A spectacular sunset over the Atlantic ocean greeted members of the drinks media lucky enough to crack the nod for a whisky event with a difference – an evening deconstructing Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, led by Andy Watts, the man who makes it. The venue was the classy 12 Apostles Hotel, home to a bar with a great view and staff who understand proper service.
Deconstructing a whisky usually involves tasting different components, separately, and working out how the components combine in the end product. We used to do this often with blended whiskies, tasting the grain and a few signature malt components, then the finished product. I’ve done this often with malts, and done properly can help people understand the complex flavours of whisky. Of course, it’s a lot of fun as well. Whisky lovers have fun while learning – part of the perks of whisky fascination.
Deconstructing a single malt or single grain, as we did with Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky is a different exercise. We start with the new make spirit, the liquid as it comes out of the still, clear as water without any of the rich colours aging in oak barrels provides. There are a few malt distilleries that have taken to selling their new make – cash flow is vital for a new distillery – but I can’t see the global liquor giant Distell, owners of James Sedgwick Distillery, home of Bain’s, doing this at the moment. And that is a pity, because the new make is good enough to enjoy on its own. It may be the starting point of an award winning whisky, but I’d like to see some of it bottled and sold. It is that good.
We moved on to spirits that can be called whisky, having matured for three years in oak. The two whiskies we enjoyed, aged in first fill and third fill casks, showed the influence of oak in a positive way and gave a hint as to what an extra two or so years can do. The penultimate whisky was the standard Bain’s that we know and love, a nose of citrus, cream, lemon meringue pie, a soft, rounded palate of home made warm apple pie and a finish moving back to the citrus notes.
The final whisky was a grain, aged for many years, the last couple in a rare cask. It took me back about 15 years when a whisky writer from Scotland introduced me to aged grain. It was a 35 odd year old Invergordon. Unlike anything I’d had before, it opened my mind up to how good aged grain whisky could be. Now, this “work-in-progress” from Andy is one of over 60 projects that the team is working on. If the whisky I had gets released in its present form it will win many awards and be responsible for much joy in the whisky world. More than 14 years old, it has the smoothness and complexity of a spirit aged for 30, 40 years. Of course it was the star of the show, but until it is released and in what form, as a single grain, as part of a blend, maybe after another year or so in oak, I’m quite happy to sit back and enjoy my normal Bain’s, sitting home in Cape Town, celebrating Freedom Day!