Rémy Martin Cognac – romance in a bottle.


All Cognac is Brandy, but not all Brandy is Cognac. Like most things French, Cognac is associated with romance. It is the universal drink of choice when celebrating success. Much like we imagine bubbles in Champagne have a particular type of magic, the mention of Cognac mystically transports us to a happy place.

Here in South Africa, sometimes we sip Cognac next to a fireplace, in deep leather armchairs, engaging in a deep meaningful conversation with the object of our affection. Sometimes we sit with friends in a tavern, gathered round a bottle of Cognac, debating team tactics about Amakhosi or Sundowns or Pirates. Wherever and however you enjoy your Cognac, each occasion is a celebration.

I recently had the pleasure of attending a Rémy Martin Opulence Revealed media event hosted by the global brand ambassador, Alex Quintin, a lucky person who lives in Cognac and travels the world talking about Rémy Martin. What is Opulence Revealed? It is the journey through an exclusive cognac tasting combined with a luxurious food pairing. It was a lot of fun, a treat for the senses and we learned a lot.

VS, VSOP & XO, the letters on the bottles: Each corresponds to how long the brandy has been aged in oak barrels. In 1983, following a request by the BNIC (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac, the French government drafted regulations governing the terms used to describe a cognac’s quality. These designations, which may be included on the label, refer to the age of the youngest eau-de-vie used in making the cognac.

VS stands for “Very Special”: only eaux-de-vie at least two years old can be used to make a VS cognac. VSOP stands for “Very Superior Old Pale”: VSOP cognacs are created from eaux-de-vie aged for at least four years. XO stands for “Extra Old”: XO cognacs are made only from eaux-de-vie at least six years old.

I’ve a particular fondness for Rémy Martin and have had the privilege of tasting the Louis XIII here in South Africa and late at night at a bar in Scotland. It is an aspirational and inspirational experience. That particular Cognac contains over 1200 eaux-de-vie aged for 40 to 100 years.


We had three expressions that evening, the VS, VSOP  very special 1738. Every sip reveals something new, like all complex spirits should. There are many cocktails created, showcasing the spirit. Alex also mentioned leaving the VS or VSOP  in the freezer and serving it in chilled glasses, for a silky smooth experience. Summer is coming and that seems like a great idea.

Tasting notes below – and click on the links above to find out more.

  • VSOP:
    • Eye: golden yellow – from the extraction of oak wood during aging.
    • Nose: vanilla, ripe apricot, multi-layered with floral notes (violet and rose) – due to the prestigious Grand Champagne terroir.
    • Palate: roundness, hint of liquorice, silky.
    • Food pairing: mini apples and dried apricots.


  • XO:
    • Eye: deep amber colour – from longer aging in the oak barrels.
    • Nose: jasmine, juicy plum, candied orange, cinnamon, honey.
    • Palate: rich and velvety, juicy plums, candied orange, hazelnuts.
    • Food pairing: Parmesan or Manchego cheese (UMAMI taste); chocolate macaroon (melting sensation).


  • 1738:
    • Eye: unique, shimmering copper colour.
    • Nose: plum, fig marmalade, oaky notes of toffee and toasted bread.
    • Palate: mellowness of butterscotch, baked spices with hints of dark chocolate. Exceptionally round with a creamy aftertaste.
    • Food pairing: fresh figs and chocolate truffles.


The Societi Bistro Tour Through France. @societibistro

If you know Cape Town and know Capetonians, you know that when the rain comes down, we stay home. Something happened on a rainy Saturday in July that enticed quite a few of us to leave our homes. Something French. It was the media / family / customer launch of the Tour Through France menu at Societi Bistro.

In the beautiful city of Cape Town new restaurants open all the time. There are some aimed solely at the tourist market, a few that open with a flourish and close in despair. The restaurants that remain open season after season, year after year, are the ones that have dedicated owners, loyal staff and happy customers. Sounds like a simple formula, but it’s not.

Thankfully the good people from Societi Bistro have executed the formula very well over the years. The venue at 50 Orange Street (near another institution, The Labia Theatre) was packed with happy customers trying out the Tour Through France menu.

