Wade Bales 2019: Woodford Reserve, Wolfburn, Paul John, Kilchoman, Douglas Laing
The Wade Bales Wine & Malt Whisky Affair offers an alternative event for South African fans of whisky. Find out why it has been increasing in popularity around the country and learn about some of the whiskies that are available for tasting this year.
Over the past few years I've had whisky brand ambassadors and suppliers tell me that I should attend Wade Bales, which is an event I had never considered because I'd always thought it was for wine. Wade Bales actually runs a few different events around the country and the one suitable for whisky lovers is the Wade Bales Wine & Malt Whisky Affair, which sees whiskies showcased next to premium wines. There are 80 to 100 whiskies, depending on the event, and not all are single malts, although that is the focus.
This year the Wade Bales Wine & Malt Whisky Affair celebrated its ninth year in Cape Town (the event was held a few weeks ago in the city at 15 On Orange Hotel, Autograph Collection), with Johannesburg
(30 and 31 May 2019 and officially the KayaFM Wine & Malt Whisky Affair) in its eighth year and Durban
(13 and 14 June 2019) in about its fourth year.
Since this was my first time at Wade Bales, and a lot of whisky fans aren't very familiar with the event, I'm going to focus more on what you can expect to experience if you attend but I will also dip into a few of the interesting whiskies I tried to whet your appetite - or hopefully convince you to go. (This article will also focus just on the whisky aspect of the event as that was what I was there for but I presume the wine side is similar.)
The ticket prices vary, with Cape Town and Durban being more expensive than Johannesburg (this year, anyway), but if you are quick there are early bird discount tickets that are really good value for money (the Durban event still has a few and they are going for R175).
The ticket gives you a free wine glass and access to the event and all the wines and whiskies. There's no ticketing/voucher system, as with Whisky Live
. Instead you just go to the brands that interest you and you try the drinks. (Obviously I wouldn't recommend trying both wine and whisky on one evening - it's better to stick to one type and leave the other for another evening.) You can have as much as you want though, obviously, be responsible, and I didn't see anyone abusing this on the night because the people attending were there to learn, not get drunk.
Above: Shackleton Blended Malt Scotch Whisky and the Jura range.
In terms of professionals to speak to, it was the usual mix that you find at a local whisky festival, with some brands featuring knowledgeable brand ambassadors (or, in the case of The James Sedgwick Distillery, master distiller Andy Watts himself), whisky professionals, or suppliers, while others, unfortunately, just have the showcase people who are varying levels of informed, from not at all to pretty good. If you know how to pick who to talk to you can have very good conversations and learn something.
Each table has crackers so you can nibble while you browse and they all have water so you can ask for some either to drink or to rinse your glass. There is also a free buffet, which offers artisanal bread, cheese, antipasti, fruit, and so forth (there was enough of a selection even for vegans), and this was incredibly welcome and appreciated as it is important to eat while you are tasting whiskies and the fact that you don't have to pay extra is really considerate of the organisers.
The event runs for three hours, from 18:00 to 21:00, and at the halfway point (19:30) a bell is rung to signal that for the next 15 minutes it's "Under The Table" time. During this window many of the brands will pull out a special release that you can only try during the Under The Table time so you have to be quick if there are specific whiskies (or wines, of course) that you want to taste. Most of the brands that offer the Under The Table whiskies quietly display them on or behind their stands so if you do some research during the course of the first half of the evening you can see what will be available (you can also ask - it's not really secret).
Under The Table is really fun, although a bit stressful if you're a journalist, and gives you a chance to try some really rare and unique expressions, a handful of which I'm going to highlight below.
There was one problem specific to the Cape Town location that I'm going to mention just so that people are aware if the same hotel is used again next year. (I know it was the location for the event last year.) In Cape Town most of the whisky stands were set up in a separate room, that might be a conference room, that's off to the side of where the wine and food is. This room is quite small and has terrible acoustics so the minute people started arriving it became incredibly noisy and it was difficult to hear what anyone was saying, which is important if you're asking questions about whisky and want to learn from the experts.
The minute you stepped out of the room it was a lot quieter (the Paul John and Douglas Laing stands, for example, were just outside the room and it was much easier to have a conversation at those stands). The room was also a bit dark so I struggled to take decent photographs and it got quite full towards the end of the evening so it was difficult to move around. The stands are also a bit small so it's hard to linger somewhere interesting without getting in the way of new patrons who might want to try the specific whisky selection.
