had the technical know-how to build The Cardrona Distillery. The first spirit flowed in October 2015 and on 5th November that year the first cask was laid, a major step on Desiree’s journey to fulfilling her dream.
Heading from Queens Town to Wanaka on the South Island of New Zealand, you will drive along a steep and mountainous route that is the Crown Range Road. After about 45km, at 1600 metres above sea level, you will arrive at the small hamlet of Cardrona, set in the Cardrona Valley. Picturesque, 360 degree views of the ultimate mountain playground, along with an abundance of natural resources that are required for the whisky making process, including Cardona Valley alpine water, we can quickly understand why Desiree chose this place to build her distillery.
The Sustainable Distillery
When you build your own distillery, you can ensure to tread carefully on the landscape, blending in rather than standing out, and you can address key issues for now and the future. That’s exactly what Desiree did, calling on Sarah Scott (a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Architecture) to ensure they could preserve and better the environment for future generations. The distillery itself is thermally insulated with natural earth-wool insulation, heat from the distillery is recycled to warm the visitors centre, spent grain is used to feed farm animals in the surrounding area, and the water is only ever borrowed; heated and used as efficiently as possible throughout the distillery, before being naturally cooled and returned.
Grain To Glass
Cardrona have a deep connection and absolute respect for the land and the raw materials they use. Apart from the Barley they grow up on the Canterbury plains, the entire process from milling, fermentation, distillation, maturation and bottling is all done at the Distillery. They have sourced the very best equipment from the four corners of the earth as part of a meticulously planned out process, cutting no corners, to ensure they are creating genuine artisanal premium spirits of the highest quality.
Alvin’s Well - Named after her father who built the well, this gives access to the abundance of sweet alpine water from Mount Cardrona, which is the first key ingredient.
Canterbury Plains - Just 400km up the road, Cardrona grows its barley on the rich Canterbury Plains, where it is also malted to their exacting standards, before being shipped to the distillery, where it is milled on site.
Distillers Yeast - Once added, the fermentation process begins, but the distillery and the landscape has already stamped its mark on the spirit before a long 70 hour distillation allows for further development of the spirits character.
5 Pot Stills - The Cardrona Still house is home to 5 stills; Roaring Meg and Gentle Annie are Forsyth copper pot stills, JC1 is a continuous column still and JC2 is a finishing still, and then there is Pretty Betty the copper gin still.
The Heart of the spirit, which has already taken on character from the surrounding landscape and is further developed during the long fermentation, is finally laid to rest in seasoned oak casks that have been meticulously sourced from the best producers in the world: Ex-Bourbon Barrels from Kentucky, ex-Oloroso sherry butts from Jerez, Southern Spain, and ex-Pinot Noir barriques from central Otago, NZ. With the higher altitude and average temperatures ranging from -2 to +21 degrees centigrade, the fluid gets worked hard during its time in the wood, allowing for further development of this wonderful spirit.
The Whisky - The realisation of a dream with their first official whisky release at 3-years (Just Hatched) and a celebration of 5-years in oak (Growing Wings).
The Vodka - The Reid uses their single malt spirit and turns it in to the best vodka you will ever taste! Award winning, weighted and balanced.
The Gin - The Source range uses locally foraged botanicals and fruits that are then distilled in to their single malt spirit to create a multi-award winning range of gins that are full of flavour and character.
Rose Rabbit Liqueurs - A range of liqueurs that all have the single malt spirit at their very heart.
The Cardrona Just Hatched
“Just Hatched” relates to its coming of whisky age, marking the momentous occasion of reaching three years old. This special natural cask strength bottling, demonstrates the marriage of handpicked ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, which captures the underlying character of the distillery, with notes of flower honey, vanilla and spice. This is definitely one to explore... take your time!
The Cardrona Growing Wings Solera
As their malts are maturing they are guarded by the New Zealand Falcon, a symbol of their progression, and Growing Wings is a celebration of 5-years in oak. A sublime marriage of ex-bourbon barrels and Oloroso sherry butts, with flavours of pecan pie, treacle and vanilla bean clotted cream. A drop of water really lets you in to this one... Explore!
You can find more information about The Cardrona Distillery, their practices and their range of spirits by visiting www.cardronadistillery.co.uk