The highlight of my whisky life @GlenGrantSA #GlenGrant50 via @cheek2chic

This story first appeared in Cheek to Chic, a superb online magazine

I want to share with you the day that was the highlight of my whisky life. In ten years of talking whisky around the world I’ve had many people ask me for my job. I suppose it sounds glamorous: the travel to exotic destinations; five star hotels; seven course dinners and of course, the pleasure and privilege of drinking rare whiskies, some that cost way more than a luxury motor car.

But whisky people are different. We are happiest in the quiet times, sitting alone with our thoughts and a glass of history, or with close friends and a bottle of something special. After years of festivals and airports, we can become jaded. I was. I needed something special to revive the romance, much like an old oak cask, filled once to often, I needed to be rejuvenated and restored. And a few weeks ago I got what I needed, and a lot more.

The week started with Saturday at Old Trafford, the home of my beloved Manchester United; Sunday, the final day of the British Open, from the luxury of a hospitality tent; then four days in Scotland, the a search for the Loch Ness Monster (no, we didn’t find it), a day in the countryside – clay pigeon shooting, 4 x 4 driving and archery – and of course distillery visits.

It was a week to take the bucket list, tick off a few things, but ultimately to enjoy what that time; patience; skill and dedication bring to something as simple and as complex as whisky.

At a glance, it was an average day, a small group of whisky lovers sitting in a warehouse in Scotland enjoying a wee dram. But it was far from average. A group of whisky lovers from South Africa went along to the Glen Grant distillery in Rothes, in the northern part of Scotland. The person pouring the whisky was Dennis Malcolm, a 53-year veteran of the whisky industry. The whisky was The Glen Grant 50 Year old. Some perspective in today’s world of instant gratification: On the 28th October 1963 Dennis hand filled the cask; on the 25 November 2013 he decided that the whisky had reached its high point and released the cask for bottling. How many of us can comprehend the patience needed to do that? How many of us would give in to temptation and want to share that special spirit, perhaps before it was ready?

The whisky is spectacular. But more than the taste, the colour, the aroma, the most special part of the day was immersing myself in the history of the distillery. Walking through the lush gardens along a path to a waterfall where there is a safe built in to the hillside. In the safe we found whisky and crystal tumblers. To the whisky we added water from the stream, perhaps much like James ‘The Major’ Grant did a century ago, after his hunting trips into Africa.

Drinking a whisky that was distilled before I was born gave me a sense of history. It was not the oldest whisky I’ve ever had, but it was the oldest, by some years, that I’d enjoyed with the person who filled the cask.

There were only 150 bottles produced, 15 came to South Africa, 10 have been sold, 3 are on display and 2 are being sold this Xmas. R 150 000 will buy you a piece of history and a lot of love. And if you buy it, give me a ring, I’d love to share it with you.


Bernard Gutman

Bold Bunnahabhain and a treat of Toiteach @BunnahabhainSA #TasteIslay

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Maritime theme…a porthole!

It’s always entertaining when Pierre Meintjies takes the stage and talks whisky. After 40 plus years in the booze business Pierre knows how to showcase his whiskies. It’s pretty easy to do that when he is talking Bunnahbhain to an eager crowd of assorted journos, wine people and whisky wonks (term devised by Neil Pendock). The occasion was the unveiling of the Bunnahabhain display at Bascule Whisky Bar.

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Shane, thinking, Marsh, laughing, Pat, wondering…

I’ve written a few times before about Bunnahabhain so have a read here about the non (or un) chill filtered range. Its one of my favourite whisky ranges. Liquor giant Distell, based here in the Western Cape own the distillery. This strong link has already reaped rewards, in the form of a real treat, the Bunnahbhain Toiteach, not available here in South Africa.

The whiskies are, of course, superb, but you knew that, dear reader. The evening ended with a lively debate between the winos and wonks about corks and screwcaps. The outcome was lost in the mist that rolled in off the ocean. A good night.

The PR company was quite busy and sent me two releases, copied below. If you want to try something from Islay and don’t want to be hit by the peat reek, Bunnahabhain is the whisky for you. Importantly, the whisky provides great value the 12 at R580; 18 at R 900; R2 600 for 25-year-old.

