Review: Pokeno New Zealand Single Malt – Origin, Discovery, and Double Bourbon Cask

Whisky from New Zealand is such a rarity that we don’t have a category for it — yet, anyway. Pokeno was founded here only in 2017, with the specific vision of putting New Zealand on the map as a producer of single malt whisky. It is already the largest single malt distillery in the country, and it handles all processing of its products on site, including maturation and bottling — and even barrel work, as it has a full cooperage on site.

Pokeno has three whiskies in its standard range — two of which are available in the U.S. now — and a variety of increasingly interesting single cask releases. Today we’re looking at both of those standard releases and one single cask, all available now thanks to importer ImpEx.

Pokeno Origin New Zealand Single Malt Whisky – Matured in first-fill bourbon barrels. No age statements. A refreshing single malt, it could easily pass for a bourbon barrel-aged Scotch. Light, buttery grains and a pinch of citrus are evident on the fresh nose, and the same follow through on the palate. Almost coming across like a shortbread cookie, the creamy whisky showcases a slightly nutty character that evokes nougat, almond butter, coconut, and again some lemon extract, filtering into the finish. Bright as sunshine, it’s a perfect (if uncomplicated) aperitif. 86 proof.

Pokeno Discovery New Zealand Single Malt Whisky – A blend of whiskies fully matured in first-fill bourbon, oloroso sherry, and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks, all mingled after aging (no age stated). The flipside of the bourbon-barreled expression, with the impact of sherry firmly evident. The blend of oloroso and PX — alongside the bourbon barrels — makes for some added complexity, albeit less clarity. The sherry isn’t as sharp on the nose or the palate as you might expect — particularly with PX in the mix — leading to both aromatics and flavors of Eastern spices, fresh leather, and a pecan note. The finish is surprisingly mild, acknowledging the sherry influence only modestly. Mostly, it’s the citrus that’s endemic to sherry aging that is more muted here than I expected, though that’s not altogether a bad thing. Still, I was expecting to see more power out of this bottling. I sipped on the Origin expression for quite a bit longer. 86 proof.

Pokeno Double Bourbon Single Cask Single Malt Whisky Cask #21-415 – Aged in a first-fill bourbon barrel, then re-racked into a fresh bourbon barrel for another 6 months. It’s clearly a bit darker in color, and more aggressive on the nose (though note the higher abv). To get here, take the classic flavors of Origin and pump them up. Shortbread cookie becomes chocolate chip. A twist of lemon becomes a finger of Buddha’s hand. Light coconut notes become Girl Scout Samoas. There’s a bigger, oily body here to back all that up, too, again powered by some extra alcohol and a finish that sees a surprising degree of baking spice folded into the mix — almost floral at times. I don’t know that I like this “better” than Origin, but it’s certainly got a much bolder, more intriguing intensity. 92 proof. 

All 700ml bottles.

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