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Issue 32 - Aotearoa excellence

Whisky Magazine Issue 32
July 2003


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Aotearoa excellence

Singer and whisky lover Robin Laing was fascinated to discover that New Zealand has a long whisky-making tradition when he toured there recently. Here he tells its story

Afew months ago I was touring New Zealand and found myself becoming captivated by the story of New Zealand whisky – ‘New Zealand what?' Aye, that's right – Kiwi cratur!

But The South Island is probably the nearest you can get to the climate and landscape of Scotland in the southern hemisphere, and a significant part of the immigrant community is Scots.

It is a natural place therefore for whisky to appear, and the country's first distillery, The New Zealand Distillery, opened in Dunedin in 1869. The Crown Distillery was built in Auckland in 1870.

Prior to this, various ardent spirits had been quietly made and not so quietly consumed, either locally, or more likely sold to the crews of visiting whalers.

One concoction, known as McShane's Chained Lightning and distilled from the root of the cabbage tree, was held responsible for the loss of at least one ship.

The government had various reasons for allowing distilleries to be established. Local grain needed a steady home market. It seemed wrong that grain was being exported to Australia, turned into liquor and sold back to New Zealand.

The population had swelled during the Otago gold rush, but the fever days were over, and it was time to look at establishing a whole range of industries.

The government granted the licences and set the duty on locally produced whisky at less then half the rate of imported spirit.

Investment in the plants and buildings at Dunedin and Auckland was considerable, and one of the MacGregors...

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