IT'S official: South Africa loves whisky. Once seen as a nation of brandy-swigging, beer-boeped wine-quaffers, this country is turning to whisky in a big way – it is now the fifth largest consumer of Scotch whisky in the world.
A representative of the only commercial whisky distillery in Africa, James Sedgwick Distillery, this week visited Nelson Mandela Bay to treat Weekend Post readers to a tasting of its award-winning Three Ships whiskies.
Sedgwick manager Andy Watts, master distiller at the helm of whisky-making in South Africa for 22 years, led the tasting at Herms Restaurant in Newton Park with fascinating facts.
"The whisky market has grown at a phenomenal rate in South Africa," he said. "Before 1994, the average whisky drinker was likely to be a white, male, middle-aged golfer or bowler. Post-1994, ... the demographic is now aged 18 and upwards, black, trendy – and they have an insatiable appetite for whisky. It [whisky] has now overtaken brandy in terms of consumption."
So much so that Three Ships is constantly battling to stay ahead of demand, as even the youngest whisky needs to mature in casks for three years before it can be bottled.
"Because of the three years, it's like looking into a crystal ball!" notes Watts.
"But there is no such thing as one whisky for all occasions. Whisky is subjective. There are so many choices – [for example], who you are with, what you are eating, the time of day, and more, all lends itself to different whiskies."
Watts's offering of four separate variations from the James Sedgwick Distillery on the banks of the Berg River proved this point. Weekend Post readers sampled:
ýThree Ships Select Whisky with ginger ale as a cocktail teaser to the evening.
"Don't listen to people who say you must only drink whisky with ice or with a dash of water," advised Watts. Some lighter whiskies lent themselves to mixers, and this slightly sweeter entry level tipple fitted that bill.
ýThree Ships Bourbon Cask Finish, a blend which has just taken gold and best in class at this year's International Spirits Challenge held in London.
ýThree Ships five-year-old Premium Select, judged the world's best blended whisky at last year's World Whisky Awards.
ýThe limited-edition collector's Three Ships 10-year-old single malt, which received gold at this year's San Francisco Spirits Competition.
Guests enjoyed a range of canapés after the testing and several also won prizes in a lucky draw.
His favourite? Hard to say, but Watts admitted a fondness for the Islay single malt Scotch Bowmore, loving its peaty flavour so much that, when he returned to Wellington after one visit to the Scottish island, he decided to try to replicate its taste here.
The result was the award-winning five-year-old Premium Select offered by Three Ships: "When I close my eyes, this takes me back to Islay."
He is proud of the accolades won by Three Ships, as they were given in blind tasting by fundis.