Andy Watts should go back to England and take his Three Ships Whisky with him. @JSDistillery @ThreeShipsSA @bainswhisky

I’d love to see the back of Andy Watts, wearing a Three Ships shirt, walking towards an aircraft, carrying Three Ships branded luggage, heading out of South Africa. I’d be so happy to see him leave I’d drive him to the airport and have a party the night he left.

Why stop at England? He can go to America, Canada, Israel or The Netherlands. He can go to any country where they have a whisky festival. And I’d have a bigger party when he returns, having shared South Africa’s best spirit with the whisky-loving world.

But he’d better move quickly. England’s Midlands Whisky Festival is in September. Three Ships isn’t featured at WhiskyFest New York (September), San Francisco (October) or Chicago, in 2016. Is it too late to see Andy Watts presenting a Master Class at the Maltstock weekend in The Netherlands at the end of September? I hope not.

But Andy seems stuck here in South Africa. Sure, he goes overseas when Three Ships and Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky are nominated for and win various awards. This makes for good adverts and smiles back home in Wellington (the Cape version, not the one in New Zealand) but it doesn’t really help the whisky world.

What whisky lovers want is to drink the great whiskies in the world and, where possible, talk with the people behind the spirits. The master blenders, the distiller managers, the many souls involved in producing the spirit, all who can share some of their passion and knowledge about the whisky they produce.

In South Africa Andy Watts is the whisky guru. The man behind Three Ships and Bains tells a whisky story in South Africa, and that story needs to travel. He arrived here from England as a professional cricketer and is now a professional whisky maker. And in that capacity, we should send him back. Send him round the world, with his whisky, with his team, to as many festivals and shows as they can manage. It makes no sense keeping Andy and his whisky to us. Whisky lovers share – our drinks and our thoughts. For a long time our conversations have turned to whisky festivals round the world and the sad absence of Three Ships and Bain’s. We chat with our whisky brothers and sisters across the globe and hope that one day they can enjoy your whiskies, freely, instead of from 50 ml sample bottles we send over to them. We hope they can attend one of Andy’s Master Classes, plotting the journey of the single malts from new make spirit to the ten year old.  They want him in their own countries, even if it’s just for the shows. They want to hear the story of South African whisky.

So Andy, if it seems that the whisky fellowship in South Africa have become more vocal about our plans for you, we have. We would very much like you and your whiskies to travel to the rest of the world and show them just how well we do things in South Africa.

I hope the day is soon when the Three Ships and South African flags wave high and strong at a whisky festival outside South Africa. Then, we can sit here as proud South Africans, watching another great African sunset with a world class golden spirit made in South Africa in our glasses.


Bernard Gutman

Cape Town, South Africa



Joburg – your turn now for @wadebales @bunnahabhainSA Whisky & Wine

Last week I had the pleasure of talking whisky for a couple of nights at the Wade Bales Wine & Malt Whisky affair at the superb 15 on Orange hotel in Cape Town. It’s a great event with special wines and of course, whisky…malt only! I like the intimacy of the Wade Bales events and chatting with my fellow presenters, some of whom have been in the business almost as long as I’ve been around. One of the true legends is Pierre Mentjes, the genial giant who is the face of Bunnahabhain Whisky in South Africa.  The marketing folk coined the phrase “the gentle taste of Islay” to describe Bunnahabhain. It makes sense as Bunnahabhain doesn’t have the peat reek whisky folk know from the rest of the Islay malts. It also makes sense as Pierre is one of the true gentlemen of whisky and it’s a real treat to have him pour you a dram and chat about whisky. Go visit – it is a great event, with great people and great drinks.


Whisky enthusiasts will have an opportunity to sample Bunnahabhain’s sought-after Islay single malts at this year’s Wade Bales Wine & Malt Whisky Affairs in May in Johannesburg.

Award-winning* Bunnahabhain will be represented at the events by Mr Whisky himself, Pierre Meintjes. Considered not only a leading whisky authority in South Africa, but internationally, he is one of just 159 Masters of the Quaich worldwide, an honour bestowed by the Scottish whisky industry. He is the only South African to hold the title, in recognition of his contribution to the category.