None of these are deal breaker problems but they are small issues that I hope can be addressed. Everything else about the event was wonderful. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to attending in the future. I recommend that you attend too.
Now, a (brief) tour of some whiskies:
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked is matured in two barrels. The first is a charred bourbon oak barrel and the second is a bourbon barrel that has been "deeply toasted" before a light charring. This brings out extra oak notes and more sugar and caramel notes.
Above: Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Woodford Reserve Double Oaked.
On the nose it's sweet. I picked up crème brûlée, caramel and vanilla, although the official tasting notes mention dark fruit, caramel, sharp honey, chocolate and marzipan. Taste wise it's sweet with vanilla, caramel, and spice (also, apparently, hazelnut and fruit). There's a little bit of alcohol burn midway through and the mouthfeel is slightly oily. Water opens up the whiskey, of course, and does remove the slight alcohol burn but it also really dilutes the flavour so this is one I would probably drink neat.
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked: Official Site
Woodford Reserve: Official Site
The Wolfburn distillery in Scotland actually presented its first expression, Wolfburn, at the Whisky Live Celebration in Cape Town in 2016
. Since then the range has expanded considerably to include various single malts, as well as small batch expressions.
Above: Jonathan Miles of The Whisky Academy with some of the Wolfburn expressions.
This as my first loop back to Wolfburn since 2016 so I opted to try the Wolfburn Morven Single Malt Scotch Whisky, which is non chill filtered, bottled at 46% abv, and lightly peated at 10 parts per million. The light peat comes from the malted barley, which has been "infused with smoke during the drying process".
The colour is a very, very light straw, which is a surprise once you start exploring the scents and flavours. The nose is light but there's a smokiness and a bit of peat. The tasting notes also suggest "fresh sea air", which I assume would be a saltiness, although I didn't notice it, as well as fruit and vanilla (from the bourbon casks). I tasted a medium smokiness and more peat. There's also a slight spiciness and maltiness. The finish is slightly acidic and oily but that can make way for sweetness and honey, which is sometimes an after effect on the finish of a peated whisky, but this time I didn't experience the honey. I was disappointed, actually, but it's a reason to try it again and see if my palate is different on that day.
Above: A showcase of some of the Wolfburn packaging, including the box for Wolfburn No 270 Small Batch Release Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
Under the table was a very special release - Wolfburn No 270 Small Batch Release Single Malt Scotch Whisky. This expression is the distillery's second small batch release, and it was made available last year. It was matured in 100-litre first-fill bourbon casks (those are very small barrels) so the intention was to infuse the liquid with as much American oak nuances as possible but although I was expecting a lot of vanilla it actually results in more of a floral profile on the nose (the vanilla is there too) and a bit of fruitiness, as well as an expected sweetness.
The taste features fruit and more floral flavours, with an oily mouthfeel, and the finish is sweet.
Wolfburn Morven Single Malt Scotch Whisky: Official Site
Wolfburn No 270 Small Batch Release Single Malt Scotch Whisky: Official Site
Wolfburn: Official Site
, Facebook (unofficial)
Paul John Indian Single Malt Whiskies
I've previously written about Paul John
, a distillery in India, and have tried three of the five standard expressions in the range, so this time I had a quick sniff of Paul John Classic Select Cask (very sweet, lots of honey - possibly too sweet for my taste but I haven't tried it yet so my opinion may change) and then tried the Paul John Peated Select Cask Indian Single Malt Whisky, which is bottled at 55.5% abv.
Above: Paul John Classic Select Cask Indian Single Malt Whisky, Paul John Brilliance Indian Single Malt Whisky, Paul John Edited Indian Single Malt Whisky, Paul John Bold Indian Single Malt Whisky, and Paul John Peated Select Cask Indian Single Malt Whisky.
On the nose the peat and smoke hits you quite heavily but there's a surprising sweetness underneath this (which the tasting notes say is reminiscent of demerara and muscovado sugars) and a little bit of spice. There's a bit of alcohol burn due to that 55.5% abv and then I tasted smoke, peat, spice, and a little bit of sugariness. The whisky has a slightly oily mouthfeel and is a little acidic. It's not my favourite peated whisky but it's very good and certainly fits well in the Paul John range with the hints of sweetness and spice.
Under the table was one of my all time favourite whiskies - Paul John Cask 1742
, which was a special bottling for South Africa that is almost out of stock (or might even be now). Of course I had to try it again, and say goodbye. Sadly I missed another Paul John whisky that was offered under the table on the second night of Wade Bales Wine & Malt Whisky Affair in Cape Town but hopefully I may still get a chance to talk about it in the future.
