Johannesburg - It might be the most expensive whisky ever brought into South Africa.
Only three bottles of the Balvenie Fifty were imported out of a total of 88 released to the world last month – and an anonymous Joburg buyer has already paid R230 000 for one.
The money was banked a fortnight ago, and the owner will receive the bottle next week.
That left two.
One of the them was drunk on Tuesday – at a retail price of R8 000 a tot – by a small group of whisky aficionados and a representative from The Star at a special chef’s table tucked away in the back of the Sandton Sun’s kitchens.
The third bottle is going on tour to Durban, Cape Town and then Joburg as part of the annual Whisky Live Festival.
On Tuesday, speculation was rife as to who could have stumped up R230 000 in the middle of a recession for a single bottle of whisky.
“Someone obviously had the money to spare,” quipped Balvenie brand ambassador Jonathan Miles, who also runs the South African Whisky Academy.
“Maybe it was [expelled ANC Youth League president] Julius Malema. Perhaps it was a nightclub owner.”
If it was, the R8 000 a tot would become R40 000, he reckoned.
It’s not that far-fetched. Glenfiddich, Balvenie’s sister distillery, also has 50-year-old whiskies. There’s a whisky bar in Cape Town at the moment serving R18 000 tots, and it has already sold more than one bottle.
The man who inspired the whisky, legendary Scottish malt master David Stewart, was just relieved that it had turned out all right.
He started at Balvenie 50 years ago as a 17-year-old fresh from school.
He had an idea, he said, that he would keep a 1962 cask of the boutique single malt whisky back, just in case he actually made it to 50 years of unbroken service with Balvenie’s owners, William Grant & Sons.
Nobody exported single malt whisky from Scotland in those days; Glenfiddich would start the practice only in 1963. But Stewart kept an eye on his cask, after completing his 12-year apprenticeship as malt master.
Today, he is the longest-serving malt master in the world – and very happy that his little hobby paid off.
“We’re very lucky the whisky kept its taste and didn’t get overpowered by the oak of the casks,” he said by videophone from Cannes, France, on Tuesday.
“It maintained its alcohol strength of 44.1 percent, which doesn’t often happen as the whiskies age. Sometimes, they become sulphurous and oakey and have to be bottled immediately before their condition deteriorates completely.”
If you do put in a bid for a bottle, expect to get it in a specially handcrafted bottle in a special wooden display case made up of rings of timber from indigenous Scottish trees, topped with brass rings like the cooperage on the original cask.
So what does the most expensive whisky in the country taste like – if you were thinking of putting a bid in for the bottle?
“It’s smooth, with a taste of orange, a bit of cherry and a hint of tobacco,” says acclaimed gourmand Neil Pendock.
And for the less-educated palates?
Lekker actually. Very smooth.
Met eish, ja!
* The annual Whisky Live Festival will be in Joburg from November 7-9 at the Sandton Convention Centre. To find out more, go to www.whiskylivefestival.co.za