All this talk of whisky…what about love? Congratulations,  Mazaltov and Slainte to Anel & Jan, a very cool couple and couple of wine lovers, who got married a couple of days ago in Las Vegas!  Here they are enjoying a Bunnahabhain.

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Jan & Anel




A few Capetonians were recently treated to a series of exclusive tastings of the luxurious Bunnahabhain range of single malt whiskies at the Bascule Bar. Specialising in premium whiskies of the world, the bar at the Cape Grace Hotel, now has a customised display cabinet showcasing the brand’s award-winning whiskies.

The range of gentle, unpeated single malts is made at the Bunnahabhain Distillery on the Isle of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland. The whiskies are un-chillfiltered for the purest expression of colour, aroma and flavour.

South Africa’s “Mr Whisky”, Pierre Meintjes presented the un-chillfiltered range that is fast building a cult following amongst whisky aficionados. He is one of just 159 Masters of the Quaich in the world, a title conferred by the Keepers of the Quaich and only one of two in South Africa. The honour is conferred in notable recognition of their contribution to the Scotch whisky industry.

Taygan Govinden, the brand’s SA marketing manager, says: “To contrast the unpeated profile of the range, Pierre gave guests the rare opportunity of tasting a peated single malt, made in very limited quantities at Bunnahabhain. This rare peated Bunnahabhain, named Toiteach, is not available in South Africa, but provided a fascinating comparison.”

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Pierre, Lizanne (brand manager) & Taygan


The price of Bunnahabhain ranges from R580 for the 12-year-old, to R900 for the 18-year-old and R2 600 for 25-year-old.


The gentle taste of Bunnahabhain’s connoisseur range of Islay single malts is very much to South Africa’s liking, says Taygan Govinden, marketing manager of this specialist range in South Africa.

“It has developed something of a cult following amongst aficionados, partially because of its relative rarity but also for its singular flavour. Its taste profile is quite unlike the peaty, smoky single malts traditionally associated with Islay. That’s because Bunnahabhain is the only producer of single malts on the island to use a natural spring water source and unpeated barley in the production of its whiskies. It’s untainted by Islay’s peaty moors and so, is lighter on the palate.”

Something else that marks Bunnahabhain as distinctive, he says, is that it is un-chillfiltered.  “This marks a return to a very traditional technique and the reason is that it expresses the whisky in its purest form with a full depth of colour, aroma and flavour – as natural as when it comes out of the casks.”

Despite being a relative newcomer to the highly contested South African single malt market, the range is fast gaining ground, he says. “Stocks are limited but available from strategically identified specialist outlets catering to single malt enthusiasts. Any news of the range’s awards always heightens interest in this market.”

The 25-year-old, at the apex of the locally available range, won gold at the 2014 International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC), while the 12-year-old took double gold at the 2014 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, which also awarded a gold to the 18-year-old.

Bunnahabhain, founded in 1881, is pronounced Bū-na-ha-venn and means mouth of the river in Scots Gaelic, referring to the Margadale River that flows close by.

Un-chillfiltering is the way whisky was made before chillfiltration was introduced in the 1970s, primarily for cosmetic reasons. During chillfiltration the temperature of the whisky is dropped to 0°C before forcing it through filters which remove the fatty esters. This produces a “polished” whisky that offers consistency of colour and, when bottled at 43% alcohol by volume, does not become hazy when chilled. But the trade-off is the absence of some of the flavour and character in the final whisky.

The price of Bunnahabhain ranges from R580 to R900 to R2 600 for its 12-, 18- and 25-year-old whiskies respectively.

Follow Bunnahabhain on Facebook or Twitter

Join the conversation using: #TasteIslay”



Thoughts on: The Glenlivet Guardians’ Chapter @theglenlivetsa @iantheguardian

The always genial Ian Logan is the international brand ambassador for The Glenlivet and goes around the world talking whisky. We last met over a coffee at Madiba’s feet in Sandton Square during Whisky Live and caught up again at The Mansefield in Scotland a few weeks ago. I asked him about The Glenlivet Guardians’ Chapter Limited Edition whisky, a newish offering from Chivas.