What struck me about the event was the feeling of family. Quite a few of the locals seem to view Societi as their own dining room, with The Snug, (possibly the most perfect place to enjoy a cigar, indoors, in Cape Town) as their private lounge. Societi is popular with the foodie crowd and I noticed a few of the regulars have dishes named after them. I’m aiming to have a whisky cocktail named after me…but I need to visit more often;)

The day wasn’t only about the menu – there was a competition on social media for two Woodbender chairs. Woodbender is another example of a business that has the longevity formula sorted out. They make great furniture, provide professional furniture and have happy, repeat, customers. The competition – snap a selfie in the chair, post the photo and the photos with the most likes, win. The winners were the owners of the @oitnb.tv and @tarryno accounts. Well done to them!

What I really enjoyed about the day (apart from the incredible food and wine) was the quality of the people behind the tables, serving wines. Often nowadays wine farms send out untrained and unenthusiastic people to present wines. Not that day. Every presenter was top-notch – probably because the wine farms hold Societi and its clientele in high regard. It is a sign of respect for the restaurant and customers.

Societi is a real gem of a restaurant and a standout in the crowded Cape Town scene. Go as a patron, leave as family.

Societi Bistro
Telephone number: 021 42 42 100.
50 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town, South Africa

It’s International Beer Day! Checkers #LiquorShop & Jack Black beer have a huge prize for you!

It’s International Beer Day and Checkers #LiquorShop is giving away a case of Jack Black beer for 12 months to one lucky winner.

This weekend dishes up a couple of South African favourite pastimes – sport and beer. It is truly massive weekend: The Olympics opening ceremony on Friday night, Lions v Hurricanes Final on Saturday morning and today, there is a day devoted to Beer. Yes, International Beer Day. Whoever thought of that deserves a medal, but as all the medals are at the Olympics, let’s raise a glass and say Cheers!

Checkers #LiquorShop is so excited about International Beer Day that it is singing along to celebrate. One lucky winner stands a chance to win a case of Jack Black beer each month for the next  12 months. So, join in on the beer-aoke and you could win. The most creative picture or video wins.

Use Twitter or Instagram, with the #CheckersJackBlack and post a photo, a video, a few words, but make it fun, make it relevant, and prepare for a delivery of a case of Jack Black Beer every month for the next year.

Competition closes at noon on the 12th August.

beer checkers

The Balvenie’s David Stewart – a lifetime of service and dedication.


I’m writing this on Mandela Day, which is commemorated in South Africa by people doing 67 minutes of service to the broader community – doing something for others. Why 67 minutes? One minute for each year Madiba devoted to public service. Today, sacrifice and service are on our minds.

The whisky world has many people who have dedicated their lives to the industry, and to us, the whisky lovers of the world. David Stewart is one of them. Think about a 12-year long apprenticeship. Mr Stewart served the whisky world with a dedication rarely seen in this fast-paced world, with the desire for instant gratification and accelerated learning programs. The world is in a hurry. It doesn’t want to wait. It wants answers and results, and it wants them now.   Perhaps we need to sit back and think for a while, be a bit more patient, let the whisky mature for a while. Let’s face it: if it wasn’t for people like David Stewart, his patience and dedication to the craft, much of what is now part of the wonderful world of whisky simply wouldn’t be around for us to enjoy.

Making whisky in the colder climates is much like people planting trees – not for this generation, but for the next. People producing whisky will often only taste the fruits of their labour, sometimes 15, 30 or 50 years after they have distilled the liquids and laid down the casks. Today, while we do something for others, think about what others have done for us.

Different expressions of The Balvenie feature on the whisky shelves of many whisky lovers in the world. Mr Stewart’s legacy continues with every expression of the Balvenie. Tonight, I’m going to raise a glass of The Balvenie and toast two people who, in different ways, for very different goals, in very different circumstances, with very different sacrifices, understood service and sacrifice and allowed us to benefit from what they did, for us.



JULY 2016




The Balvenie Malt Master, David Stewart, was recently recognized in the 2016 New Year’s Honours list as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), for services to the Scotch whisky industry. On the 5th of July 2016, Queen Elizabeth II handed over the accolade to David Steward in a ceremony at The Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, Scotland.


After nearly 54 years in the industry, David’s pioneering techniques have had a profound impact on the production of Scotch whisky used today. He is renowned for his groundbreaking workparticularly around ‘cask finishes’ for The Balvenie and has developed a number of award winning whiskies enjoyed and loved by whisky enthusiasts all over the world. He is one of only 12 malt masters in the Scotch whisky industry, a small band of master craftsmen who have perfected the art, alchemy and scientific understanding in making whisky and he is the longest-serving of them all.


