Beating the dram: ‘New World’ NZ whiskey brand Pokeno banks on flavour innovation to boost appeal with younger consumers overseas

By Si Ying Thian

- Last updated on GMT

Pokeno recently launched its new Totora cask single malt whiskey in nine international markets © Pokeno Whiskey
Pokeno recently launched its new Totora cask single malt whiskey in nine international markets © Pokeno Whiskey

Related tags whiskey Whisky Alcohol Alcoholic beverage single malt

New Zealand’s Pokeno Whiskey believes that rising demand from younger consumers seeking new and unique flavours in their whiskey will help to drive its latest offering in markets such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

It recently launched what it believes is the world-first single malt whiskey matured in Totara barrels, with a limited release of 1,800 bottles in nine international markets, including China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. 

Old world whiskey vs. new world whiskey

Its founder Matt Johns said that modern consumers, particularly the younger generation, are increasingly seeking out craft whiskey producers for innovative flavours and 'products that have provenance and a real story behind them'.

He cited the likes of Kavalan from Taiwan and Amrut from India that are gaining popularity among consumers.

It is more challenging for old world, traditional distilleries to innovate due to the large volumes produced and the relative longer time spent to age the whiskeys, he added.

He also explained that the maturing rate for whiskeys produced in sub-tropical countries like New Zealand, Taiwan, and India is five times faster than that of colder climates in Scotland and Ireland.

We kept the product in a virgin, Totara cask for six months, and it soaked up very smooth and powerful flavours after a short time. Leaving it in for much longer than for ten or twelve years [as with mature whiskeys] is not possible as it’ll evaporate,” ​he added about the product.

The product is described to have 'notes of creamy coconut, sweet, scented sap, ripe white peach, sweet scented sap, ripe white peach and freshly cut wood on the nose and bitter lemon, stone fruit, and hints of dark chocolate in the mouth'.

Johns described the taste of the Totara cask finish whiskey as having “notes of white peach sweet resin, some rich, creamy coconut that is different from what [it’d] find in an oak cask.”

Whiskey innovation

Single malt whiskey innovation boils down to its three ingredients – water, yeast, and malted barley – and the fermentation distillation technique.

“We’re limited but we can innovate using different types or strains, and different roastings of barley with chocolate, toffee, manuka malts, and things like these. We can use different yeasts and fermentation times for the distillation technique. And different barrels as well.

“As craft distillers, there’s a lot of things we can do that bigger distillers are kind of stuck in the way they do things. All that helps us to innovate around the product.”

For example, Pokeno conducted several trials with ageing spirits with different wood chips to find out how well they would adapt. Then, it started building the barrels out of air-dried wood for at least two years once the types of wood have been decided.

Aside from Totara wood, there are two other native wood types it is commencing its whiskey production in.

About the brand

Founded in September 2022, Pokeno Whiskey is a single malt whiskey producer that uses native ingredients from New Zealand, with a particular focus on wood.

Launched online via its website and physical retail via local distributorships, Pokeno plans to launch into a new international market every month.

The Totara cask finish whiskey is available in a 700ml bottle with an alcohol level of 46%, and is part of its secondary range.

Johns said that its products would continue to focus on native wood in New Zealand.

“The idea with us is that we’ll have the core range of products that is representing 70 to 80% of our sales, and then and then we have our innovative creative single malts.”

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