Whisky Live 2019: White Walker, American Barrels, Ardbeg An Oa, Kamiki, Glendalough, And Copper Republic
The first South African Whisky Live event for the year took place in Cape Town in another retooled format - Whisky & Gin Live - that, unsurprisingly, included a small selection of gin offerings. If you're predominantly a whisky drinker wondering whether you should attend, here's a selection of whiskies you'll find at the event that you may not have tried yet.
Above: The Woodford Reserve stand at Whisky & Gin Live 2019 in Cape Town.
Whisky season began earlier this month in Cape Town with Whisky & Gin Live, a reformatting of Whisky Live, which became Whisky Live Celebration, and so on (you can dive into the history here
). I was concerned that with gin now being added to the festival, which has been shrinking over the past few years, that whisky would take a back seat but, thankfully, this is still very much a whisky festival.
What's changed, due to most big brands no longer supporting the event (which was one of the reasons the Cape Town leg of this festival used to be so big that it was hosted at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, whereas for the past few years it's been at The Lookout in Granger Bay), is that smaller brands no longer get lost in the mix so for someone such as myself, who goes to whisky festivals in order to try new whiskies and bourbons, this means there is still plenty to see and do.
Above: Some of the The Glenlivet whiskies that were available at the stand at Whisky & Gin Live 2019 in Cape Town.
It's still disappointing that the festival is small but there was a good selection of brands from around the world and as a result, as you'll see as you read through the article, I ended up doing a little international tour of whisky (entirely by accident). There were Scottish, Irish, South African, Japanese, and American whiskies and bourbons at the event, including American Barrels, Jura, Glenbrynth, Shackleton, Uncle Nearest, Johnnie Walker, Kamiki, Ardbeg, Glenmorangie, Woodford Reserve, The GlenDronach, Glendalough, Wolfburn, Redbreast, Copper Republic, Chivas, The Glenlivet, Aberlour, Dewar's, Glen Scotia, and Loch Lomond so if there are a few on this list that you're not familiar with it's a good incentive to attend when the festival moves to Pretoria and Durban in a few weeks.
The layout of the Cape Town venue was also rearranged to give people more breathing room and more seating, and the stands seemed better lit this year as well, but systems such as the electronic card with a limited number of tickets on it, plus a really small and expensive selection of food that's available for purchase, remain in place. I'm mentioning this because the next whisky article I will be writing will be focusing on the Wade Bales Wine & Malt Whisky Affair
, which took place last week, and it is fast becoming a worthy competitor to the boutique Whisky Live events.
White Walker By Johnnie Walker
White Walker By Johnnie Walker, which is retailing for about R400 (which is much cheaper than in other parts of the world), is a limited edition release that was developed in collaboration with USA television network HBO for the series Game Of Thrones
. It was launched internationally in October 2018 and supplies will last until they run out.
Above: Bradley Jacobs, the South African Johnnie Walker brand ambassador, pours White Walker By Johnnie Walker at Whisky & Gin Live 2019 in Cape Town.
There is a marketing gimmick that goes with the bottle, in that if you freeze it (or just run an ice cube down it), you'll see the words "Winter Is Here" manifest on the side of the bottle and the blue in the ice-crack pattern all over the bottle becomes more pronounced, all of which is due to the temperature reacting with thermochromic inks that have been used in the manufacturing of the packaging. Chilling your whisky is usually frowned upon (although the Kamiki team and I experimented a little on its whisky, with interesting results, which you can read about later on in this article, and there are a few other whiskies that do recommend chilling, such as Dalwhinnie 15 Years Old) but it's just a little bit of fun to add to the experience. Johnnie Walker does recommend that you drink this one ice cold, however.
White Walker By Johnnie Walker is a blend of seven single malts, including Talisker, Lagavulin, Dalwhinnie, Cardhu, and The Singleton Of Duffton, and one single grain whisky, Cameron Brig (apparently
in a single-malt-to-grain ratio of 20-80). It's bottled at 40% abv.