Ian said he enjoyed the process of having whisky lovers around the ChapterLtdEdBottleCMYKHRworld try three different expressions and vote for one for eventual bottling. Something like democracy, whisky style, I suppose. I didn’t raise the issue of the then upcoming Scottish referendum, our conversation staying on whisky, not politics. A dram later Ian continued with shepherding his group of Ambassadors from Taiwan round Elgin.

With the whisky world becoming increasingly competitive this sort of innovation is a good idea. It works not only because of clever marketing, but, as whisky lovers expect from The Glenlivet, it is a very good whisky. Like more and more new releases it has no age statement and I’m not going to hazard a guess as to its age. There are mature notes and at 48.7 ABV the whisky packs, what I’ll call, a gentlemanly punch. Perhaps more chocolate and spice than the average Glenlivet, if there is such an animal, the whisky delivers enough complexity for an after sunset drink, even a nightcap, on a warmish evening.

It is worth looking at and adding to your collection, especially if you are a fan of limited editions.

Price: at around R 1 200 it is fair value, I suppose, for a limited edition, certainly better than the more expensive Alpha, but the 18 year old Glenlivet for about R 1000 or 21 year old at R 1700 are very good alternatives. The Glenlivet 12 should be in every whisky lover’s collection, superb at R 400.

Here is the press release giving more info.


Johannesburg, South Africa. - The global whisky community have spoken. The votes have been counted. The results are in and the winner has made its way to South Africa.

That’s right! The long awaited The Glenlivet Guardian Chapter limited edition single Scottish malt is here after thousands of whisky lovers across 37 countries (including South Africa) voted to select the Guardian Chapter Limited Edition crafted just the way they like it. The winning selection is the “Exotic expression” as the distillery reached out to its loyal followers.

After votes were counted, this first crowd-sourced The Glenlivet single malt was bottled and distributed in limited quantities to countries around the globe.

The search to find a winning expression began in September 2013. Three expressions (called Exotic, Classic and Revival) were handpicked for a global tasting tour where admirers sampled and voted for their favourite. The expressions were selected to challenge drinkers, provoking debate over which would become the first single malt in the distillery’s 190-year history they could influence the taste of.  

A series of special evenings in London, New York and Mumbai were staged. Labelled the ‘Expression Sessions’, they were designed to stimulate the senses with a carefully blended mix of speakers, covering topics inspired by each whisky expression. South Africans got their opportunity to taste the 3 variants at the annual FNB Whiskey Live Festival last year.

The winning “exotic” single malt was created using a subtle mixture of casks including Hogsheads and American oak barrels with the addition of a proportion of whisky from Spanish ex-sherry butts to provide a rich, exotic twist. The resulting “The Guardians’ Chapter” bottling will display the signature fruitiness of The Glenlivet and a delightful addition of rich, warm spicy notes. Rich and indulgent on the nose, it will captivate with an aroma of moist fruitcake and sweet, candied apple, balanced with the tang of orange marmalade.   The taste will be an alluring combination of juicy raisins with an undertone of dark chocolate orange zestiness, well-balanced with the subtle warmth of spice complimenting a delightful long and slightly dry finish.

Mandla Holomisa, brand manager for Glenlivet SA, says: “We at Glenlivet feel very proud to have been part of a global challenge that has given us this limited edition single malt blend, as desired by our whisky lovers. We are pleased with the enthusiastic response we’ve received, especially in South Africa.”



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The Glenlivet Single Malt Whisky is part of Pernod Ricard.

Enjoy responsibly, not for sale to persons under the age of 18.









The #GlenGrant50 Whisky Tour. Whisky tours, as they should be.


There’s too much for one post. Too much goodness, emotion, history – and just the right amount of whisky, thank you!

So please allow me to spread out, over a few weeks, the story of the whisky tour of a lifetime. My story of the #GlenGrant50 tour (hashtag devised over a beer at Heathrow) will take the form of a travelogue. It was a Friday-to-Friday whirlwind, one week of England & Scotland. From day one, walking into the player’s dressing room at Old Trafford to be presented with my own Manchester United shirt; to enjoying a 50 year old Whisky in the maturation warehouse, presented by the very gentleman who filled the cask all those years ago; it was a week of indulgence. Every day served up highlights. Every day saw more items ticked off my bucket list.