Meintjes will present the 12-, 18- and 25-year-old expressions of Bunnahabhain, made by master distiller Ian MacMillan.

Bunnahabhain has developed something of a cult following amongst aficionados, for the relative rarity of its whiskies and their singular flavour that is quite unlike the peaty, smoky single malts traditionally associated with Islay.

The distillery is the only one on the island to use a natural spring water source and unpeated barley. Without the influence of the local peaty moors, the malts are far lighter on the palate than their Islay counterparts.

They are also un-chillfiltered in a return to a very traditional technique that gives rise to a rich depth of colour, aroma and flavour – as natural as when they come out of the cask.

The experiences are curated by Wade Bales, an influential tastemaker in connoisseur circles, who has chosen the brand for his exclusive line-up of luxury wine and whiskies. He has deliberately restricted the number of drinks on exhibition to ensure guests a focused, intimate experience, enhanced by a dedicated food area.

He has also launched a new app to let consumers learn more about the wines and whiskies on show and to rate, share and buy those they enjoy.

Johannesburg: Thursday, May 28, 18:00 to 21:00, The Firs, Rosebank
Friday, May 29, 18:00 to 21:00, The Firs, Rosebank

For more information, call 021 794 2151, or to buy tickets, go to”;


Whisky, burgers, chilled out evenings and World Whisky Day @jsdistillery @craftburgerbar1

There’s a little restaurant at the Bantry Bay end of Sea Point called Craft Burger Bar. I think they serve the best burgers around and it has my type of vibe. When I’m in the area and feel like a coffee, glass of wine, whisky or a meal, I go there. Yesterday evening I finished a long, long day and needed a pick-me-up. So…I called ahead to Russell, the host and asked him to make sure he had a wee dram ready for me. As it happens, the whisky of choice at Craft Burger Bar is the Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish. I enjoyed it tremendously. Now where am I going with this…yes. Whisky. World Whisky Day is coming up soon and guess what arrived in my inbox today – a press release about Three Ships!

I could say that I predicted the future when I ordered this whisky last night…or perhaps I just wanted a great whisky with a great burger…you decide.


World Whisky Day on 16 May marks a special day for anyone who appreciates the dedication, craftsmanship and passion it takes to create a premium whisky. Celebrate this global event with a proudly South African and internationally award-winning whisky.

Three Ships was launched in 1977 as South Africa’s first whisky brand and the whiskies have come a long way since those early days. Over the years master distiller Andy Watts has established a unique style of whisky-making for each of the Three Ships Select, Premium Select 5 Year Old, Bourbon Cask Finish and 10 Year Old Single Malt crafted at The James Sedgwicks Distillery in Wellington.

Using only the finest raw ingredients and innovation through experience the whiskies each spend a minimum of three years maturing in carefully selected oak casks. The whiskies offer a diverse spectrum of flavours and choice for whisky enthusiasts ranging from soft and sweet to smoky and aromatic.

The world has applauded these whiskies with a World’s Best, double gold and gold at all the major international whisky competitions where all the best whiskies from around the world compete for these prestigious accolades.

The Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish is the first South African whisky where both the malt and grain components are distilled and matured in SA. After an initial maturation of three years the final blend is matured for a further six months in bourbon casks. The result is a soft and warm whisky with delicate honeyed biscuits, vanilla and ripe fruit seamlessly blending into toasted Brazil nuts and mocha coffee with mild spice.

So enjoy this World Whisky Day with a proudly South African whisky, celebrating the extraordinary journey embarked on more than three decades ago.

The range of Three Ships whiskies is available nation-wide from leading liquor outlets and the Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish retails for about R180.

