At the beginning of this year, we told you all about five whisky distilleries that we were excited to see more from in 2023. In that blog, we had this to say about a certain New Zealand-based producer:

“The New Zealand whisky category is slowly but surely gaining a foothold thanks to the likes of Cardrona, but a new plan from Scapegrace Distilling Company is about to take things up a notch. The award-winning producer has announced the arrival of a new £13m, 36-hectare distillery, the largest in New Zealand, which will make vodka, gin, and single malt whisky. The first phase opened in August 2022 and the whole project will be finished in October of this year, but we already have whisky to enjoy which Henry reviewed recently. Early signs are very promising and we’re looking forward to seeing what’s to come”. 

Well, what’s come is more whisky, three additions to its introductory range as well as a world exclusive to Master of Malt: Scapegrace Ephemeral (cask RP9) – New Zealand Pinot Noir Cask. Our thoughts on the recent releases are below, but first, a little bit of the story behind the brand. 

Scapegrace Distilling Company

The Scapegrace Distilling Company has a hell of a home…

The Scapegrace story

Scapegrace was founded by two brothers-in-law, Daniel McLaughlin and Mark Neal, in 2014 in the Southern Alps region of New Zealand. Using a whisky still from the 19th century stumbled upon in an old shed, the distillery made waves with its white spirits releases but was quietly putting down whisky over the past six years and this year unveiled Scapegrace’s single malt for the first time with a range of small batch, limited-edition expressions launched at the beginning of the year. Three more have followed, with a more permanent product expected in 2024. 

Nestled in a pretty stunning natural landscape (you can see why they filmed Lord of the Rings in New Zealand when you look at the pictures), Scapegrace whisky is made at a 36-hectare site that’s 80 meters above Lake Dunstan and Mount Pisa from the spectacular Pisa mountain range in Central Otago. It is precisely located on the 45th parallel, which marks the midpoint between the equator and the South Pole, an interesting spot that experiences extreme temperature fluctuations annually. This provides Scapegrace with a unique maturation climate and also gives the brand access to water from the Clutha River, which is fed by glacial runoffs from the Southern Alps. 

Where it’s made makes Scapegrace immediately intriguing, because who can say they’ve tasted whisky that has been subject to such conditions? It’s also feeding into a wider demand for New World single malt whisky, meaning spirit not produced in classic whisky countries like Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the USA, or Japan. At the forefront of an exciting New Zealand movement, Scapegrace is able to present a new geographical footprint in its whisky and, from its early releases, has demonstrated it’s not afraid to get geeky with its variations in barley varieties and cask types.

Scapegrace Distillery

New Zealand single malt maturing at Scapegrace Distillery

New Scapegrace whisky

You can see what we’re talking about in the new arrivals. Before we get to the star of the show, our own exclusive whisky, there’s Dimension, Fortuna, and Fortitude to get stuck into. 

Scapegrace Dimension Whisky

Dimension is a single malt made with manuka smoked malted barley that was matured in 200-litre virgin French oak casks for a minimum of three years before being bottled up at 46% ABV, with no chill-filtration, and without additional colouring.

Nose: Poached pears, cut grass, cinnamon, oak char, and spiced nuts.

Palate: Biscuity malt, smoked spices, orchard fruit, and honey.

Finish: Nutmeg and walnut.

Scapegrace Fortuna Whisky

Fortuna is a single malt crafted from New Zealand Laureate barley and matured in virgin French oak casks for at least three years. It was bottled at 46% ABV with no additional colouring or chill-filtration.

Nose: Digestive biscuit, orchard fruit, vanilla, roasted nuts, and oak spice.

Palate: Green apple skin, tinned peaches, caramel, and nutty malt.

Finish: Oaky and spicy.

Scapegrace Fortitude Whisky

Another New Zealand single malt made with manuka-smoked laureate barley, this time aged for three years in 100-litre virgin French oak casks. 

Nose: Oak char, earthy vanilla, cranberry, smoked almonds, and liquorice.

Palate: Honeyed pears, allspice, toasted oak, marzipan, and dried fruit.

Finish: Rich and well-spiced.

Scapegrace Ephemeral (cask RP9) - New Zealand Pinot Noir Cask 

Scapegrace Ephemeral (cask RP9) – New Zealand Pinot Noir Cask

Scapegrace Ephemeral lands at MoM Towers 

Now to the main event: Scapegrace Ephemeral (cask RP9) – New Zealand Pinot Noir Cask. There are just 228 bottles of this available at £99.95 and it’s one of only two pinot noir cask whiskies released by Scapegrace this year, in the world, and the only one outside New Zealand.

It was made from New Zealand laureate barley and aged in a 200-litre virgin French oak cask for at least five years before it was finished in a single cask that previously contained New Zealand pinot noir. The Central Otago region is among the most notable Pinot Noir-producing regions and the wines are known for being elegant and structured with a bright acidity and notes of red fruit, fresh herbs, and some floral elements. The single malt whisky before us was then bottled at a cask strength of 57% ABV and is presented with its natural colour and without chill-filtration. 

So, what do we think? It’s fascinating stuff. Give it a bit of time to breathe in the glass, that bottling strength and the intensity of the cask type make it a little over-exuberant at first, but with patience you’re rewarded with a dram that just keeps moving and developing. You could spend a good while in that nose. Here’s a full tasting note:

Nose: Blackcurrant compote, tinned peaches, figs, honey-roasted peanuts, oak tannins, some stony minerality, BBQ rub, pickled walnuts, watermelon, and Black Forest gâteau.

Palate: A full-bodied, slightly waxy texture. Waves of spice, oaky and peppery, burst out of the gate followed by dark chocolate (the posh kind), fruitcake, red wine, Manuka honey, oak char, and walnut. 

Finish: Stewed plum, toasted brown sugar, a little red chilli earthiness, and cherry. 

Scapegrace Ephemeral (cask RP9) – New Zealand Pinot Noir Cask is now available from Master of Malt, click the link to purchase.