Slowly, deliberately, the story will unfold. At the end I hope you’ll sit back, alone, with a whisky and your thoughts for company, to reflect on your own whisky journey. You’ll find whisky and your thoughts very good company while you think about where you’ve been, where you are and where you want to go.

Part one

The gathering of a band of merry men.

Whisky has been good to me, or to paraphrase Churchill, I’ve taken more out of whisky than whisky has taken out of me. To me, the people and experiences are more important than the spirit itself. The spirit brings us together, but the spirit alone is just a spirit. It needs people to drink it. Years ago I interviewed a Master Distiller from Islay, who said “Whisky is not a bland, one dimensional drink. It is multifaceted, a social, gregarious drink. It will get lonely and dull unless it interacts with people.”

The title of this story is a play on the Glen Grant slogan ‘Whisky as it should be”, which is true, but doesn’t explain the tour. The tour is what all whisky tours wish they were like if budgets, planning, people and the universe played along.

Let’s start with from the beginning. I present whisky for many different companies. I’m independent and don’t get involved in the high-pressure corporate world of sales and targets and ROI and all that stuff.  Neither do I get involved with favourites, talking one brand only. I like whisky, the drink, not whisky from one company alone.  Give me a bottle of whisky and ask me to chat about it to a group of people and I’m happy. One rule – I only talk about whisky I like to drink.

Along come E Snell & Co, local distributors of Glen Grant, a whisky brand now owned by The Campari Group in Italy. I’d been doing festivals for about 6 years, for the Whisky Live organisers and a few other liquor companies.

“Bernard”, Craig, the brand manager says, “can you do Whisky Live for us?” Yes of course, with pleasure. I like Glen Grant and they were the first to ask that year, so, sure, I’ll talk Glen Grant. That was about 4 years ago. It’s a cool gig. The Whisky is great, from the light, fresh and fruity The Major’s Reserve to the more complex and intense 16 year old and in between is my favourite expression, the 10 year old. Yes, talking Glen Grant is a very cool gig.

I’d heard a whisper in my ear about a new release, The Glen Grant 50 year old. Soon enough the press release arrived in my inbox.

It is a thing of beauty.  gg1You’ll have to wait until part five, Tuesday of the trip, to find out what I thought of the whisky. Hint: I had an Oliver Twist moment. The whisky carries a hefty price tag: R 150 000, about $ 15 000. It is on the reasonable side for a whisky of that vintage from a renowned distillery. I read on and started to dream, for buying the whisky comes with something special, a tour to Scotland. It was, as they said, a rare experience to accompany a rare purchase, for “with each purchase of the Glen Grant 50 Year Old Limited Edition Single Malt Scotch Whisky you will also receive an all-expenses paid trip to the Glen Grant Distillery in Rothes, Scotland.” Ok then. Tell me more.

The trip includes:

  • A private tour of the Glen Grant Distillery with lunch in the Victorian Gardens
  • Ballindalloch Castle tour
  • Adventure activities at the House of Mulben
  • The final day of the 2014 British Open Golf tournament at Royal Liverpool, with hospitality at the Champions Club Village
  • Manchester United Stadium tour
  • Loch Ness cruise
  • All flights, transfers and accommodation with breakfast,
  • lunch and dinner, are included.”

I’m not one of the lucky ones who purchased the whisky, I’m the lucky one invited along because I talk and write about whisky.

I knew we were in for a treat when my travel kit arrived, including top quality luggage & clothing, via a dedicated tour organiser who specialises in corporate incentives.

Quick as a flash Friday 18 July arrived the Cape Town crew left the airport to meet up with the Joburg crew and 14 whisky lovers clinked glasses in the private lounge at OR Tambo. We were a mixed bunch. There were sales and marketing guys from E Snell; buyers from the trade; some of the gents who purchased the whisky (only 10 bottles were made available to the public). There were three in the ‘journo’ contingent. Christian Eedes, who talks, writes about and judges wines, very, very well; Patrick Leclezio; a drinks packaging expert who in his spare time travels round the world writing the best spirits blog in South Africa; and me, a whisky lover, writer, reader, teacher, learner, not forgetting, since 1977, an ardent Manchester United supporter.