Three Ships Bourbon Cask with tin pack shot  (LR)

Wade Bales – 15 on Orange – Whisky – Wine – Talk – Listen – Laugh

I enjoy this gig, I really do. Over the years i’ve had the privilege of presenting whiskies for a few different companies and this year, it’s for Hector McBeth, a luminary and legend in the whisky world. I’m presenting a few independent bottlings of Longmorn, Linkwood; Auchentoshan & more (perhaps delving into the Japanese) at this great event.

Here is the PR info, please come visit and share a dram.

Matchmaker Wade Bales presents the Wade Bales Wine & Malt Whisky Affair presented by BNP Paribas Securities South Africa

Cape Town 8th May 2015

African Pride Hotel 15 on Orange Hotel

On Friday 8th May, Cape Town’s Wine & Malt Whisky enthusiasts will be able to enjoy over 100 of South Africa’s premier wines, alongside 50 top malt whiskies, when Wade Bales hosts the Wine & Malt Whisky Affair at the 5 Star African Pride 15 on Orange Hotel, in Cape Town.

Wine enthusiasts can taste over 100 selected wines from some of South Africa’s premium wineries, such as Delaire-Graff Estate, Rustenberg Wines and Ernie Els.

Amongst the top single malts at this exclusive event will be a new entrant, the Kilchoman Machir Bay Islay Single Malt and their Kilchoman 100% Islay. New and exciting variants of Glenfarclas 12, Glenfarclas 17 & 19 Year Old, will also be showcased alongside Bunnahabhain, Glen Grant, Glenfiddich and The Balvenie.

Master Classes in Whisky and Wine will be presented with whisky experts and winemakers in attendance – an opportunity to gain unique insight into the secrets of the grape and the grain. There is a nominal fee of R 20 per person, per class – see ticket prices marked R200 per person.

“A combination of both fine wine and malt whisky under one roof, presented by a select group of invited exhibitors, make this event a stylish and sophisticated experience,” says Bales.

The Wade Bales Wine & Malt Whisky Affair presented by BNP Paribas Securities South Africa is for one night only, from 18h00 till 21h00, on Friday 8th May at the African Pride 15 on Orange Hotel, Cape Town.

Tickets prices:

R180 per person (Unlimited wine and whisky tasting, complimentary glass, selection of gourmet cheese, antipasti deli and artisanal breads)

R200 per person (Unlimited wine and whisky tasting, complimentary glass, selection of gourmet cheese, antipasti deli and artisanal breads and a seat at either a Wine (OR) Whisky Master Class

Tickets are available through Computicket

For more information contact Patricia Uribe-Daras on 021 794 2151, or email More Information

I grew up on Bell’s Whisky

Now before you get all worked up about children and drinking and make a call to social services to enquire after this poor boy who spent his childhood drinking whisky, let me put this into some chronological context.

Many, many years ago, and I mean many, many, years ago, when I was still in school, a time when talking about Nelson Mandela would get you 90 days detention without trial, I worked at a local hotel. It was an upmarket establishment, frequented by clientele from round the world. It boasted a famous restaurant, a smart bar area serving maybe 7 or 8 different whiskies, a lot in those days. The most popular whisky, by far, was Bell’s.

It made sense then, when I started drinking whisky, (at age 18, of course, not a day earlier, yes, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) that Bell’s was my first choice. Nearly thirty years later, I enjoy a wee nip of Bell’s on the odd occasion when I want to reminisce. But that’s wrong of me. I neglected my old companion and brought it out too rarely.

A few days ago a beautiful bottle of Bell’s arrived on my desk, engraved with my name and while the whisky is the same, the packaging is different. It is still a good whisky. I opened up the bottle, poured myself a wee dram and started to think.

A lot has changed with Bell’s. I conducted hundreds of Bell’s tastings for the public, deconstructing the whisky, delving into the different malts and grains, showcasing its versatility and sharing one of the world’s most famous whiskies. The days of Bell’s Whisky being associated with golf and fly-fishing are no more. The birthday cards and newsletters are things of the past. Anybody who had the pleasure of meeting Alan Shuman, Tommy Larkan & Derek Cuthbert, the best team of brand ambassadors I’ve ever seen, will remember them every time they sip on a Bell’s. They spent decades regaling packed bars with stories of whisky and Scotland, promoting their whisky with passion and knowledge…ah, those were the days, my friend.

