Those who are partial to a fine whisky will know it is more than just a drink, and like a good book, is rather hard to put down. Though to attribute that solely to its beautifully complex and subtle flavour offerings is just the tip of the iceberg if you consider the depth and richness of its history, not to mention the passion and craftsmanship that goes into each and every bottle of this storied and most diverse of distilled spirit.
In terms of just the science of it, there is also a whole world of whisky geekdom to discover – the vast array of chemical compounds and interactions revolving around volatility, water solubility and temperature, and how that might dictate aroma and taste at any one time, to scratch just the surface. It is, after all, one of the most chemically complicated drinks in the world.
But what this immense wealth of heritage, knowledge and passion for a craft distills down to is, in the words of Scottish author Iain Banks who had this to say about his beloved spirit, “It’s not just about whisky, because drinking whisky is never about just drinking whisky; we’re social creatures and we tend to drink in a social context, with family, friends or just accomplices. Even if we resort to drinking alone, we drink with memories and ghosts.”
Storytelling and a dram – whether you are a seasoned whisky lover or an aspiring connoisseur – go hand-in-hand. From the stories of the true masters of their craft to those told between friends and fellow whisky drinkers, community and connection is at the heart of whisky’s rich heritage and that is what has always shone a unique relevance on the spirit.
This is something that is not lost on Michael Fraser Milne, who knows a thing or two about the “water of life” or Uisge Beatha as it was originally called in Scottish Gaelic. Hailing from Keith, a small town in the heart of Speyside and with family roots residing in trading grain and casks in Scotland, he seized a chance to fill a gap in the market upon moving to New Zealand over three decades ago, which led to the establishment of Whisky Galore.
Owned and operated by Michael and Stella Fraser Milne in the heart of Christchurch, and a testament to their unwavering ties to Scotland and its whiskies over the years, it is fair to say that Whisky Galore is completely and utterly dedicated to the amber liquid; more specifically, the selection, importation and distribution of an unrivalled range of only the very finest single malt and blended whiskies from Scotland and around the globe. And this labour of love, complete with annual trips to Scotland to source only the most premium Scotch whisky, has of course come hand-in-hand with garnering a rich community of whisky lovers both throughout New Zealand and abroad. For it is unwaveringly clear for Michael, Stella and the team at Whisky Galore that people are at the heart of the whisky industry. With every bottle on their shelves boasting a rich heritage and a unique story, their passionate team takes pride in sharing these stories as well as their honed knowledge and expertise with interested folk as an integral part of pairing them with their perfect dram.
When you visit Whisky Galore’s flagship shop at 834 Colombo Street, you are greeted with an impressive sight – walls of whisky. The exhaustive collection comprises a carefully curated and extraordinary range of whiskies not only from Scotland but from around the world drawing from over 100 distilleries, brands and independent bottlers. It is not surprising to learn this singular display of dedication to the spirit makes Whisky Galore New Zealand’s premier supplier of single malt whisky. It is also patently clear when you meet the Whisky Galore team, all of whom wield an impressive level of whisky knowledge and enthusiasm in equal shares, that you are on the brink of the ultimate consumer experience whether you are seasoned whisky lover or a potential new convert only just discovering the Water of Life.
To give you an inkling of the extent of the team’s calibre of knowledge and immersion in the world of whisky, Whisky Galore’s Rare Malts Manager Stephen Le Petit is a Keeper of the Quaich – one of only 2,000 worldwide, which is earned by nomination only in recognition of an outstanding contribution to the Scotch whisky industry for at least five years. Furthermore, owner Michael is a nominated Master of the Quaich – one of just 150 globally, which demands service in the industry for at least ten years as a Keeper.
It is an easy task immersing yourself in the inviting world of Whisky Galore. For starters, there is the opportunity to partake in monthly hosted tastings at their dedicated in-store events space, The Howff (Scots for a favourite meeting place or haunt, especially a pub). These vary from distillery-focused evenings, food pairings, vintage selections and world whiskies to name but a few enticing entry points into this complex and varied world.
However, if you fancy a more intimate evening of whisky-imbibing with friends, colleagues or family, there is also the offering of private tastings for a recommended minimum of 20 to 25 people, covering a range of tasting options from assorted introductory single malt whiskies to some older, rarer options, as well as tailored tasting experiences upon request to suit the preferences of the group.
For a more informal gathering of a smaller group of three to eight guests, Whisky Galore also offers in-store whisky flights, providing the opportunity to enjoy some of their more limited drams, which are not usually available to taste. These flights are ever-changing to keep things fresh, and range from the likes of three striking 20ml pours for the ‘informed drinker’ of 15- to 18-year-old Scotch, priced at around $50, to a couple of 30ml pours of contrasting drams of “sublime expressions from vintages of distinction” for $150.
Just some of the distinguished distilleries showcased at Whisky Galore include: Benromach Distillery of the Speyside region, now under the ownership of the Urquart family of Gordon & MacPhail fame – bottlers of some of the finest and rarest Single Malt Scotch whiskies in the world; Glengoyne from “Glen Guin” or “the valley of the Geese” who produce a fine soft, un-peated single malt; The Glenrothes distillery whose style is soft and smooth, expressing notes of caramel/toffee, spice, vanilla and a hint of citrus; Kilchoman Distillery, a relative newcomer hailing from the western edge of Scotland’s most famous whisky-producing island, Islay, whose peaty, smokey style balanced by sweetness and salty sea-air notes remains true to its Islay roots; and Tamdhu Distillery from the heart of Speyside, renowned for their full sherry cask-matured single malt goodness.
The great range of whiskies on offer are some of the best excuses you could ever hope to have for sharing in the wonderful, multi-sensory world of whisky, brimming with good stories, good memories and good friends, and revelling in how community is, and should always be, at the heart of it all.
If you’d like more information on the latest arrivals, whisky news and upcoming tastings and events, visit Whisky Galore’s website here.