Introductions made, ice broken, we left South Africa and landed at Heathrow en-route to Manchester. What should have been a routine stop, clear immigration and leave Heathrow was not to be. We landed two days after the tragedy of flight MH17, so I expected increased security. We were on the tarmac for 90 minutes and took 2 and a half hours to clear immigration. Half of our group, me included, had our luggage examined with all sorts of paraphernalia, tested for heaven only knows what and then cleared. But we missed our connecting flight so got to Manchester later than expected, a minor inconvenience given what was to come.

As was the case in 1992, my first trip to Europe, on a Contiki tour, the arrival at a new hotel meant that a few of us gathered in the bar. 22 years later, nothing changed, so to the bar we went for an Aperol Spritz. Aperol, owned by Campari, is one of the sponsors of Manchester United. Campari is a favourite summer drink of mine and now with Aperol playing a delicious and meaningful part of my drinking arsenal, (no wait, arsenal is not the word to use in this story) my drinking repertoire, I see many a long summer lunch with an Aperol or two.

Enough about the drinks. To Old Trafford we went. For those who don’t know me, I’m 47 years old and have seen and done more than my fair share of living. It takes a lot to wow me or get under my skin.  On that day, I confess to being utterly overwhelmed. I’d arrived at a spiritual home. All that I’d seen and read about in a long history of supporting United was there in front of me. We had a private tour of the stadium, I sat in the seat Sir Alex Ferguson occupied while steering his team to victory upon victory. I could picture him on the touchline, checking his watch, pushing his players and intimidating the officials. I thought about some of the great games I’d seen, the players that had graced the pitch with displays of skill mortals can only dream of.

The highlight, and something that blew me away, was during the tour we went into the players changing room and on the wall, was an official Manchester United shirt. On the back, was my name. Yes, I walked into the changing room and there was my shirt.

united 1I don’t know how many times during my teens I dreamed about playing for United. It was not to be, but that day, the tour, the atmosphere of the stadium, the energy and topping it off with entering the change room – I couldn’t have dreamed of a day like that.

After another Aperol Spritz at The Red Café it was back to the hotel, back to the bar and then to dinner. And that’s where we’ll tee off on the next instalment.

I’ll also post a link to some photos, videos and so on, so bookmark this site and come back, often.

An open letter to @realDonaldTrump about Judge Masipa and the moron comment. #OscarTrial

Dear Mr Trump

In the early ’90s I read your first book, “The Art of the Deal” and was impressed by your skill in business, or rather, how you described your expertise. Its been entertaining following your career over the years. I watched a few episodes of “The Apprentice” and was amused at the way you engaged with the competitors. It takes a big ego and thick skin to hold yourself out as the greatest business expert on the planet, while your companies were subjected to bankruptcy reorganization. Not once, not twice, but four times. Shit happens, and when it does, perhaps humility is a good alternative to arrogance.

I don’t have a hassle with anyone making mistakes – I’ve been there, done that, often. But I do have some difficulty with you calling Judge Masipa a moron. At best you have a superficial view of the law in South Africa. Judge Masipa is academically qualified in South African law and has been trained to apply the law to the case. She is an expert in South African criminal law. You aren’t. You are an expert in American Chapter 11 Bankruptcy law. She isn’t.

You called Judge Masipa a moron, which, dependent on which dictionary you use, is either a person affected with mild mental retardation; a very stupid person; or an insulting word for someone who behaves in a stupid way. Think about it. Whether she got the judgment right or wrong is immaterial. Factually, she is not a moron.

I thought – why did you do this? Perhaps behind that big ego is insecurity. Perhaps the negative publicity has gotten to you. I suppose that someone who loves the spotlight as much as you would feel quite hurt by comments from the mainstream and respected press.

Time Magazine published a list of your top 10 failures:

Donald Trump is very proud of himself for forcing President Obama to release his birth certificate, ending the debate over whether he was legally fit to lead the country. But not everything the Donald has put his name behind has succeeded. TIME takes a look at some gambles that went bust

Trump Airlines

Trump Vodka

The Bankruptcies

The Hair

The Marriages

Trump Mortgage

Trump: The Game

The China Connection

Trump Casinos

The Middle East ‘Policy’

I don’t agree with the comments about your hair and marriages. We all have bad hair days and sometimes marriages go wrong, so I wouldn’t call them failures. Learning episodes, perhaps.