Paul John Peated Select Cask Indian Single Malt Whisky: Official Site
Paul John: Official Site
Kilchoman Sauternes Cask Finish 2018 Edition
The entire Kilchoman range was on offer at Wade Bales Wine & Malt Whisky Affair but as I've tried many of them before (I particularly like Kilchoman Machir Bay) I dashed to the stand quickly to try its Under The Table special: Kilchoman Sauternes Cask Finish 2018 Edition, which is bottled at 50% abv. Only 10 000 bottles have been released worldwide and it has been available since October.
Above: Kilchoman 100% Islay, Kilchoman Machir Bay, Kilchoman Sauternes Cask Finish 2018 Edition, Kilchoman Sanaig, and Kilchoman Loch Gorm.
As the name implies, Kilchoman Sauternes Cask Finish 2018 Edition is finished in Sauternes wine casks (for five months) before the whisky is bottled. It's initially matured in ex-bourbon barrels (30 barrels from 2012 - Buffalo Trace ones, I believe, that are shipped intact from the USA to Scotland) so the intention was to have the caramel and the vanilla from the bourbon barrels mingle with the butteriness of the Sauternes casks.
There's a little bit of smoke on the nose but it's very light - in fact the entire nose is very light - and this makes way for a light caramel sweetness. (You may also pick up some citrus.) In contrast to the delicate nose the flavour packs quite a peat punch (50 parts per million), with smoke and earthiness. Sadly I didn't pick up any butteriness anywhere and it seems that the Sauternes casks actually impart a subtle fruitiness to the flavour but it's still an interesting whisky if you're a peat fan, and a good option to look for at the event.
Kilchoman Sauternes Cask Finish 2018 Edition: Official Site
Kilchoman Distillery: Official Site
Douglas Laing's Remarkable Regional Malts
Douglas Laing's Remarkable Regional Malts range features a revolving collection of special small batch blends, usually comprising a selection of whiskies from a specific region in Scotland, that exist for a while and then come to an end, all of which feature very eye catching labels that make the hearts of typography fans flutter.
Above: Timorous Beastie Highland Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, Scallywag Speyside Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, The Gauldrons Campbeltown Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, Rock Oyster Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, and Big Peat Islay Blended Malt Scotch Whisky Cape Town Edition.
In South Africa we still have access to a couple of blends that are no longer available, as well as a special release that was tweaked just for Cape Town on the request of Hector McBeth, who is the local expert who also selected Paul John Cask 1742 for the South African market. That release is Big Peat Islay Blended Malt Scotch Whisky Cape Town Edition, which has a higher abv (48% as opposed to 46%) and a special label that features the windswept sailor from the Big Peat series in front of Table Mountain. Only 600 bottles of Big Peat Islay Blended Malt Scotch Whisky Cape Town Edition were released so it will make a unique gift for a peat loving friend.
The whisky is non chill filtered and is a blend of Islay malts from distilleries such as Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore, and Port Ellen (which is a closed distillery), as well as a few other secret Islay distilleries. The nose is light but has hints of smoke and earth and marine notes. On the palate is another peat punch (unsurprisingly, as it's 40 parts per million) with more marine notes and smoke and no alcohol burn once you add water. The finish is oily, salty, and smoky and a bit medicinal.
Rock Oyster Blended Malt Scotch Whisky is no longer available from Douglas Laing so it's one to grab if you see it locally as those will also be the last of the bottles. It's a blend of whiskies from Islay, Arran, Orkney and Jura.
This is another whisky that's a very light straw colour that subverts your expectations of what's inside the bottle. On the nose there is sweet honey and caramel with marine notes and salt and a hint of smoke. The flavour is heavy peat with smoke and there is alcohol burn. It is supposed to be a sweetish peat but this was the end of the evening, I'd (unintentionally) had a lot of peat whiskies throughout the night, and I can't say I noticed that nuance. Ultimately this was a tough one - as much as I like peat I'm not sure of how I feel about this whisky so it's another that I hope to try again.
Douglas Laing's Remarkable Regional Malts: Official Site
, Big Peat
Douglas Laing: Official Site
Wade Bales: Official Site
, Twitter hashtag: #winewhiskyaffair
Mandy J Watson was a media guest of the 2019 Wade Bales Wine & Malt Whisky Affair in Cape Town. The event will be taking place in Johannesburg on 30 and 31 May 2019 and Durban on 13 and 14 June 2019.
Tags: Arts And Culture
, Cape Town