Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The idiots guide to choosing a great whisky.

Scotch whisky is by far the dominant whisky in the world. Irish whisky is fast regaining its popularity. American whisky is mainly referred to as bourbon. Other countries also produce whisky, but these three countries dominate.

First and foremost, let’s clear up what is whisky or whiskey. Before it can be called whisk(e)y: It must be made only with natural raw materials, It must be distilled and matured in the country of origin e.g. Scotland, Ireland or America; It must be aged for a minimum of three years in oak casks in Scotland and Ireland and two years in America. The more premium the whisky the longer it is aged. Generally all whisky older than 10 years will show the age of the whisky on the label. Generally a low priced whisky will contain 3 year old whisky; a medium priced whisky will contain whisky from between 5 an 7 years. You get the drift – you generally get what you pay for. In whisky, unlike brandy – every drop in the bottle is as old as or older than the age stated on the label. Only 30% of standard brandy is at the age stated on the label.

There are two types of casks used in Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey; namely ex Bourbon barrels from the US or Sherry casks from Spain. The bourbon barrel produces a much lighter whiskey and contribute a vanilla flavour while the sherry cask produces a much darker whisk(e)y and contributes a toffee caramel flavour. So when you pour your whisky and look at the colour, you can already begin to suggest that if it is lighter it will have a vanilla nose and sound glam. If it is darker you can already suggest a nose of toffee caramel. American whiskey is aged in new oak barrels.

Why are some bottles clear and others green? When whisky is in a clear bottle the whisky producer will add neutral caramel to window dress the product for consistent look on shelf, when in a green bottle this is not needed.

What are the key things to note from a whisky label? First and foremost check the country of origin. Note that some whiskies are distilled and matured in the country of origin but bottled in South Africa. Then you want to know what you are paying for? The majority of whisky is blended Scotch whisky which means it is a blend of various single malt whiskies together with grain whisky. The more malt whisky in a bottle the more premium the whisky and the more expensive. The cheaper whiskies contain modest amounts of malt whisky. A Pure Malt whisky is a blend of single malt whiskies and a Single malt whisky is a single distillate from a single distillery. If you want to spoil yourself it must be a single malt whisky and if you want the best single malt Scotch whisky it has to be from Speyside in Scotland. Speyside contain more than half of the distilleries in Scotland for good reason.

Now for some dispelling of an old urban legend – the ‘A’ or ‘B’ number on the label. These are generally followed by a number e.g. 'B'372 or 'A'159. The 'A' stands for locally produced, the 'B' stands for imported and the number following is the dedicated number of the importer. You will find this number repeated on many product e.g. Chivas Regal will have the same number as Beefeater Gin and you will know then that this is from the same supplier and because it starts with a 'B' it is fully imported.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Whisky or Whiskey in a nutshell

by Mark Backhouse

written for Status Qua magazines next quarterly issue

Whisky has become a passion of mine. I did not mean for this to happen considering that I was a teetotaler into my early thirties. Alcohol tasted really bad, but I was determined to have a ‘drink’ I might enjoy occasionally. A great friend of mine suggested easing into whisky. He poured a single Jameson Irish Whiskey, added Ginger Ale, a slice of lemon and two cubes of ice. I had tried the same mix with a Scotch whisky previously but the triple distilled whiskey without the smoke just worked and I was hooked. This was my drink of choice for many years before I started to experiment with other possibilities.

It is therefore thanks to Jameson Whiskey that I have also become a Scotch whisky master, and that I have today, a fastidious penchant for great single malt whiskies. I am mostly partial to whiskies from the Speyside region in Scotland as many of these are hardly smoked.

I state two facts so far assuming know-how by you, this includes Scotch whisky regions and the term ‘smoked’; allow me to reveal the hidden meanings behind the smoking screen:
The Regions explained: There are 6 Scotch whisky regions in Scotland, namely: Speyside, Highland, Lowland, Islay, Campbelltown and The Island regions. Speyside is the champagne region for Scotch whisky. This statement seems bold but some facts that support this are: half of all Scotch whisky distilleries are in Speyside; that the world’s top 5 selling single malt whiskies all originate from Speyside; that most of the leading premium whiskies of the world’s central heart malts distilleries are in Speyside. Of the over 85 distilleries in Scotland, 49 distilleries are in Speyside. Enough said.

The most famous and leading Single Malts in the world that you may want to try are the two Speyside greats; Glenfiddich and The Glenlivet. Then again the largest single malt drinking nation in the world - France chooses another Speyside great - Aberlour as their number one. Other exceptional Speyside single malt whiskies to try include: Balvenie, Longmorn, Macallan and Strathisla.

