Cape Town - Whether you are a novice or an aficionado, the FNB Whisky Live Showroom at the Cape Sun Hotel this week is the place to be. Over three days, the experts and distillers will be there to show off their wares, share their knowledge and showcase brands from as far away as Taiwan and as close as Wellington.
This liquid gold is no longer the exclusive preserve of the Scots and Irish, and we should be proud that two of the top whiskies in the world are made right here in the Western Cape.
Which raises the first question: whisky or whiskey? James Sedgwick master distiller Andy Watts cleared up the matter.
“Whiskey with an ‘e’ is used by the US and Ireland. All other whiskies, including South Africa, can choose which version to use. We choose to not use the ‘e’. Using whiskey to refer to Scotch whisky could get you in trouble in Scotland,” says Watts, who grew up in Penistone, Yorkshire.
“I originally came to South Africa in 1982 as a young professional cricketer escaping the cold English winters. After two seasons I decided to make South Africa my home. As a part of my contract I was obliged to do part-time work for a sponsor, which was Stellenbosch Farmers Winery. I worked two summers with them before entering the spirits industry on a permanent basis in 1984.
“I was fortunate to be invited to Scotland on a technical-exchange programme with a company called Morrison Bowmore Distillers. I spent time working at their Glen Garioch and Auchentoshan distilleries, as well as time on the Isle of Islay at their legendary Bowmore distillery.”
In Scotland, Watts got to meet and work with some of the most influential whisky leaders at that time. “Their enthusiasm and love for making and enjoying whisky I brought back with me to South Africa.”
With this wealth of experience culminating with whiskies being recognised on the global stage, Watts answers some questions ahead of Whisky Live.
l What should we look for when determining an average whisky, a good whisky and a great whisky?
“There are a few basics, and it is a fact that we have far more sensory power in our nose than in our taste. A simple rule is if it gets past your nose then you should be prepared to taste it. But I can’t emphasise enough how subjective whisky is. It really is about what you like and experience in a particular whisky.”
l What are the different types of whisky, and how do we tell them apart when we are novices?
“There are three types of whisky, namely malt whisky, which is made from malted barley and distilled in copper pot stills, grain whisky, which is made from maize or wheat and is distilled in a column still, and blended whisky, which is a combination of malt and grain whisky. Although the romance of the whisky industry lies in malt whisky, the blended whiskies are by far the most popular.”
l How do I become a whisky connoisseur?
“Tasting, tasting and even more tasting. Have an open mind and try whiskies which you would probably not do normally. Keep a book for your tasting notes and after a while go back to those same whiskies and see if your new experience matches the old one. Join online forums and generally talk the same whisky language with others.”
l How should I be drinking my whisky? Are there right and wrong ways?
“Consuming whisky should be an education, and I think it is important to define the difference between tasting and drinking.
“When we taste whisky we advise people to add the same amount of water to the glass as the whisky.
“The water must not be too cold and definitely no ice. This allows the flavours of the whisky to be revealed.
“However, when we drink whisky we say that there is no right or wrong way. Adding a mixer to your favourite blended whisky with some ice is absolutely your choice.” - Weekend Argus
l FNB Whisky Live, Cape Sun Hotel, June 19 to 21, 6pm to 10pm. Tickets are R150 or R170 at the door. See www.whiskylivefestival. co.za for more information.