When Cyril Yates raises a glass this week to celebrate 50 years since he turned up for his first day’s work at Wilson’s Distillery, it will be with a very special tipple.

The New Zealand Whisky Collection has launched a new release, Cyril’s Solera Cask 50th-anniversary whisky, to mark the milestone.

The drop would be an enduring legacy given the cask would never be emptied below half-full and would be continually topped up, head distiller and Mr Yates’ colleague Michael Byars said.

That ensured the influence of its original liquids would feature in all future flavours.

“This old Wilson’s cask will have whisky from every vintage of whiskies ever distilled by Cyril that we still have in stock … Willowbank Single Malt 1987 through till 1993 and also Cyril’s matured whiskies from our new Dunedin distillery in Speight’s.”

Mr Yates joined Wilson’s Distillery in January 1974 as a 16-year-old and the most junior staff member. He started out painting barrel ends and was later trained as a distiller.

He worked at the Dunedin distillery for the next 22 years until the operation closed in 1997, leaving him out of a job.

Hundreds of barrels of cask-strength whisky were auctioned off or mothballed.

The Preston family, of Tauranga, saved the last 700 barrels and relocated them to Oamaru and a consortium of investors from San Francisco, Sydney and Tasmania partnered with the family to rebrand and open up export markets.

A crowd-funding initiative attracted more than 300 new local shareholders and funded a new distillery three years ago at Speight’s Brewery.

Mr Yates, who saw an Otago Daily Times article a few years ago about the New Zealand Whisky Collection and offered to help, said he could not be happier “to be back distilling the world’s best barley from the world’s best brewers”.

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