But what is more worrying is what Wikipedia had to say. Yes, I know, you aren’t a fan, but it seems that Wikipedia is a good resource for finding the good and the bad. So let’s have a look.

You’ve been a member of four political parties. Is it indecision, or don’t you understand the difference between Republicans or Democrats? Oh – I see you were thinking about running for President. A word of advice – it’s not presidential to call someone a moron. It’s also not presidential to call for a revolution, which you did when President Obama was re-elected. A revolution? Come now, Mr Trump, that is something a moron would say, not you.

Your business career has been interesting. Perhaps you acted like a moron, behaving in a stupid way. From Wikipedia “By 1989, poor business decisions left Trump unable to meet loan payments. Trump financed the construction of his third casino, the $1 billion Taj Mahal primarily with high-interest junk bonds. Although he shored up his businesses with additional loans and postponed interest payments, by 1991 increasing debt brought Trump to business bankruptcy and to the brink of personal bankruptcy. Banks and bond holders had lost hundreds of millions of dollars, but opted to restructure his debt to avoid the risk of losing more money in court.”

Sorry – clearly I got it wrong. It was the banks that acted like morons.

Do you remember an analyst who worked at a stock brokerage firm.  The analyst had made negative comments on the financial prospects of Taj Mahal. The analyst refused to retract the statements and was fired by his firm. Taj Mahal declared bankruptcy for the first time in November 1990. A defamation lawsuit by the analyst against you for $2 million was settled out of court. So the analyst was correct; you had him fired; your company went bust and then you settled when the analyst sued you. That’s quite silly of you, I think, maybe even moronic.

Given your history of racial controversy, perhaps it was moronic for you, a white man, to call Judge Masipa, a black woman, a moron. You see, what you said has to be viewed against your history. Or shall we call it, your moronic behaviour.

You remember that In 1973, the Justice Department sued your Trump Management Corporation for alleged racial discrimination, at which time you were the company’s president. The federal government filed the lawsuit against your New York City real estate company for discriminating against potential black renters.

After the rape of a white female jogger in Central Park in 1989, you aroused controversy in New York City’s black community when you took out full-page newspaper ads calling for the death penalty for the African-American teenage suspects—who were all later exonerated. Thank heavens you weren’t a judge in that case. You would have had innocent people executed. That would have been moronic. Or maybe not moronic, but racist. There is a long list of similar incidents. Silly of you, really.

But wait – maybe you aren’t just a racist. Maybe you’re an anti-Semite as well. Another snippet from Wikipedia is that last year you sent a tweet about Jon Stewart of The Daily Show which some other Twitter users believe had anti-Semitic undertones: “I promise you that I’m much smarter than Jonathan Leibowitz – I mean Jon Stewart @TheDailyShow. Who, by the way, is totally overrated.” Andy Lassner, producer of the Ellen DeGeneres Show, tweeted in response: “I knew you were more than just a racist. Proud of you for showing your anti-Semitic stripes too.”

Really now Donald (you don’t mind if I call you Donald, do you, I feel that I now know you so well) what I don’t like is people shooting off their mouths and interfering with what goes on in South Africa. I like it here. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty cool. If a Judge makes a mistake, there is an appeal process. Judges do make mistakes. We all do. You did, often, and still do, often. So before you call someone a moron, sit back, run your fingers through your hair, and ask yourself: who is the real moron?


Yours sincerely


Bernard Gutman

Whisky flying high @BainsWhisky @JSDistillery

There’s been much in the press about a vial of whisky travelling round in space and heading back to earth. Since space travel is beyond the reach of most of us I’d like to focus on commercial airlines, particularly the whisky we can now enjoy on some flights.

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky (produced in Wellington in the Cape) is now available on SAA and Kenya Airways. It makes sense that the world’s best grain whisky from 2013 can now be enjoyed on South Africa’s national airline.

Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky 02 LR

International visitors travelling on South African Airways (SAA) and Kenya Airways this August and September will have the unique opportunity to purchase Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, the award-winning South African grain whisky, on-board.