Lauren Kuhlmey, Marketing Manager of The Balvenie South Africa stated, “David’s innovative approach and total dedication to his craft, coupled with his modest, unassuming manner have made him one of the best loved and respected craftsmen in the business. This is testament to the fact that David is one of the greatest master blenders of a generation, not that he would ever admit it himself.”


David will also be honoured with a beautiful book of congratulations, carefully designed in the style of an original whisky store register. Over the coming months, pages from the book will travel across the globe, gathering well wishes and messages of congratulations from whisky enthusiasts and The Balvenie drinkers, before returning to Scotland to be bound and presented to David.


Whisky enthusiasts around the world raised a toast at 19:45 on 5 July 2016 (the year David was born) paying tribute to his achievement. A nod to modern times was the use of the hashtag #RaiseADram.


David Stewart started work at The Balvenie distillery in 1962 at the age of just 17. During a 12-year apprenticeship, he mastered the skills of nosing and creating the best quality single malt Scotch whisky. David was then appointed The Balvenie Malt Master and has held that position ever since, making him the most experienced malt master in the industry.


About The Balvenie:


  • The Balvenie is a unique range of single malts created by David Stewart, The Balvenie Malt Master, who celebrates his 53rd year at the distillery in 2015. Each has a very individual taste, but each is rich, luxuriously smooth and underpinned by the distinctively honeyed character of The Balvenie.


  • The Balvenie is dedicated to the five rare crafts that are used to create The Balvenie’s distinctive taste. It is the only distillery that still grows its own barley, uses traditional floor maltings and keeps both coppersmiths and coopers on site – making The Balvenie the most handcrafted of malts.


  • The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky is produced by William Grant & Sons Ltd, an award-winning independent family-owned distiller founded by William Grant in 1886 and today run by his direct descendants.

Glenmorangie Whisky & Wood evening with Pierre Cronje

Sometimes the smartest idea is the most obvious. With so many whisky companies trying different creative ways to highlight a brand, it was refreshing to see an obvious connection – whisky and wood – as the theme for last week’s whisky event.

The person: Pierre Cronje, passionate about wood, a master craftsman at the top of his game. The place: Pierre’s showroom in Wynberg, Cape Town, home of pieces of pure elegance and quite a bit of history. The whisky: Glenmorangie, of course, as Dr Bill Lumsden, head of distilling and whisky creation at Glenmorangie, has a doctorate in wood management!

Guests started sipping on the signature Glenmorangie cocktail, the 10-year-old classic over ice with a twist of orange, while wandering round the showroom admiring the pieces on display. Pierre runs a world-class operation and if you are looking for items of furniture to last for generations, pay him a visit and succumb to temptation.

Pierre had us enthralled with stories of occasionally using wood salvaged from the depths of the ocean – such as the wood at the table where we were seated. Craig Dore, marketing director of distributors RGBC, said that Bill uses a more conventional source, primarily forests in the Ozark mountain range in America. Whisky fundis will be familiar with the lengths Glenmorangie go to in ensuring the integrity of its wood supply. They own several forests, controlling the supply from start to finish, and focus on sustainability and quality. While exciting, perhaps unconventional wood finishes are one of the features of the Glenmorangie range, the whisky should be judged on its signature product – the Glenmorangie Original. That is the whisky most familiar to whisky lovers and perfect way to introduce people to the range.

Two pairs of the new Glenmorangie sunglasses were given away as prizes. Made from staves from whisky barrels and retailing for 300 British pounds a pair, they are perfect for sitting outside, sipping on a Glenmorangie, watching the world go by.

The catering was by Dish Food – and the food was excellent.

Here is some more info from Vivid Luxury PR – with photos to follow.

Glenmorangie partnered with Pierre Cronje whose philosophy and passion for hand-made craftsmanship set apart by quality taps into the whisky brands’ affinity with wood. Wood is integral to the process and the flavour of Glenmorangie it is for this reason that the brand takes wood management seriously. Time, care and respect for the wood used in Glenmorangie casks gives the whisky its unique character.




To celebrate the wooden casks, which help create Glenmorangie’s unnecessarily well-made whisky, Glenmorangie and master craftsman Pierre Cronje, hosted a unique whisky and wood three course dining experience.