(A quick lesson: A single malt is a whisky made at a single distillery using malted grain (usually barley, and always barley if it's from Scotland). The malting process comprises sprouting the grain, so that enzymes develop that will start to convert the grain's starches to sugars, and then toasting the grain. Some distilleries use peat instead of wood, which is where peatier whiskies come from and how they end up with a smokiness, because the peat doesn't actually burn, it smoulders. A single grain is also a whisky made at a single distillery but the grain doesn't have to be malted and it doesn't have to be barley - it could be wheat, corn, or rye, for example.)
To me, the delight in this whisky is in the nose and it kept me busy for a few minutes before I first tasted it. There's an immediate push of saltiness and marine notes and this is followed by subtle sweetness and a bit of creaminess. I don't watch Game Of Thrones
but that initial salty, marine moment made me think of standing on barren, icy, windswept cliffs in grey, bleak weather, which I hope is what the developers of the whisky were going for.
The flavour leads with creaminess, vanilla, and crème brûlée that comes from the grain. This then rolls to a finish marked by smokiness, which is due to the Lagavulin, with the Dalwhinnie adding sulphuric notes and pepperiness and the Talisker adding marine notes.
It's well priced and interesting - I'd recommend buying a bottle while it's still available.
White Walker By Johnnie Walker: International Product Page
, USA Product Page
Johnnie Walker International: Official Site
Johnnie Walker South Africa: Official Site
American Barrels Bourbon Whiskey
American Barrels is a small batch craft distillery based in Charleston, South Carolina, in the USA, that's been producing American Barrels Bourbon Whiskey for less than a decade (I've seen 2012, 2013, and 2014 so the origin story is already getting a little hazy - in fact, there's a lot of mystery surrounding this whiskey). It's now available in South Africa through Liquid 2 Lip Brands
, which was founded by Jacques Botha in 2017, and should be around R540 to R600.
Above: The American Barrels bottle features a rattlesnake and a shotgun shell.
American Barrels Bourbon Whiskey is a small batch three-year-old (I was told) bourbon bottled at 45% abv with flavour notes of vanilla, praline, and cocoa, with citrus aftertones. It's a bit sweeter than other bourbons, both in the flavour and on the nose, where I thought the praline was most prevalent. Because it's small batch and it's still relatively new it's possible that the recipe and/or the process has changed a few times in the past years as some reading I've done on the bourbon from a few years ago contradicts a lot of what I and others tasted and experienced at the stand at Whisky & Gin Live.
I was also told that it is UV and ultrasound filtered, which makes it very smooth and reduces the alcohol burn (and apparently reduces a hangover because the process removes impurities), but it is possible that it is aged through an ultrasonic energy and oxygenation process
that speeds up the maturation. Whatever the story and whatever the true age the bourbon really is very, very smooth and there is almost no alcohol burn so it's quite a pleasure to sip and is a good entry point for people new to American whiskies.
The bottle has a particularly attractive design, with a rattlesnake winding up the glass and the base shaped to look like a shotgun shell, which, unfortunately, is a nod to American Barrels founder Michael J Reed's love of hunting animals. The bottle also comes with military style dog tags around the neck, all of which feeds into the overall hyper-masculine, ultra patriotic, American brand identity.
American Barrels Bourbon Whiskey: Product Page
American Barrels: Official Site
Ardbeg An Oa Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Ardbeg An Oa Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (it's pronounced roughly as "anno" or "an oh") differs from the flagship Ardbeg 10 Year Old in that the whisky spends some time in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks, which impart a sweetness; virgin oak casks, which impart a spiciness; and ex-bourbon casks. There's no age statement with this expression so no one knows whether it's older or younger than the Ardbeg 10 Year Old but it is a special release and, consequently, it costs a bit more (just over R1000 versus around R700).
Above: Justin Fisher pours Ardbeg An Oa Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky at Whisky & Gin Live 2019 in Cape Town.
On the nose the peat and tobacco smoke come to the fore with a little bit of licorice and then a sweetness takes over, which, although you're told it's going to be there you still don't expect so it comes as a bit of a surprise. Taste wise I must admit that I didn't pick up some of the more complicated notes, such as the milk chocolate, orange, and grilled artichoke, as the peat still dominates, though it is less intense than the Ardbeg 10 Year Old, but there were definitely spices, some more smoke, and sweetness. The abv is slightly higher than the Ardbeg 10 Year Old at 46.6% (versus 46%) yet there is very little alcohol burn even if you don't add water (if you do the water will, of course, open up the flavours slightly). It's smooth and lingers and it's really pleasant and much gentler than the Ardbeg 10 Year Old, although it's still too strong to be an entry-level peated whisky for someone new to the category.
