Updated: Nov 18, 2021
New Zealand is not home to many whisky distilleries but that doesn’t mean it isn’t home to many whisky lovers. As human nature would have it, when there isn’t a whole lot of something, but there is nonetheless a whole lot of love for something – voila, some brave soul will step up to the plate and will it into existence.
Mathew Thomson brewing the mash. (Image Source: Thomson Whisky)
Might be alittle melodramatic, but it isn’t too far from the story of Thomson Whisky. Thomson Whisky Distillery calls Riverhead, some North West of Auckland, home. It was started in 2014 by a small team led by Mathew Thomson, their Master Distiller, and is self-described as having started “the same way you’d start a band”. They make it clear that they aren’t here to take over the world and hog the podium (which they somewhat have failed at, considering the numerous prizes they’ve garnered) – they’re just a bunch of enthusiasts who want to give New Zealanders a whisky to be proud of.
Mathew Thomson and his wife, Rachael, are the rockin' band that's keeping Thomson Whisky throwing out some power chords. (Image Source: Thomson Whisky)
Their initial foray came about from simply tinkering with a home still and eventually becoming Independent Bottlers, where they were able to pick up a bunch of Willowbank whisky, which is the last New Zealand whisky to mothball (we actually review one here). Through their enthusiasm, they eventually brought the Thomson Whisky brand to life.
Thomson Whisky started out as independent bottlers but now have their own operation, churning out some solid single malts. (Image Source: Thomson Whisky)
Now they’ve gotten their own distillery in operation, churning out some of their own single malts, apart from simply blending and independently bottling whiskies. They use a hand-beaten copper pot still that they run the whisky through twice and use 100% NZ grown malted barley. Suffice to say, they are proudly 100% NZ owned and operated, and they basically do everything by hand – the true mark of a worthy craft distillery!
New Zealand's picturesque South Island is where Thomson Whisky gets its barley from. It is then aged in Auckland which has a maritime climate that keeps temperatures cool and stable, year round. (Image Source: iStock)
One thing that I should also point out is that while the barley they’ve used comes from NZ’s South Island, the distillery itself in Auckland, experiences a unique “maritime” climate that keeps temperatures stable all year long which should allow their whiskies to develop quite gently over the years which should mean that in time these are whiskies that could be aged 20-30 years and develop some wonderfully harmonious flavors, unrushed.
Today, we’ll do a head to head taste test of their Manuka Wood Smoke Single Malt “Progress Report” and their Pinot Noir Cask Single Malt. Let’s go!
Thomson Manuka Wood Smoke Single Malt “Progress Report”, 46% ABV
“Progress Report” is the distillery’s way of updating fans on their uniquely NZ grown malted barley that has been smoked using Manuka wood that has been subsequently barreled for maturation. Which is to say, this is work in progress. The barley here is grown in the South Island and then kilned using NZ Manuka wood. It should be noted that NZ doesn’t typically (if at all) produce peaty whiskies, and most of what we’ve had have been wine-casked because of their access to some outstanding wine barrels.
Colour. Chrysanthemum tea yellow. Nice body from the looks of it too.
A light, honeyed Chrysanthemum tea is the color of the Thomson Manuka Wood Smoke whisky. (Image Source: Dumpling Connection)
On the nose now, very gentle wafts of aromatic smoke. There’s hardly a hint of alcohol singing your olfactory senses. Very clean, crisp nose, with sweet honeyed notes and some burnt charcoal. There’s also notes of mint leaves, lavender, freshly cut grass.
A handful of freshly plucked mint leaves pepper the aromatic nose. (Image Souce: Epicurious)
Just a very light touch of oak. It’s at once sweet and herbal, reminds of me of a Chinese dessert Guilingao or as it is directly translated into “tortoise jelly” for it was often mythicized to be made from tortoise shells ground into powder (they don’t do that anymore).
A honeyed herbaceousness, light and sweet on the nose. (Image Source: Hock Hua Tonic)
There’s also some sarsaparilla in here as well. Overall, a really gentle but aromatic nose, something you’d think about when you walk past a neighbour having a barbeque.
Wafts of barbecue smoke drifting from the neighbour's yard. (Image Source: CSIROscope)
On the palate, super approachable, you get lots of peppermint, some flakes of sea salt. It’s light to medium bodied but certainly doesn’t break apart, it’s held together well. It is pretty similar to what you’d get with Himalayan Salt Candy. Here I’ll even show you the exact flavor I’m getting.
Gentle touches of sea salt combined with the honey give me notes of Himalaya Salt Candy. (Image Source: Health Store SG)
The honey is much more subdued here but it is still sweet nonetheless. It is almost tea-like in how it drinks, much like how sugar dissolves into the tea and adds some sweetness but never overpowering. Well integrated, with a handful of flavors swirling around but all very light and gentle, in the way that you could see yourself day sipping this staring out the window, gazing upon the trees sashaying in the wind.
The finish is long and intensely flavored, with a good dash of kombu and umeshu. (Image Source: Tokyo Weekender)
The finish is fairly long, and this roars back up, it grows in its heat but still very manageable. I like that about it. I get some kombu here, as well as some prosciutto, this would go fantastic with a cheeseboard come to think of it. The finish gets to be quite drying and oaky in bitterness with some nuttiness. Almonds and even some umeshu.
Now let’s get to the Pinot Noir Cask Single Malt, shall we?
Thomson Pinot Noir Cask Single Malt, 48% ABV