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.

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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.

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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, letting go and perfection in a glass. @GlenGrantSA @ThePotLuckClub

Comparing whisky to children is perhaps a simile on steroids but listening to Dennis Malcolm talk about the Glen Grant 50 year old Single Cask whisky is like to listening a father talking about his Nobel Peace Prize winning eldest child. There is modesty and pride and a sense of contentment that comes from seeing ones creation doing well in the world.Dennis is the Glen Grant Distillery Manager who laid down a cask of whisky more than 50 years ago. He nurtured it, then, at the perfect time, he let go.

The Glen Grant 50

Releasing ones children into the world can be a harrowing experience. Ask a mother dropping off her son on the first day of school, or a father dropping off his teenage daughter at a party. With dancing. And boys.  We nurture and then we let go. And letting go is the natural step we have to take to allow children to flourish.

Dennis, Kellee, whisky lover.

A few weeks ago at The PotLuck Club, the coolest spot in Cape Town, Dennis let go of his eldest whisky and released it to an enthralled collection of media folk and whisky lovers.

Dennis, centre, with Bernard, Anita, Patrick Leclezio and Marsh Middleton.

So – what’s it like? The whisky is superb. It entices with a colour of of an antique hand-polished mahogany desk and invites with an aroma of toffee, chocolate, orange zest. A word of warning. The whisky was bottled at 54.4 ABV, straight from the barrel, through muslin cloth, to the bottle. It is a big whisky, but balanced. Layer upon layer of deep, rich complexity, a beautiful sherry, toffee, coffee, and remember the Beacon Superfine orange peels dipped in dark chocolate? Yes, those. The taste took me back. The finish is long and lingering, to be expected, but surprisingly sweet.

1.Celebrity Chef
Aubrey Ngcungama with Bonnie Mbuli.

The fact that Dennis came down from Scotland to present the whisky shows how seriously importers Edward Snell are taking the Glen Grant brand. Local brand manager Craig van der Bergh shared the pride he has representing the brand, with regular expressions, The Major’s Reserve, (the best value for money Single Malt on the market today), award winning 10 year old and my regular after dinner choice, the 16 year old.


The whiskies are becoming more and more popular in our whisky loving South Africa, and that makes me happy. It was great to see the dynamic Kellee Hodges, the junior brand manager and most energetic person I know in the whisky world, sharing her knowledge and passion, and the new national brand ambassador, Muzi Mathe, looking forward to talking whisky around South Africa.

Alan Muzi Bernard
Whisky legend Alan Shuman, Muzi Mathe, Bernard.

What about the food? The PotLuck Club is such a special spot and it was a treat listening to master craftsmen Dennis and Luke Dale-Roberts explaining the interplay between food and whisky, intensity and delicacy, working in harmony.

Dennis & Luke

Now, where to get the whisky? While the Glen Grant range is available at most liquor outlets, the 50 year old is only available at Makro, (check out their new online store) and there are just two left in South Africa. It retails at R 169 000.00. If you have the funds…buy it. Call me. I’ll help you open it.

The menu
The menu

A final thank you to the PR team that organised the event, Magna Carta, who were there in full force.

Dennis Malcolm

Bernard Gutman

Tour the Constantia Wine Route in style

Jane Austin recommended wine from Constantia for its “healing powers on a disappointed heart” and the same wine eased the exiled Napoleon from this world into the next. So whether you are broken hearted, happily in love, in-between romances, on holiday in the most beautiful city in the world or a homegrown Kaapenaar there is a day of wine and fun waiting for you.

Have a look, go and book.

constantia wine tour

“Our tour of the Constantia Wine Region, the first wine region in South Africa and the oldest outside of Europe, takes in a blend of historic wine estates and newer, boutique wine farms that have sprung up in the last 20 years. (There are now 11 wine estates/wine farms in Constantia and it is impossible to visit all of them in one day.)

Sauvignon Blanc is the signature wine of the region,17 different styles of which are produced, but there is a wide variety of wines, both red and white, to suit all palates.

1. We collect our guests from their place of accommodation at 0930, or any alternative time (post rush-hour) to suit, in our air-conditioned, luxury mini bus that seats up to 8 people.

2. The tour starts with an overview and introduction, over coffee and refreshments, at Steenberg Wine & Golf Estate, which affords a panoramic view of the geography of the whole Constantia Wine Region.

3. From Steenberg, we proceed to Groot Constantia for a tour of the historic Cape Dutch manor house that was the original home of Simon van der Stel, the first governor of the old Cape Dutch Colony, who planted the first Constantia vineyards in 1685 and who owned the entire region in those early days.

4. First wine tasting at High Constantia, a boutique winery with first bottling in 2000, but whose vineyards date back to 1693. Famous for its Clos Andre Cap Classique, and superlative Bordeaux blends.

5. Second wine tasting, by way of immediate contrast, is at Buitenverwachting or Klein Constantia, historic wine estates with Cape Dutch manor houses, whose famous wines need no introduction.

6. Wine tasting and light lunch (inclusive of wine) at Constantia Glen, a boutique winery noted for its outstanding Sauvignon Blanc and Bordeaux blends.

7. After lunch, wine tasting at either Buitenverwachting or Klein Constantia (depending on which one was not visited before lunch).

8. Final wine tasting and re-embarkation into a 4 wheel drive (weather permitting) at Eagle’s Nest, a boutique winery with the steepest gradient vineyards in Constantia, which afford breathtaking mountain views.

9. Return to place of accommodation at + – 1630. (NB: all times are flexible, depending on time taken at tastings, lunch etc. We aim to accommodate our guests at their own speed and leisure, rather than watch the clock.)

Costs are R1150 per person, inclusive of all refreshments, wine tastings, for which all Constantia wine estates/farms charge varying amounts of between R40,00 – R50,00 per person, the history tour of Groot Constantia Cape Dutch manor house (the only historic manor house in the region that admits the public (for a fee), lunch, transport of course, pick-up and return to place of accommodation.

Please call me on 082 377 5233 to discuss your own particular requirements, dates, times, pick-up points etc. Alternatively, give our office a call on 021 7944 873

Best Regards

Blake Gowar”

The highlight of my whisky life @GlenGrantSA #GlenGrant50 via @cheek2chic http://issuu.com/cheek2chic/docs/cheek2chic_issue_5#

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 https://www.facebook.com/BunnahabhainSA or Twitter https://twitter.com/BunnahabhainSA

Join the conversation using: #TasteIslay”



Whisky round the world viewed from Cape Town


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