But it is a different world nowadays and new brooms or new marketing teams make changes. In the corporate world, whisky is a source of numbers. In the whisky world, whisky is a source of pleasure. I can’t fault the corporates for making changes if the numbers make sense, but I think what happened with Bell’s is a bit of a shame. It went from big budget, hugely successful campaigns targeting whisky drinkers in groups and one on one, to television adverts. Sure, that advert about the father who learns to read – brilliant. But we need more. We need the personal touch.

The catchphrase “Give that man a Bell’s” is still used, but how many people have tasted the whisky? What happened to the thousands of members of the Bell’s Fraternity of Connoisseurs? What happened to the CRM program that ran for years, keeping Bell’s Whisky lovers updated, informed, and reminded about Bell’s Whisky?

Sometimes brand managers are not whisky people, but numbers people. I think we need a balance. Whisky brands need numbers people who love whisky, or whisky people who love numbers. Both the brand and the balance sheet will benefit.

The whisky is good and I enjoy it. If I go to a bar, I may order it and there is always a bottle at my home. But what of the regular whisky drinker who used to drink Bell’s but may have moved on. I think it’s time for Bell’s marketing to rise up and get whisky lovers talking about it again, and drinking it.

I grew up on Bell’s and I’ll be drinking it way into my later years. I hope that more people do.


Bernard Gutman

A whisky focussed @BlackBottleSA piece – with @taygang @plmcraig @slkaye @DKC_PR

I suppose it’s natural to get a bit carried away and lose a bit of focus when writing about whisky.  Forgive me, I’m human, perhaps with a bit of ADD / memory loss as the years go on. When I re-read my piece about Black Bottle whisky I realised that I forgot to focus on the whisky! So here is an updated version…Cheers!

I should’ve suspected that the launch of the new Black Bottle whisky was going to be a bit different to the usual shindig when the invitation said nobody would be allowed into the venue after 6.p.m. After all, this is Cape Town, where punctuality comes for a holiday.

The instructions were to go to the back entrance of the Cape Town Club, meet a Mr McCloud and tell him a secret password to gain entrance. Ok, I thought, I’ll play along, and so I took the stairs deep down under Keerom Street into a dark dungeon, filled with assorted press people and bloggers. There was not a drop of whisky to be seen, which worried me. I had visions of the movie Hostel, where gorgeous women lure innocent travellers into torture chambers. Was this the end? I thought back to the start of the evening… the lovely Sam Kaye arrived when I did, a couple of promo ladies in short skirts escorted me down the stairs in the dungeon…it was all pointing towards a messy end.

Thankfu18 LRlly entertainment arrived in the form of a Miss Ruby who set the scene. And the scene was a speakeasy in prohibition era America. Phew, a sigh of relief.

But wait – into another dark room, where Illusionist / magician / scarily entertaining guy Marcel Oudejans did some money and mind tricks that could cause worldwide havoc if used for perverse pleasures. We escaped, dignity intact, if slightly dazed and confused.

10 LR

The main event, the whisky, lived up to the hype. It is richer, bolder than the previous release, higher malt content from Speyside, perhaps a bit more age and very clever new packaging. A splash of water opens the spirit to reveal toffee, fresh fruits, and the finish is pleasantly long for a youngish whisky.

Mr Black told the story of Gordon Graham, Black Bottle creator, whisky maverick, the visionary in a family of accountants, who sadly passed on 8 months after marriage. That left no male to run his business, so his wife took over, 100 years before it became “acceptable” for women to run distilleries…

Whisky legend Pierre Meintjies was on hand to answer any questions falling outside of the script. We moved to another dark room for superb cocktails from Don Sheehan and his team and music, some old school jazz, via Patrick Craig’s team of Three Blind Mice.

