Spotlight on: Cardrona

Back at the fabulous Cut Your Wolf Loose in Brighton, tonight is Cardrona night!

Situated in Wanaka, New Zealand, Cardrona Distillery fills just one barrel a day. Making vodka & gin too, very little of its new make becomes whisky, let alone made available for these distant shores.

The scarcity of Cardrona’s spirit means even the new make itself is prized. As a result, we start tonight’s tasting with their vodka as a [hopeful] representation of the distillery’s underlying spirit & a base guide for the whiskies to follow.

The distillery boasts two stills – one copper, one stainless steel – the vodka using the same mash, ferments etc., as their whisky production.

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[Cardrona] The Reid Single Malt Vodka [2022] Ob. 44% [750ml]

Alongside Desiree and Ash Whitaker, Alvin and Judy Reid are also owners. Duly named, The Reid is column-still barley spirit distilled to 97.3%. A [full] bottle comes in at around $100 Australian dollars.

  • N: Thick oily legs and a pongy [eggy Ben Nevis-y] nose towards bananas, bread pudding, milk bottles,…
  • T: Bedding in well at 44%, a fine reduction this has seen. Travels along fruity [peachy] acetone lines, cinnamon, banoffee pie,…
  • F: Consolidated bitter-coppery, fruit-sour.
  • C: Flavourful vodka certainly.

[Not scored]

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Cardrona founder & master distiller Desiree Whitaker hails from a dairy background. Desiree initially fell in love with whisky after a trip to Scotland and visits to some of its distilleries for her 21st birthday.

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After flirting with perfume [distillation also], Desiree settled on the idea of making whisky after an inspired meeting with Charles Pickerell, formerly head of Maker’s Mark. After selling her farming business, a pair of Yakult stills from an unwanted German order helped get this passion project off the ground.

Cardrona Just Hatched 03yo [2019] Ob. Sherry & Bourbon 64.4% [350ml] WB0

  • N: The [50/50] bourbon & sherry mix is clear. PX indeed, sweet yet not sickly. Somewhat typical of young contemporary whisky without falling into ginsky-like territory.
  • T&F: Overall, decent weight and texture with a considerable spiciness which grows and grows. It takes bucket-loads of water, however.
  • C: Tasting of its cask-led parts, this is decent work in progress.

Scores 81 points

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The original plan was for Cardrona’s first release to be a 10yo, but word got out – crucially, from Dave Broom, Becky Paskin, Charles Maclean,… who encouraged Desiree to bottle Cardrona’s maturing stocks as is.

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Dave Broom: ‘When I visited Cardrona in the far south of New Zealand last year it was the Sherry and wine casks which showed the greatest promise. This is a really well-made whisky and better than some Sherried drams four times its age’ [SW].

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Cardrona Growing Wings 05yo [2022] Ob. ‘Solera’ [124? bts] 64.9% [350ml] – Too fresh for Whiskybase right now [WB/WB?].

This is the same whisky as the ‘Just Hatched’, but with two more years on the clock and a bourbon/sherry cask split at 40/60. Whisky solera btw = a marrying vat, nothing like the more convoluted sherry solera system [link].

  • N: Sherry-forward, but I was far more sensitive to the bourbon cask influence at first – perhaps because I’m less acclimatised to US whiskey than my fellow whisky enthusiasts. Notes of orangey fruits, banana,…. cask-y/woody too.
  • T: Large [powerful] like its younger sibling, and sherry-forward. Needs water but then dilution simplifies things. Many commented on the textural, full-bodied mouthfeel.
  • F: On the finish, and with water, the spirit is finally identifiable.
  • C: More age = better [phew], with a swings & roundabouts situation at this stage. Billy Walker styley, it’s a cask cooking program.

Scores 80 points

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Cardrona’s mantra right now:

  • See these drams as a progress report, says Cardrona’s UK Brand Ambassador, Tom Sutton. These aren’t finished articles, he explains. On the other hand, the whisky has to be good. Cardrona, like so many upstarts, can’t fall back on any previous reputation. At Cardrona, there is a long game.

Currently, it’s a case of low supply and high demand. At £75 for a half bottle – for [3yo] Just Hatched, for example – you’d have to really want to support this growing concern. A distillery expansion, we are told, is most certainly on the cards!

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Cardrona 2016/2021 05yo Ob. ex-bourbon single cask #275 [btl #118/341 bts] 66.5% [350ml] WB86[1]

Aged in an old Forester ex-bourbon single cask, and currently priced around £130 – again for a half bottle!!

  • N: Tutti fruity sauce over bubblegum ice cream, so much ice cream, a little banana,… but we are a long way from the distillate.
  • T: Tasty bits of all-sorts, wood-driven,.. weighty, strong.
  • F: Somewhat congested/butyric but with an all-round appeal.
  • C: New Zealand bourbon no less! This singular release is the best of the bunch so far, though not my personal fav.

Scores 83 points

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Cardrona 2016/2021 05yo Ob. Mt. Difficulty ex-Pinot Noir cask #301 [btl #285/561] 67.4% [350ml] WB88[1]

  • N: Lactose pongy metallic sour lemon juice, slightly butyric, sour cream, wood spice – reminiscent of some early [STR] M&H/Cotswolds releases from distant memory.
  • T: Off-sweet, off-sour, sponge cake, Cola Bottles,…
  • F: Authentic Indian [cinnamon-y] chai,.. the spirit finding a voice once again.
  • C: Now we’re talking! NZ = wine, so why not NZ whisky, fully maturated in wine casks? Makes sense to make NZ whisky as NZ-ey as possible, no? I know, I know. With ‘local’ character, this would make a fine aperitif.

Scores 84 points

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With thanks to all involved. Further reading:

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More? There’s always more!

Tamdhu 2008/2022 14yo CYWL hogshead cask #2331 [190 bts] 60.8% WB0

  • C: Nice this, to nose and taste. Old Macallan [or indeed, the recent maiden release of Glenturret 12 – WLP85] it ain’t, but modern Tamdhu it is and faithful to its predecessors. A very decent and likeable integrity bottling, the third from Cut Your Wolf Loose.

Scores 86/87 points

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