This is one I want to try again - and spend more time with (tastings are always rushed at festivals) - because, although I really enjoyed it, I'm intrigued by the aroma and flavour notes that I didn't pick up. It's possible that they need more time to develop as I've previously tasted whiskies (some Kavalan offerings come to mind) where the nose, in particular, has evolved over time so what is ideal to be able to do is try a whisky, let it sit for a bit, and then try it again, which is something you can do when you go to a whisky tasting whereas it's very difficult to do this at a festival when you only have one glass and not much time.
If you like peated whiskies seek it out but make sure you have time to enjoy it slowly.
Ardbeg An Oa Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky: Product Page
Ardbeg: Official Site
Kamiki Blended Malt Whisky
This Japanese whisky's name is derived from two Japanese words, kami
, meaning "god", and iki
, meaning "breath", hence "god's breath", which is a nod to the area where it's produced that features a sacred mountain, Mount Miwa, and the breezes that flow off the mountain. I was told that the distillery started producing whisky around November 2017.
Above: Kamiki Blended Malt Whisky.
The brand director in South Africa is Altin Borekcioglu, who comes from a financial background and opted for the whisky because he wanted to trade a commodity that holds value, and the whisky is distributed through Liquor On The Run
[warning: high bandwidth site]. The first batch was made available in South Africa in March 2018 and, Borekcioglu told me, in the first three months of the whisky being in the country Johannesburg consumers consumed more than the whole of the USA, which means we are likely to become an important market for the Japanese company.
Kamiki Blended Malt Whisky is a blend of Japanese malt whiskies, a selection of international malt whiskies, and Japanese spring water that is then finished in casks made of, presumably virgin, Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica
'Yoshino', also known as Yoshino Sugi). The Japanese cedar is very fragrant - there were examples of the wood on the stand and you could sniff dry and wet versions to see what it was like - and it imparts very interesting notes, including green tea and sandalwood.
The whisky is non chill filtered and bottled at 48% abv when it's "at its peak flavour", rather than based on a specific ageing time, so the whisky ends up being produced in small batches and, presumably, there will be some small variations between each batch. The current batch in South Africa, which is what I tried at Whisky & Gin Live, is the second batch, which is noted with "002" on the bottle. It costs around R1000.
"What drew me to Kamiki," Borekcioglu says, "is that at different temperatures and different dilutions the taste profile completely changed. Neat it's quite oily and viscous because it's non chill filtrated so what would happen is if you put Kamiki in a fridge it will go milky and cloudy. So it's three different whiskies in one [neat, with a little bit of water, and chilled or with ice]."
What comprises the blend is a secret but on the palate it came across as a young whisky. The aromas are more developed than the flavours. On the nose there's little bit of smoke or cigars and pepper. On the palate it's spicy and you'll pick up some peat. It's also quite oily.
Once you add water, which separates the oils from the whisky, the nose becomes more floral and citrusy and the wood smell becomes more prominent. You might be able to pick up a caramelised banana note, baked apple, and plum, as well as green tea on the nose and you will definitely be able to taste the green tea in the finish. Water also sweetens the whisky and over time the peat note then disappears.
Ice causes the whisky to become cloudy, due to it not being chill filtered, and the citrus becomes more prominent on the nose. The green tea in the finish also becomes even more prominent.
This is a very interesting whisky and another one I'd like to spend more (unhurried) time with in the future. The nose and taste change drastically when you add water (or ice - and they encourage this for Kamiki Blended Malt Whisky so that you can experience the green tea notes) and it's quite interesting to experiment with this. Whether or not whisky should be able to do this is up for debate but I was fascinated.
Kamiki Intense is the company's second expression - with the difference being that it spends more time in the cedar wood so I imagine it will have more intense wood notes and the green tea flavour may become more prominent - and it will be available in South Africa at the end of June. We will also be learning more about a still-secret expression, which Borekcioglu is calling "Kamiki X", in November during its global release. (The words "spring", which is an auspicious time of renewal, and "cherry blossom" may have been mentioned.)