The other regions produce some exceptional whiskies. The Highlands have 20 active distilleries and the classic malts are probably Glenmorangie and Old Pulteney. The Lowlands is home to 7 active distilleries and here the classic is the only triple distilled Scotch malt whisky named Auchentoshan. Islay is home to 8 active distilleries and famous for smokey whiskies; the smokiest single malt from Islay is Ardbeg. Campbelltown is home to 2 distilleries and the most recognized single malt whisky is Springbank. The Island region is home to 6 active distilleries. Two great single malts from the Islands are Highland Park and Scapa.

Now for the second point – ‘smoked’ explained: Simply put, the raw material used in making whisky is barley and in the process of making whisky we need to dry the barley. It is at this drying stage that we add ‘peat’ (putrefied organic matter). This addition of ‘peat’ and the amount of ‘peat’ determines how smokey the whisky is in the final product we purchase at our local liquor store. In Ireland we use hot air to dry the barley and therefore Irish whisky is never disguised by a smokey taste. The Speyside region is distinguished for its distinct lack or minimal smoke flavours. The Islay region is the direct opposite, offering some challenging whiskies where the smoke in them is older ashtray followed by seaside notes of moist salty air and musty seaweed. Some are great examples and the best in my opinion is Laphroaig10 year old.

I am satisfied to have explained some basics about whisky, but the key is the actual drinking of whisky. Some typical sentences I had heard before I came to know whisky are: “Sacrilege!” usually followed by a smirk or a look of disgust – the kind that is meant to belittle you. “How can you mix it with water?” or “don’t dare add that soda to your whisky.” The best statement most often used is “they perfected it for many years and you destroy it by adding water!” I became very irritated by these whisky aficionados and even with whisky itself because in my mind snobs and old farts drank whisky. It turns out that these protagonists were simply misguided by years of urban legend and hand-me-down stories.

The art to drinking whisky is how you choose to drink it – just drink it that’s all. You will find the way you most prefer in your own time. I enjoy Jameson the same way I started drinking whiskey. I love Aberlour single malt with a splash of water and one block of ice added after. I spend the entire evening nosing the brilliant aromas with sips in between. I will only drink a whisky neat if it is more than 18 years old and only if a fine example of the expression. These are my choices – find yours.

To the non whisky drinkers, I challenge you to drink the healthiest alcohol beverage around. Whiskey measures zero on the CI table (clucose index table) even a diabetic sufferer may drink whiskey. If you are a brandy drinker you simply haven’t found your whisky yet. If you are an occasional drinker or cocktail drinker – mix it your way. Remember whisky was born as “the water of life”.

For those who have been paying attention and are irritated by my sometimes spelling “whisky” and other times “whiskey” I will explain. Scotch whisky is spelt with the ‘y’ at the end. Irish and American whiskey is with the ‘ey’ at the end. The most significant difference is in the plural where the entire world spells it ‘whiskies’ and only Ireland spell it ‘whiskeys’. There is one simple reason for this – the Irish were the first to make whiskey and this is Irish whiskeys claim of distinction.It is amusing how things change and one way or another seem to stay the same, I have a generous serving of the premium ‘Jameson Gold’ poured into a snifter ‘tulip’ shaped glass perched at the end of my desk waiting for me. Cheers! See you in the next quarter serving!

Monday, 20 October 2008

Sitting next to a man on a plane

How often have you heard that saying, "I was sitting next to a man on the plane . . .". Well I was sitting next to man on a plane last week. I was on my return flight from Johannesburg after four days.

I was ispired by this man's simple take on things and will quote my man on the plane, who said "an entrepreneur just does the things everybody else does, but does it without fail, consistently, and to the best of his ability - I've done this since I was retrenched from a state job and now my construction company turns R800 million per year. It took me years to realise how simple success is to achieve if you just keep punching at it. It's not rocket science at all. It's hard work."

I like!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Chivas Brothers & The Magnificent Seven