13 LR

Back to the whisky. While the previous incarnations of Black Bottle trumpeted the fact that the blend contained whisky from all the active Islay distilleries, the new version makes no such claim. It makes sense, I suppose, because with stocks running low there may have been some resistance from some of the Islay distilleries to share their whisky with a competitor. But what I think happened is that the smoke component has now been filled by Ledaig, part of the Bunnahabhain family and there is a new and very welcome richness in the whisky.

Is it a new version or a different whisky? I’d say something in-between. It is richer than the version we know, but less smoky, and of course there will be those who like the new version and those who don’t. Peatfreaks could be disappointed – but I suggest they buy a bottle and give it a try, because the complexity from the sweeter highland whiskies as opposed to the traditional Islay whiskies is real treat. Personally, I prefer the new Black Bottle. I’m also looking forward to putting a few mates together for a bit of a tasting and Skype call with the Master Distiller, after the holidays.

Cocktails were courtesy of Don Sheehan and his team. In line with the fantastic cocktail culture Cape Town has embraced, the drinks looked great and tasted perfect. 08 LR

With a price point around R 240, a true whisky lover should go out and do two things: try get your hands on one of the old and one of the new. And then sit down and compare, play around, see what’s the same, what’s different.

And then it ended, with word of a police raid to break up the happy Prohibition Party.

It was a very clever, creative, way to launch the whisky. And the whisky responded, brilliantly.


Is this Mischief from Murray? Is it time to bash the bible?

There’s a lot of commentary on the latest Jim Murray publication, particularly on the revelation that Scotch whisky is going to the dogs. Well now, I thought, sipping on something new and exciting from that not yet and perhaps never will be independent land just north of England, what on earth possessed Jim to take a swipe at the Scotch Whisky industry?

I went along to Jim’s website and saw that he says he is “the world’s foremost whisky authority”. Ok then. Shows you how little I know. I thought that becoming an authority on anything generally involves decades of dedication, working hard, understanding the intricacies of the subject. Take Whisky, for example. I thought that people who work in distilleries, the master blenders, the distillery managers, those who spent their entire adult lives working on whisky, would be the leading authorities on whisky. But clearly not. Jim is. He says so. And he says so in the Bible. So it must be true. So Jim is the world’s foremost authority on whisky and he produces a bible. Wow. It takes a hell of an ego to come up with that!

Now let’s step back and think for a bit, because we whisky lovers sometimes like to sit and think and drink. Has the whisky world gone mad? Jim is obviously knowledgeable, but the tastings are sighted, personal preference (or what could well be a personal gripe) has to play a part in the final scores. Of course, there is some merit in what he does, but there comes a point when what seems to be a personal issue between Jim and Scotland has overflowed into his bible. Whisky people shouldn’t stand for it. With caramel, sulphur, and whatever else cropped up as complaints in the past few bibles, Jim may have had a point. But this latest biblical revelation should be seen for what it is – a personal gripe.

Sensational headlines sell and yes, I think Yamazaki produces fantastic whiskies. Well deserved to them. But ultimately, Jim does sighted tastings, bias comes into results, the vagaries of the day, the mood, these all play a part in decisions.  Panels and blind tastings are the way to go. Not one person, sighted.

And ultimately, it is just Jim’s view. Not yours, not mine. I’ve only been doing whisky properly for about 15 years, hosting tastings, talking whisky, participating in panels and so on. I know a lot, but Jim knows a lot more. I defer to his knowledge, but not to his palate. Because taste is subjective. We should never be too influenced by what other people say about something as personal and subjective as taste. If you like a whisky, drink it. If you don’t like a particular whisky, don’t drink it. Choose for yourself. Play around with blind tastings. Have fun. This is whisky, not brain surgery. And hey, if perhaps one day God comes along and says, “Bernard, this is the best whisky in the world”, perhaps I’ll listen.

But for now, Jim, forgive me for I know exactly what I do, and what I do is suggest that whisky lovers take your latest guide with a pinch of peat…

Whisky round the world viewed from Cape Town


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