Simon Wittenberg gets into the spirit by participating in an exclusive virtual tasting hosted by the Cardrona Distillery’s Head Distiller Sarah Elsom.
The small Cardrona Distillery sits on New Zealand’s South Island in the snow-capped mountains between Wanaka and Queenstown, where they can take advantage of clean alpine air and readily available ingredients straight from the land.
Surprisingly, the business was founded seven years ago by the current CEO and former farmer and law graduate Desiree Reid. It offers today’s drinkers a line-up of luxurious spirits, with the UK being their first export market.
A core ingredient of Cardrona’s product range is barley, so everything comes from the same base alcohol, and the mashing-in process is exactly the same across the board.
The exclusive tasting kicked off with the award-winning Reid Single Malt Vodka (44% ABV), an elegant clear teardrop-shaped bottle sporting the maiden name of the Cardrona’s Distillery’s founder (for her first-ever product) and her young daughter.
Not necessarily being a fan of this kind of beverage, it wasn’t intrusive when neat and would serve as a good mixer that won’t dominate any soft drink addition.
There’s a hint of pear drops and banana with a nice element of sweetness. Available for £55, it’s a top seller for Cardrona in the UK market alongside their whisky, as opposed to New Zealand, where its whisky and gin are leading the charge in terms of sales.
Being a whisky fan, in particular, I was keen to try the Just Hatched Solera Single Malt, a young three-year-old that stems from a combination of ex-Kentucky bourbon and sherry barrels. Priced at around £75, it’s a cask strength whisky with fruity and spicy notes. Considering it has a relatively high ABV of 64.4%, it is surprisingly subtle when not added with water, meaning you don’t get that strong burning sensation as it winds its way through your palate.
In fact, with a little water, there’s a buttery touch. Once this whisky is sold out (there’s a half-sized bottle only), it’s gone forever, so it’s a “must-try” for any Cardrona and whisky fan, especially since there are limited quantities available in the UK.
Next in line to try was the non-chill filtered Source Gin (the name comes from Desiree’s husband’s suggestion of “getting on the sauce”), which uses only six botanicals. It’s a natural mix of locally picked rosehip from the valley (Chinese gold miners planted it around 160 years ago), together with traditional juniper, coriander seed (for an added citrus flavour), angelica root (it offers a savoury and sweet note), fresh lemon peel and orange zest.
According to our host Sarah, this gin, costing circa £50 a bottle, has a 47% ABV, is vapour-distilled, and works well with a slice of grapefruit.
Moving on to something sweeter, and actually, my favourite of the five spirits I tasted during the session was the Rose Rabbit Orange Liqueur (47.1% ABV), Cardrona’s signature liqueur.
Named after the roses planted by the distillery and the presence of bunnies in the valley, it is handmade with New Zealand orange peel macerated in rich Cardrona’s un-aged Single Malt spirit, and the result is a tipple that’s full of flavour without being overly strong and too sweet. The ingredients, which are all about infusing real fruit, had the right balance to deliver a pleasant tipple.
Last on the list for the tasting was the Rose Rabbit Elderflower Liqueur (41.7% ABV), which was more of an acquired taste, and is made from Wild Central Otago Elderflower hand-picked by the Cardrona team. It has then been married with the distillery’s rich Single Malt Spirit and lemon.
The Cardona Distillery is a discovery brand with a short history, but from what I sampled, it is testimony to the dedication of the team and deserves its place in the spirits market.
Thanks to covering several bases with its product portfolio, the line-up offers something different and something for everyone.
The Cardrona Distillery – Where and How?
For more information on the Cardrona Distillery and the different spirits available, visit www.cardronadistillery.co.nz.
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