Wood is integral to the process and the flavour of Glenmorangie it is for this reason that the brand takes wood management seriously. Time, care and respect for the wood used in Glenmorangie casks gives the whisky its unique character. It is this process and painstaking dedication to creating a distinct and quality whisky derived from the finest oak casks in which to mature the whisky, which gives the brand its alluring Glenmorangie taste.


Glenmorangie partnered with Pierre Cronje whose philosphy and passion for hand-made craftsmanship set apart by quality taps into the whisky brands affinity with wood. It is this deep harmony with wood which contributes significantly to the final products for both the whisky and furniture than any other ingredient or process which was celebrated during the bespoke dinning experience held at Pierre Cronje’s showroom on Wednesday.


The evening followed up Glenmorangie International’s pioneering collaboration with Finlay & Co., manufacturers of unique wooden-framed sunglasses. In a first for the Scotch whisky industry, the British eyewear company has worked with oak wood from casks only ever used twice to age Glenmorangie Original for ten years. The bespoke sunglasses fashioned from these casks, honour Glenmorangie Original’s perfect balance and alluring complexity.


Marketing Director for the Really Great Brand Company, Craig Dore and Pierre Cronje himself were seated at the heads of the big yellow oak dinner table. The dining room décor – including the table set up – was inspired by wood, which allowed guests to see, smell and touch wood. For the starter guests were treated to a biltong tartlet served with a 10-year-old, while the main course was a braised flat rib served with the Quinta Ruban.


Whilst guests were enjoying their food Craig and Pierre led a fascinating conversation around wood; such as the effect of the climate/season when it comes to wood, slow growing European Oak and wood craftsmanship to name a few.


During dessert – orange and almond torte serve with Signet – Brand Manager for Glenmorangie, Stef Kondylis, shared some of the international awards that Glenmorangie has received and gifted guests with bespoke Glenmorangie gifts including Finlay & Co. sunglasses (worth around R6000), Glenmorangie Signet cufflinks and a Glenmorangie Pocket Square.



Foraging for Botanicals with The Botanist Gin

On Tuesday night I drank a few cocktails made with The Botanist Gin. The Gin comes from Islay, that cold, windswept, rainy island just off the west coast of Scotland and famed for its smoky, peaty whiskies. Some of the best bartenders in South Africa made the cocktails. – and the drinks were among the best I’ve ever had.

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The occasion was the media launch of The Forager, showcasing creations from local bartenders who foraged for indigenous and seasonal ingredients to use in their cocktail creations. The Botanist Gin is made with 22 botanicals foraged from Islay, so the link between The Botanist Gin and the event is pretty clever.

AJ & his creation

I walked in to Barclay Studios, the intimate pop-up venue in Salt River venue to be met by Dominic Walsh and a Finnocio Punch, made with The Botanist Gin, grapefruit cordial, fennel fronds, coconut water, lime juice & an orange slice. Looking around I saw Gareth Wainright and Devon Cross (he devised the drinks menu for the post-competition session); AJ Snetler; Phil Bandarous and Caitlin Hill. Each of these cocktail personalities is a drawcard at an event. All six in the same room made it obvious that a good night lay ahead.

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Phil doing his thing.

Some of the other attendees were Raphael Cristini, who has the dream job of brand ambassador for The Botanist and brings his years of experience at bars around the world, to South Africa; specialist drinks marketing manager Phillip Voget, premium brand manager Simone Burns and Leah van Deventer, drink and travel writer, fresh from her trip to East Africa.

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Raphael with his pride and joy!

Gareth introduced the competitors – Caitlin, Phil and AJ, who each presented their own creation to the assembled audience. We tasted, re-tasted, discussed, deliberated and voted. It was a tough call and chatting with the other guests there was no clear favourite.

It’s clear that premium gin is the new big thing in the spirit world. Liquor companies are devoting a lot of resources into marketing their own brands. There are more specialist gin and cocktail bars in Cape Town than wine or whisky bars. A supermarket chain in the UK reported that 1 out of 3 bottles of spirits sold this year was gin. The really good products such as The Botanist will serve to grow the category. Using premium spirits in cocktail competitions and encouraging bartenders to be creative will ensure the cocktail culture continues its meteoric rise in South Africa.

AJ, Dom, Caitlin, Phil, with Gilad Yechiel on the far right. Ever seen such a talented team behind the stick?


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AJ, Caitlin & Phil with The Botanist and their botanicals

The winners will be announced in a while, but in the meantime my eyes are on Sunday. Sunday is International Martini Day and Father’s Day. I think I’m going to buy myself a present. You should too. And have a look at the press release below, click on the links, get tickets for the events and prepare to be amazed.

