View Full Version : South African Whiskey

11-03-2011, 07:41
As many of you know, I gave up my job as a micro-distillery manager so that I could move my family half way across the world to live among the snakes and mud huts of the Swaziland bush.

But donít feel sorry for me, we live quite comfortably (by local standards at least). We have all our needs met and have access to most luxuries. However, the one thing that is notably missing (at least for me) is access to good booze. The wine selection is okay. The beer selection is dismal (although there is a local milk stout that is affordable and decentÖ a way better cheap pour than Amberbock of the such). And, the spirit selection is filled with either overpriced ďBig Name BrandsĒ (Jack, Johnnie, etc.) or swill.

There are a decent number of whiskies that are labeled as ďSouth African.Ē Most of these are used in blends with Scotches so are reminiscent of the cheaper scotch blends you are probably used to in the states.

However, there are at least two South African labels that are producing SA distinct SA whiskey. The first is Bainís which produces Cape Mountain whiskey, and the second is Three Ships which has several iterations including one that is aged in bourbon barrels.

I havenít had the Bainís yet, but here are my notes on the two Three Ship bottles I have picked up:

The first I tried was the Three Ships 5 Year blended (Scotch + SA whisky). The store had the "Select" version for a few bucks cheaper, but it was so light in color, I did not want to even mess with it.

The 5 year was distinctly "Scotch" tasting. It is no Islay, but there is no mistaking the sharp earthy peat notes. Unfortunately it also carries with it the sweet under notes that I often associate with cheap scotch blends. The flavors come heavy at first, but fade very quickly into a thin finish (also like many cheap scotch blends). Compared to something like White Horse, I would say it is more "scotchy", less sweet, and more complex, but it still remains a cheaper blend. I am sure I will keep some on my shelf because it is very reasonably priced, it does serve to scratch my scotch itch, and it is African which is cool.

I let my palate rest for several hours before moving on to the bourbon cask finish. I wanted to make sure I gave it a fair tasting and, let's be honest, this is the one most of my bourbon friends are probably most interested in. In terms of color it was slightly darker than the 5 year and with a slight red color. If I just based it on color, I would guess it was a 7-8 year bourbon. The nose on this one quickly reveals its bourbon roots as I get the caramel, vanilla, oaky notes that I so love; there was also a distinct sweetness to it. The first sip was very impressive. It is full bodied and does a good job of blending a fulfilling sweetness with the "green" grain notes. For about $18 and made in South Africa, I was very impressed. But unfortunately as it faded to the finish, I began to get a bit disappointed. Don't get me wrong, this is a very "bourbon-esque" whiskey, but the bourbon it seems to emulate is not a particularly good one. Besides the initial sweetness, I got a lot of young bourbon notes. It reminded me a lot of Jim Beam White, or some of the younger / cheaper offerings from Heaven Hill. I would say this is perfectly fine as a whiskey, but is not excellent. I wouldn't buy it in the US except for the novelety of it. However, since I am not in the US, I would much rather spend my $18 on this, than spend $30+ on a bottle of Jim Beam White.

Overall, I was very pleased with both purchases. For the money, they were both fine whiskeys. And honestly, considering my circumstances, I would rather have some very decent cheap whiskeys than have access to top-shelf whiskey that I can't afford.

I will try and post more reviews as I am able.

11-03-2011, 10:13
Ralfy just reviewed Bains Cape Mountain whisky


Sunday, 23 October 2011

227 - Bains Cape Mountain Whisky

12-21-2011, 08:29
I finally got a chance to taste the Bain's Cape Mountain Whiskey from Cape Town, South Africa.

This whiskey pours rather light with a yellowish straw color. It looks thin in the glass.

The nose has a sharp alcohol note to it that is apparent immediately. Beyond that, there is a lot of syrupy sweetness. The smell reminds me of a good young bourbon that has had its sweetness cranked up.

When it comes to flavor, this one is a sleeper. At first taste, I found this whiskey to be completely lacking... as in I couldn't taste a thing. A flavor burst seems to come right when you swallow, but even the finish is short. It is much more "bourbon" than "scotch" in terms of flavor. Despite the sweet smells, the flavor is very well balanced. I do get a corn-type sweetness paired with a slight note of mulling spices. Although, if they are claiming this is a "single grain whiskey" then I am guessing it is barley because there is an unmistakable "green grass" note throughout. The alcohol note I found in the nose is minimized on the pallet.

I feared that the "double barreling" technique would provide some off-balance notes, but that is not the case at all. Overall, the flavors are melded very well, especially considering its source and production techniques

In terms of drinking experiance, this reminds me of something like AAA10 or Jack Daniels Single Barrel. It is plesant, but not nessecarily noteworthy. It makes for a great drink when you don't want to think about anything. That is to say, it is very enjoyable, but won't rock anyone's socks off.

Of the three South African whiskeys I have had, this is by far my favorite; it is the most neutral (in a good way). It cost me the equivelent of $25 in the States, and at that price, I will certainly be having it on my shelf again. It is a very good whiskey at a reasonable price, but, it is not something worth going out of your way for (unless it is for the novelty).

Now that I have had 3 of the "Best" SA whiskeys, I would say that overall I am impressed. Even though they were cheap, none of them were rot-gut. They all held their own and were enjoyable for what they were. None of them are game-changers, but in their price range I would put then in the top 50% (with the most recent being in the top 25%). That is certainly something of significance.

12-21-2011, 12:23
Very cool, Ben...I'm glad you enjoyed it!