Global marketing manager Eliska Botha said that these two new listings form part of steps towards making Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky available to consumers worldwide.

“Since launching in South African in 2009, Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky has performed phenomenally at all the major international whisky competitions. The whisky has also ignited quite an interest globally but the high demand from consumers in South Africa has resulted in limited availability in the rest of the world. Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky currently sells only through duty-free and a select few retailers in the UK and Canada.

“Through this new on-board listing, international travellers will now be able to get to know our proudly South African whisky and take a bottle home with them. The international consumer-base travelling on these airlines are quite discerning and we believe that having Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky available within this premium environment will further strengthen interest worldwide.”

Given the massive interest in Bain’s locally and the growing international curiosity about this whisky, availability on the airlines is bound to generate sales for Distell and most importantly, enjoyment for the consumer.



After #Basculegate, Bascule goes from (almost) ruin to redemption. Well done @CapeGrace

It makes me happy to write this. It makes me happy to write good things about Bascule.

There was considerable fallout after my original post about Bascule. My thought was to get the hotel to sit up and take notice after many private emails and conversations passed without the CG acting on complaints.  Immediately after my post the hotel denied that anything was wrong. Then lawyers got involved. They said if I carried on with negative public comments the hotel would ban me. I said here that I can’t afford a legal battle, nor could I afford to be banned from a place that is part of the Whisky fabric in Cape Town.

But nearly a year after the post, most of what I complained about (and granted, what I complained about was subjective, my opinion only and the hotel did deny everything) has been fixed. The Bascule is on its way to restoring its whisky heritage.

Importantly, in public I repeat my private apology to Michael Liffmann. What I did wrong was that I attacked your character. I should not have done that. Instead I should have simply stuck to the facts. I hope that you will enjoy more support from the staff and any negativity that you feel blows away faster than the froth on your favourite CBC craft beer in a south-easter!

On the whisky front it seems that George has taken back control of the bar. The Bascule now boasts stunning new display windows, showcasing the best of South Africa in the form of the multi-award winning Three Ships expressions & Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky. Bascule is a whisky bar in South Africa and it makes sense, and makes me proud, that Bascule has chosen to feature the best we have to offer. Recently I attended the launch of the Bunnahabhain display – a must see, very clever use of the maritime theme linking whisky to the Waterfront.

Unfortunately for Bascule, George Novitskas is heading to Gauteng where he has accepted a position at an international drinks company. George will be looking after luxury brands, something he is well suited to after his time in the opulent, elegant world of the Cape Grace.

That begs the question: who will take over? I don’t know the internal workings but I would suggest Bradley Jacobs, the assistant manager. Bradley has been a Bascule stalwart for years. He has a wealth of whisky knowledge and has been rebuilding Bascule back to a whisky bar. If merit were the only factor, Bradley would be my first choice. On the empowerment front, Bradley would add some much needed colour to a very pale management team at Cape Grace. So – let’s hear it for Brad!

What’s new at Bascule? Cocktails. Not the normal fare, but some very clever, high-end drinks. Among those mixing them are Andrew, possibly still celebrating Zimbabwe’s cricket victory over the Aussies, and Devin, ex-Orphanage, Cape Town’s best cocktail bar. Inspiration and advice came from Anil at Shaker Bar School. Some of the offerings are a Rooibos Blazer (Lagavulin 16; maple syrup; lemon bitters & rooibos tea) at R 190; Cape Malay Curry (Johnnie Walker Platinum; Apricot liqueur; roasted cumin) at R 110. Chatting with Bradley last week he said that the cocktails are made with double measures of the lead spirit. The mathematically inclined among you may be interested to know that a single Lagavulin 16 goes for R 100, so with that in mind, the cocktail is pretty good value.

George said “As you know most whisky lovers prefer to drink their whisky neat. Yet whisky cocktails are making a huge come back worldwide. A good whisky marries beautifully with citrus flavours, loves a bit of spice, and can be utterly transformed by a shot of sweetness tempered with a dash of bitters.