Chivas Brothers, the Scotch whisky and premium gin business of Pernod Ricard, is celebrating after winning gold medals from the International Spirits Challenge (ISC2008) for seven of its brands.
Chivas Brothers’ malt whisky portfolio triumphed with The Glenlivet 25 Year Old and The Glenlivet 18 Year Old each receiving a gold medal. For the 18 Year Old expression, the win marks its fifth gold medal since 2003. The announcement adds to an already incredible year for The Glenlivet, with the distillery recently being awarded Five Star status from Visit Scotland for the fifth time in a row.
Aberlour 12 Year Old continued an incredible run of award wins with its fifth gold medal since 2004, while Strathisla 12 Year Old and Scapa 14 Year Old both struck gold.
Ballantine’s, the No 1 selling super premium Scotch whisky in Asia, was awarded a gold medal for Ballantine’s 30 Year Old and Beefeater London Dry Gin 47% added to an already successful year by winning Gold in the Premium Gin category.
Chivas Brothers achieved 26 awards in total - at the International Spirits Challenge. It is a true acknowledgment of our highly skilled Master Blenders and Master Distillers and highlights the rich heritage, experience and talent that have contributed to our success.”
Gold medals won: The Glenlivet 25 Year Old; The Glenlivet 18 Year Old; Aberlour 12 Year Old; Scapa 14 Year Old; Strathisla 12 Year Old; Ballantine’s 30 Year Old; Beefeater London Dry Gin 47%
Note to all:
Chivas Brothers is the Scotch whisky and Premium gin business of Pernod Ricard - the world’s No. 2 Wine and Spirits company. No. 2 in Scotch whisky and leader in premium gin, the Chivas Brothers portfolio includes Chivas Regal, Ballantine’s, Beefeater Gin, The Glenlivet, Royal Salute, Aberlour, Longmorn, Scapa, 100 Pipers, Clan Campbell, Something Special and Passport. 

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Chivas Brothers attains unprecedented success at the 2008 San Francisco World Spirits Competition

Chivas Brothers, the Scotch whisky and premium gin business of wine and spirits giant Pernod Ricard, has achieved unprecedented success at the 2008 San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) with a record number of accolades.

The Red Heart Rum "Win a Ford Ranger" Competition has a winner

Red Heart Rum recently "championed another heart" as the key to a brand new Ford Ranger Super Cab, valued at R200 000, were handed over to Paul Strydom, the lucky winner of the "Red Heart Win-a-Ford Ranger" competition.

Red Heart Rum was introduced into South Africa in the early 1930's and quickly became South Africa's number 1 selling rum - a position it holds to this day. Red Heart is simply the taste of rum.

Jameson sponsors the Vodacom Durban July VIP Fashion Lounge for the third consecutive year

Jameson Whiskey, a premium brand in the drinks giant Pernod Ricard's portfolio, hosted, for the third consecutive year, a glittering, glamorous bash at the annual Vodacom Durban July, arguably the most talked-about and widely-attended social gathering among racing fans, socialites and trend-setters alike.

The Durban Spar Whisky & Jazz Festival

The Durban leg of the "Spar Whisky & Jazz Festival" was held from Wednesday 23rd to Friday 25th July 2008 at the Suncoast Casino and Entertainment world which in itself has become a landmark in Durban.

Once again all major whisky distributors were present and the paying whisky enthusiasts were spoilt with an exceptional array of the world's leading whiskies.

Jameson whiskey was as popular at this show as it turned out to be at the 2008 San Francisco World Spirits Competition where it was awarded a Double Gold. A real treat for visitors at the Durban "Spar Whisky & Jazz Festival" was the opportunity to sample a reserve Jameson Gold whiskey.

Chivas Brothers showcased the "Chivas Regal" 12 and 18 year old whiskies; the "The Glenlivet" single malt whisky range and the "Royal Salute" 21 year old and "100 Cask Selection".

As usual Chivas Regal 12 year old stole the show and surprised all that it cost no more than other 12 year old whiskies. The Prince of Whiskies will always be "the Chivas Regal of Scotch". The Chivas Regal 18 year old is in the style of the younger 12 year old but older and smoother with a richer and lightly peated silky palate.

The "The Glenlivet" stole hearts with the 15 year old French Oak Reserve and the 16 year old "Nadurra" gained many fans while the 12 year old was revisited by many fans familiar with its fame. The Glenlivet is the whisky that started it all - the first licensed distillery in Scotland, the first whisky to use the term "Single Malt" and the whisky to establish the "Speyside" region from where the top 10 selling single malt whiskies come from. As all world famous whisky writers proclaim: "The Glenlivet is the quintessential single malt against which all other single malts are measured".

The Royal Salute whiskies were admired and desired but not offered for tasting. The youngest offering in the Royal Salute range starts with 21 year old which is followed by the collectable limited release 100 Cask Selection. The 100 cask selection is followed by the 38 year old Stone of Destiny and finally the top of the range is capped with the solid gold and 'hallmarked' silver labelled 50 year old.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Life's little sentences

A friend of mine placed a small booklet in front of me, that he had received in the post, and said in a matter of fact manner that the booklet was my kind of scene, not his. I was 25 at the time. It would be many years later before I realised how little moments in life filled with little sentences influence us.

I picked up the booklet and flipped to a page and read the scripted sentence: "The best gift a father can give his children is to love their mother." There were may other sentences in the little booklet though I do not remember any other sentence. That one sentence influenced my married life so profoundly. I am still married to the mother of my out-of-home children.