Kamiki Whisky: Official Site
, South African Site
Glendalough 13 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Glendalough Distillery ("Glendalough" means "the valley of two lakes") is located just south of Dublin, Ireland, and the whiskey (and gin) is distributed in South Africa by Dragon Brands
It offers three very interesting, and unique, expressions, all of which are triple distilled and have also been in high charred bourbon barrels that add creaminess and spice: the Glendalough Double Barrel Irish Whiskey, which is finished in both bourbon and sherry casks that add sweet and fruity characteristics; the Glendalough 7 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey, which is finished in a Blackpitts porter
stout beer barrel that adds a creaminess and a rich earthiness; and the Glendalough 13 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey, which is finished in virgin Japanese mizunara oak barrels that impart a herbatious, perfumy quality.
Above: The Glendalough Irish Whiskey range on display at Whisky & Gin Live 2019 in Cape Town.
I opted to try the Glendalough 13 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey, which is bottled at 45% abv. The nose offers vanilla and honey sweetness, as well as slightly floral characteristics. The mizunara oak adds a slight oak or sandalwood note, as well as stone fruit (apricot or prunes, depending on what you're inclined to pick up) and citrus. The taste is light, with very little alcohol burn, herbatious, and floral, and there's a soft and gentle mouthfeel. There's also vanilla, wood, and spices. I found the finish to be a little dry but on the whole this is a great whiskey.
Glendalough 13 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey: Product Page
Glendalough Distillery: Official Site
Copper Republic Bourbon Cask Finish Single Grain Whisky
Copper Republic Distilling Co. is a South African small batch premium distiller with varieties of gin and brandy, as well as Copper Republic Bourbon Cask Finish Single Grain Whisky, in the product line. If you've never heard of it - like I hadn't - don't worry because it's brand new and you'll see its range start appearing in local stores, such as Norman Goodfellows, Tops At Spar, Picardi Rebel, and Liquor City, soon.
The distillery is technically located in KwaZulu-Natal (specifically, for the moment, near Zinkwazi Beach, north of Durban, but there are plans to move it elsewhere in the province so that a proper visitors' centre can be built) but KwaZulu-Natal is more of a spiritual home as the entire range gets a lot of help from the Western Cape.
Above: Copper Republic Bourbon Cask Finish Single Grain Whisky on display at Whisky & Gin Live 2019 in Cape Town.
Copper Republic Bourbon Cask Finish Single Grain Whisky, which is bottled at 43% abv, is 100% grain whisky that's aged for five years in second fill American oak bourbon barrels. The distillery uses a cooper based in the Western Cape to do a little extra work (charring work, I presume) to the inside of the barrels to prepare them for the whisky. American oak has slightly more sugars in the wood than other oak so when you char it the caramelisation process brings out more sweetness, which gets infused in the whisky. This whisky is actually distilled in the Western Cape using local grain at a secret location (the Copper Republic team wouldn't tell me where) because Copper Republic's brandy is also distilled in the province so that, officially, it can be labelled "brandy".
Copper Republic Bourbon Cask Finish Single Grain Whisky is sweet on the nose, with caramel notes, as well as smoke and vanilla notes coming through from the bourbon casks. There's a little bit of oak, too. It has a soft mouthfeel, very little alcohol burn, and is smooth, creamy, and oily with subtle hints of smoke and caramelised flavours.
For a first release this is a good whisky and I enjoyed it. I know there are plans to experiment with wood and charring so I'm looking forward to seeing what this distillery comes up with next.
Copper Republic Bourbon Cask Finish Single Grain Whisky: Product Details
Copper Republic: Official Site
Whisky Live: Official Site
Mandy J Watson was a media guest of Whisky & Gin Live in Cape Town. Whisky & Gin live will be hosted in Pretoria at Menlyn Shopping Centre from 30 May to 1 June 2019 and in Durban at Suncoast Casino from 13 to 15 June 2019. Tickets are available through Ticketpro [Pretoria | Durban].
Tags: Arts And Culture
, Cape Town