Bascule has always been at the cutting edge of whisky trends so it made sense for us to diversify our whisky offerings in the form of a new whisky cocktail menu, making whisky the star attraction. To start our creative juices flowing, we took inspiration from our local heritage experimenting with fynbos, rooibos and locally grown herbs to really bring out the beautiful expressions of single malt and blended whiskies used. All ingredients used are house made such as our chocolate and lemon bitters, ginger beer, spiced purees and naartjie ratafia.  We have utilised whiskies from the full whisky flavour spectrum to suit any whisky palate as well as non-whisky drinker. It is also important to remember that these cocktails are not seasonal and can be enjoyed all year round. 

The passion at Bascule will always be whisky.  The new menu is designed to get people excited about whisky again and for non-whisky drinkers to fall in love with it like the rest of us.”

Back to my original post. I suggested the following:

  1. Bring back the comfortable seating.
  2. Make a designated, comfortable outdoor area for smokers. Cigar lovers don’t want to be huddled under umbrellas in the rain during winter or blown away by the Cape south-easter during summer.
  3. Make a special area for the members.
  4. Have regard to the views of the members.
  5. Give George, the manager proper authority. He has the support of the staff and members.
  6. Remove Liffmann from the decision making process. He does not enjoy the respect of the staff or any of the members I’ve spoken with.
  7. Get rid of the hookers.

Subsequent to my post…

1 – The seats remain, the couches gone, a distant memory. It is a pity. No change.

2 – Cigar smoking is gone, Cape Town following the international trend. It is what it is. No change.

3 & 4 – I hear there is a new membership offering, with private areas, discounted rates, special members evenings and so on. A lot of members left, but I hear that a lot have signed up for the new offering. Positive change.

5 – I understand George (and Bradley) were given more authority than he had at the time of my article. Positive change.

6 – Michael Liffman is still there, but I understand stepped back from Bascule’s operations. Change.

7 – The hookers. That seemed to generate the most coverage. Let me relate a story. A few months ago I went to East Africa on a whisky gig. I stayed at a top hotel and once I settled in to my room, went downstairs for a drink. I walked in to the bar and the half a dozen women sitting at the bar turned and batted their false eyelashes at me. It was not because I am a Brad Pitt lookalike. I’m not. It is because I was  a tourist and tourists are perceived to have fat wallets. The point is that most 5 star hotels in the world have prostitutes on the premises. It is a fact of life.

Since my article I understand that Cape Grace has taken several measures to deal with the scourge of prostitution. (They deny that anything they have or have not done is a result of my article). Apart from one initiative introduced in conjunction with the V & A Waterfront, all measures are internal. They include enhanced access control to certain areas inside the hotel; tighter coverage via CCTV, more uniformed and undercover security personnel and certain other measures.  There are other measures, of course, that have been introduced since the article appeared. Well done CG – you have now done good, confronting the problem.  Why Philma Gomes, the PR director, denied that there were prostitutes is still a mystery to me.

I’ve been to Bascule about 4 times in the past 6 months and am pleased to say that the measures have worked. Positive change.

Membership was also an issue, with members originally not being credited for the time the Bascule was closed. The original response to complaints was “During the Bascule closure, all whisky members have had access to their whisky from their lockers and were offered 10% discount at all F&B outlets.”

A week after some comment on my blog about membership CG sent out an email to members saying “Dear Valued Member of Bascule.  I would like to inform you that your memberships have been extended by 2 months due to the closure for the refurbishment in March of last year. If you have already paid for the renewal of your membership it will be extended by 2 months of your current membership year.  I do apologies for the late communication of this information and if you have any further questions or concerns please don’t hesitate to contact me.”

Common sense and decency eventually prevailed as one would expect from such a great hotel, and the members got some of what they wanted.

On the staffing front, someone I found to be a particularly problematic waitress changed her name and left the country. Positive change. The staff seem happier. Positive change. There is a new personnel manager, Barry Ross, who I think is an excellent addition to the CG and I wish him well. I’ll be sending him information about a responsible drinking initiative I’d like to do at bars and hotels at the Waterfront. He seems keen to help. Unfortunately the many emails I sent to the GM Sandy Pollard and PR director Philma Gomes about the responsible drinking issue went unanswered. I think that’s a bit rude of them.

Overall – well done to Bascule, well done Cape Grace, you’re heading in the right direction and have done well.

See you this Tuesday evening.

Thank you.

Whisky round the world viewed from Cape Town


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