I suppose world whisky is rather fashionable these days. Bearded mixologists, who somehow all look like clones, are lauding whiskies from Taiwan to Tasmania. People are cage fighting to win the latest Japanese release. But one country that’s seldom on people’s sexy whisky list is South Africa.
South Africa is better known for its choppy political past, diamonds, cricket – and, in terms of booze, the wine industry. Certainly not whisky. There have been a handful of whisky brands to emerge from the country. Not a lot of those South African whiskies have made it to the UK either, and very little of it ever crosses my radar. But the Three Ships range, which comes from the James Sedgwick Distillery in Wellington, is the most notable South African whisky, and it’s made at the James Sedgwick Distillery.
James Sedgwick Distillery
The James Sedgwick Distillery was created well over a century ago, and named after a famous sea-captain who was a pioneer businessman within the region. J Sedgwick & Company was set up as a tobacco and alcohol merchant and his sons later took over his businesses. It was they who created an actual distillery in 1886, which was then a brandy operation before moving into whisky just a few decades ago. The distillery itself was built on the banks of the Berg River in Wellington, and is considered now considered to be a diamond in the African distilling world.
It wasn’t always like that, however. The distillery’s reputation has largely been earned over the past couple of decades by their 6th distillery manager, Andy Watts – a one-time pro cricketer who trained as a whisky-making guru. Those whisky brands – the single grain Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky (which I clumsily reviewed four years ago) and the single malt Three Ships – have blossomed under Andy’s stewardship, winning numerous international awards.
So I was excited to try one of the limited Three Ships single malt releases.
Three Ships Aged 10 Years – PX Finish
This particular Three Ships whisky made it into my grubby, whisky-stained hands courtesy of WhiskyBrother Marc. He said this whisky was very good and was personally sending samples out to people. Can’t say no to that, can I?
The Three Ships 10 Year Old Single Cask PX Finish is the first whisky in their new Masters Collection. The whisky was distilled in 2005, initially matured for 8 years and 10 months in American oak, with a small quantity then selected to spend another 14 months in an ex-Pedro Ximenez sherry cask. 800 bottles were produced – all the whisky was non-chill filtered and bottled at 46.2% ABV.
The whisky is not easily available in this country. You can maybe get it from the WhiskyBrother store in South Afria, though, if you happen to be passing by. The exchange rates comes in at approximately £42/US$73. There’s always the chance it will appear at an online auction as well.
On the nose: tropical fruits in syrup. Warm strawberry jam. Fresh apricots. A little maltiness once the fruits pass. And then it moves into old wood: cellars, pencil boxes. A waft of incense – but not the sort one might expect from Japanese oak; something else like pine incense.
In the mouth: redcurrants, blackcurrants. Raspberry sauce. Golden syrup. Heather honey. Mead – perhaps a dash of dry cider. Exceptionally autumnal. A few touches of wood: ginger, sandalwood. Pineapples. A lot of that old wood quality is coming back – which is unusual for something this age. Mango. A medium texture, ever so slightly waxy. Very nice black pepper finish. It’s like an exotic, old sherry-cask Scotch.
It’s a good whisky, and one that feels much older than ten years. £42 though? That is an incredible price for a whisky of this quality. It’s almost indecent. This really is a very well-made, characterful, interesting dram, and for that price you should do everything in your powers to track it down.