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Oh, the good photos are by Mike Eloff, the dodgy ones by me.

Click on the links to the documents to  see who made what and what was on offer…

botanist 1

botanist 2




Presented by The Botanist Gin

[1 June 2016]: Next month a unique pop up concept, THE FORAGER, is opening it doors. Presented by The Botanist Gin, it will see a limited number of pop up evening events taking place between June and August in unconventional, secret urban spaces in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Each event will be intimate hosting just 30 guests, who will enjoy unique gin serves and a selection of food experiences inspired by the local environment.

“Last year we introduced local bartenders and gin enthusiasts to The Botanist, a super-premium artisanal gin, hand-crafted on the wild Hebridean island of Islay. We watched the premium gin market boom as South Africans welcomed the concept of artisanal gins and an influx of new local variety. This year we are taking the philosophy of foraging and foraged mixology further by creating unique and memorable experiences that bring this concept to life,” explained Simone Burns, South African Brand Manager, The Botanist Gin.

In the lead up to each event at THE FORAGER, three of Cape Town and Johannesburg’s finest bartenders will attend bespoke foraging experiences led by local foraging experts, Roushanna Gray and Margaret Roberts. During veld, forest and sea forages in Cape Town, and highveld, lowveld and bushveld forage experiences in Johannesburg, the bartenders will personally hand forage indigenous and seasonal ingredients to create a unique foraged serve of The Botanist Gin with a local twist.

Then, on each night at THE FORAGER, the bartenders will compete in a challenge to craft the most interesting serves using The Botanist Gin and their own locally hand foraged botanicals. These will be presented to guests who will then cast their vote for the cocktail they felt was the most inspired.

At the end of THE FORAGER series, the bartender with the most votes and highest score will win an all-expense paid trip to the home of The Botanist Gin in Islay to experience first-hand the philosophy behind The Botanist and foraging in the Hebrides.

Tickets for the upcoming events are available online for R350 pp at the following links:

Cape Town:




Video link: https://youtu.be/IP2A0fVoTeI

Follow THE FORAGER on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/theforagerSA/ and on Instagram @TheForagerSA #TheForager #TheBotanistSA

The Botanist Gin is available at selected retailers from R499.

About The Botanist Gin

Conceived distilled and hand crafted by distilling legend Jim McEwan, The Botanist is a super premium artisanal gin distilled at the Bruichladdich Distillery on the wild Hebridean island of Islay.

It is trickle distilled and augmented with a heady harvest of 22 botanicals hand-picked by an expert foraging team from the windswept hills, peat bogs and Atlantic shores of the island. The botanists seasonally and sustainably forage for these aromatic botanicals by hand from the hills, shores and bogs of this fertile Hebridean island and then carefully dry them in preparation for distillation.

The layered complexity of The Botanist is an inspiration to professional mixologists who appreciate the flavour potential of ingredients foraged from their own local environments – to introduce a very personal dimension to this complex spirit.

Although it was originally designed to operate at significantly lower pressure than mainstream commercial stills, Jim McEwan then instigated a further series of radical modifications aimed at slowing down the distillation process even further. The aim was to maximise reflux of the heavy vapours while gently coaxing the essential oils from the foraged island botanicals. The distillation process is slow, almost painfully so, but: “the result,” claims McEwan, “is a highly seductive, satin-smooth gin with exploding floral aromas and a rich, mellow taste.

This is a gin as much for the mind as for the palate – a thinking person’s gin.

To find out more, visit www.thebotanist.com





Thoughts about 1976 from 2015 and 2016

2015: Youth Day. Many years ago the South African government (the officially dodgy, whites only one) killed black kids. The issue? The kids just wanted to learn in their mother tongue. Yesterday the new South African government (the unofficially dodgy, all colours welcome one) defied a High Court Order, gave a large up yours to the ICC and rest of the world and let the guy responsible for the deaths of thousands of kids, leave the country from Waterkloof air base. Youth Day? Why celebrate when the kids are still suffering?

2016: We have a long way to go to become a truly decent society. There is too much division along artificial lines. The politicians in the ruling party – like pre 1994 – still don’t stand up against abuse of power and things that are just plain wrong. We need to stop the nonsense. We need to hear what the youth are saying. We need to stop talking about black, white, brown, male, female, gay, straight –  and talk about humans.