The other day my nephew, Charl, invited many people to their sons christening. They wanted all the people he and his wife imagined would drift in and out of their sons life present. People who would be their sons "anchors and harbours" over the highs and lows that would face him throughout his lifetime. They wanted all invited guests, friends and family to realise how much responsibility we, and they, collectively carried in bringing up and influencing Callum. I was the first nominated to stand up and say something. I repeated the sentence I read 21 years earlier that had guided me through married life.

Today I sent and SMS to a friend I will also forward to my nephew Charl, it reads quite simply: "To a child LOVE is spelt T.I.M.E." I think I should have spent more time with my children who are now 22 and 19 respectively. I am now 47.

I know that we are born wise to good and evil and we choose a road consciously. I think there are many sentences that guide us in life - heard and read and sometimes imposed. I pray wisdom guides each of us to choose the road best suited for those we love and not for our self love. Let us not expect gratitude nor remembrance. Be grateful for those who have come into our lives. Let us not attempt to own or control another's soul. Let us love those we love unconditionally. Let us therefore understand that we must not control or limit those souls who share this world with us. Allow each soul you meet to glow gloriously.

Remain humble and refrain from arrogance. And sometimes it is good to be deep.

Monday, 14 July 2008

The "bargain" Tops at Spar Whisky Festival.

The "Tops at Spar Whisky & Jazz Festival" was from Thursday 10 July 2008 and Friday 11 July 2008. The Thursday evening started at 6 p.m. sharp and kept "slow". Attendance reached 257 people the first evening. All in all it was a routine kind of evening without the thrill that "busy' gets on a good evening.
Opening ticket sales on the Friday exceeded 300 people. The evening became extremely busy and the hall seemed to small at times. A great evening.
The R75 per head it cost one to gain entry into the hall of whiskies gave one an incredible (and never to be repeated) array of whiskies that one would otherwise never get the opportunity to taste. Of all the whisky festivals in South Africa this was far and away the "best bargain" whisky festival I have ever attended.
Next year I would like to see some changes:
1) A Tops at Spar price-list of the whiskies available at the show.
2) The ability to buy the product on the night.
3) A coupon system for each tot to limit people from over-indulgence
4) A coupon system to reimburse the suppliers for their very expensive stock.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

The Knysna Whisky & Jazz Festival

The Festival

I have just returned from The Knysna Whisky & Jazz Festival which was held on Saturday 7 July. The major whisky houses of Chivas Brothers with Chivas Regal 12 and 18 year old, Irish Distillers with Jameson and Jameson Gold, The Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Famous Grouse, Black Bottle, Bunnahabhain, Three Ships and some legendary Japanese whiskies we were represented.
The live jazz band jammed away as the 200 visitors were enchanted by the golden nector and trays of mouthwatering gourmet dishes.

A quick introduction to Knysna.

The town of Knysna started in 1804 when sir George Rex arrived in the area. The official founding date for Knysna is 1825. In 1851 it was declared a magistrate, and in 1881 a town. Alluvial Gold was found in 1885 in Millwood, about 15 km's outside of Knysna, deep into the indigenous Knysna forest. Knysna’s name probably originates from the Khoi word ”Xthuys Xna”, meaning ”the place where the wood is”. The current population estimate for Knysna is just short of 60,000. Knysna is a beautifull laid-back sea-side town on the east coast of South Africa. Knysna has great weather for most of the year and is a surfers paradise.

Friday, 4 July 2008

The Glenlivet Single Malt

What's in a name?

The Glenlivet Single Malt whisky states that it is "the single malt whisky that started it all". There is one obvious fact why this claim is made. The Glenlivet is the first licensed distillery in Scotland. That is part of the answer. The Glenlivet is the first whisky to coin and use the term Single Malt whisky on it's label and the first to establish Speyside as a region.

Today The Glenlivet is universally recognized as the benchmark single malt against which all other malts are measured. Not only is The Glenlivet made in the Speyside region which is the 'champagne' producing region for whisky in Scotland, but the distillery is in the heart of Speyside.

Today The Glenlivet is America's leading Single Malt.

Aberlour single malt whisky

Whiskies are my passion. Speyside whiskies are a particular love and most of all I love the most internationally awarded single malt (not because of the many awards),  because Aberlour Single malt is simply superb.

I introduced Aberlour to a group of trendsetters in Cape Town. So impressed were these fine living gentlemen that they promptly ordered an entire cask from the Aberlour distillery. This is not a cheap exercise but the reward was more than enough. The casks total content was bottled into 250 x 750ml bottles and delivered to South Africa. The majority of the bottles were sold to collectors due to the unique personalized labels.

So passionate were these trendsetters and the followers of the trendsetters that Aberlour became a leading poured whisky in many of the high fashion outlets attended by these Aberlour fans.

Aberlour 10 year old is available in South Africa.