Pōkeno Whisky: Redefining Tradition with New Zealand’s Native Flavors
Pōkeno Whisky has successfully launched 1,800 bottles across nine key international markets, notably China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan.
Matt Johns, the founder of Pōkeno, shared with Food Navigator Asia the brand’s strategy to debut in a new international market each month. He draws inspiration from the rising popularity of Asian brands like Taiwan’s Kavalan and India’s Amrut.
Johns highlights the challenges of innovation for traditional, ‘old world’ distilleries, given their large volumes and extended ageing processes. He contrasts this with the rapid maturation rate in sub-tropical climates — almost five times quicker than in the cooler environments of Scotland and Ireland — attributing this to higher temperatures and humidity.
Pōkeno’s distinctive approach involves maturing whisky in virgin Totara casks for six months, achieving smooth, robust flavors quickly. Johns notes the impracticality of longer ageing periods like 10-12 years in such climates due to high evaporation rates.
Established in September 2022, Pōkeno Whisky is a single malt producer in New Zealand, utilizing indigenous ingredients, including native Totara wood.
Brass Lion Distillery, another innovator in the field, utilizes the sub-tropical climate of Singapore for whisky production. Collaborating with The General Brewing Co., they developed a wash specifically tailored to Singapore’s high humidity and equatorial temperature, selecting Maris Otter malt and thermotolerant yeast for fermentation.