It’s always a big moment when an exciting up-and-coming distillery releases a whisky with some proper age on it. In this case it’s New Zealand’s Cardrona Distillery with two single cask Full Flight releases. We had a little taste to see what all the fuss was about.

We’ve been following the fortunes of Cardrona Distillery in New Zealand for quite some time now. We loved the younger whiskies that the distillery released. First the three-year-old ‘Just Hatched’ and then a series dubbed ‘Growing Wings’ which were bottled at around five years old. They promised much for the future. And now the future just arrived in the form of a couple of ‘Full Flight’ releases. These are seven-year-old releases which show how Cardrona has taken off as a distillery. Sorry. But before we dive in, here’s a quick recap of the Cardrona story.

Desiree Whitaker founder of Cardrona Distillery

Desiree Whitaker founder of Cardrona Distillery!

The Cardrona story

The distillery’s founder Desiree Whitaker got the whisky bug travelling around Scotland and she visited Edradour. Not an unusual story, but from there she visited more than 50 distilleries around the world before she decided that she wanted to make her own. Three in particular inspired her: Woodford Reserve, Glenlivet, and Glenfarclas, so she was aiming high right from the beginning. In 2013, she took the plunge, sold her farm, and began work on the distillery that would become Cardrona on the South Island of New Zealand.

The beautiful distillery building was designed by local architect Sarah Scott while all the kit came from Forsyths in Scotland. There’s a single pair of copper pot stills, a 2,000-litre wash still and a 1,3000-litre spirit still, which are the same shape as those at Glenfarclas. The idea was to get more copper interaction. Each also has a boil ball in the neck to increase reflux as well as relatively short necks to increase the oiliness of the texture, providing balance. 

Early batches of the malted barley came from Scotland but now they use 100% New Zealand barley. Fermentation takes place in six 10,000-litre stainless steel washbacks and lasts for 70 hours, using the pinnacle yeast variety. The distillation team also encourages natural strains of wild yeast and lactobacillus. Stainless steel washbacks are very clean, an advantage in a lot of ways, but there’s really nowhere for lactobacillus to thrive like it can in the nooks and crannies you get in wooden washbacks. So the distillers will inoculate each new batch of wash with a few litres of wash from a mature batch, which encourages lactobacillus which, in turn, helps create that rich, creamy profile. 

Cardrona Distillery

Cardona Distillery. Pretty gorgeous, isn’t it?

The local climate

Maturation takes place in a mixture of bourbon and sherry casks in what Whitaker describes as an extreme environment that sits at 600m above sea level. “We have a dry climate with just 600ml of rainfall per year and, unless it is raining, humidity is very low. Temperature can peak at 40°C in summer, and hit a low of negative 10°C in winter,” she says. “All of these elements combine together to impact the spirit as it matures. The high altitude means that the angel’s share will evaporate at a slightly lower temperature, while the low humidity encourages a higher water to alcohol component in the angel’s share, compared to Scotland. The dramatic temperature swings mean the natural seasonal ebb and flow of interaction with wood inside the cask is elevated.”

Right, that’s Cardrona, if you want to know more it’s worth reading this longer article on the distillery. Let’s try the new releases!

Cardrona Distillery Full Flights whisky

Tasting notes for The Cardrona Full Flight – Bourbon Cask (cask 124)

This was distilled in 2016, and aged in a single bourbon cask before bottling at cask strength in 2023. Just 401 350ml bottles are available. It’s a deliciously full whisky, one that you just want to swill around your mouth and revel in the creamy texture. There’s lovely balance and it’s beginning to take on some serious complexity. 

Nose: Vanilla, toffee, baking spices plus pasty.

Palate: Peppery and spicy with sweet caramel and toffee notes with some fresh apple notes.

Finish: Lots spiced custard notes. 

Tasting notes for The Cardrona Full Flight – Sherry Cask (cask 114)

This single malt was distilled in 2016. Ageing took place in a Gonzalez Byass oloroso sherry cask before transferring to a Pedro Ximénez  butt to finish its maturation. A total of 1,131 350ml cask strength bottles were released in 2023. This is a big meaty whisky with lots of sherry cask character, but it never overwhelms the whisky and the trademark Cardrona creaminess remains intact. I’d love to try this with just a little more age on, I think that tropical fruit character will explode. 

Nose: Sweet smelling with oranges and peaches, touch of toffee and dark chocolate.

Palate: Smooth and nutty on the palate, walnuts mainly, and just beginning to take on some tropical fruit. 

Finish: A lick of honey on the finish and even a little pineapple.

Overall these are extremely good whiskies, as they should be for the price, offering something distinctively different from their Scotch whisky heritage. The next batch of even older releases should be truly sensational. 

The Cardrona Full Flight – Sherry Cask and The Cardrona Full Flight – Bourbon Cask (cask 124) are now available from Master of Malt. Click on links for prices and to buy.