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Three Ships Cape Ruby Cask Finish 13 Years

The Western Cape is famous for its vineyards and wine estates, but it could also be regarded as the home of South African whisky. Located in Wellington (just outside of Cape Town), the James Sedgwick Distillery is responsible for the creation of South Africa’s most well-known whisky brands: Three Ships and Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky. For good measure, what is perhaps South Africa’s second most well-known whisky, Boplaas Whisky, is also produced in the Western Cape.

Incidentally, stopping by the James Sedgwick Distillery for a tour and a whisky tasting is something I can highly recommend – especially at the moment, as visitors currently have the chance to bottle their very own whisky! I’m not sure how long this opportunity will be available to members of the public, as it’ll likely depend on available stock, but for now you’re able to choose between bottling your very own 14-year-old Bain’s single grain whisky (finished in ex-PX casks), or bottling your very own Three Ships 11-year-old peated single malt (finished in Acacia casks, an unusual type of cask that’s also distinctively South African).

On a recent tour of the distillery, I was fortunate enough to sample their latest whisky: the eighth official limited release of the Three Ships Master’s Collection. It’s a gently peated 13-year-old single malt, which was initially matured for 8 years in American oak casks, and then finished for 5 years in seasoned Cape Ruby casks. Cape Ruby is a type of fortified wine from South Africa that’s very similar to Portuguese Ruby Port. Just five casks of this whisky were finally selected for this release, which is bottled at 53.6% ABV, so it packs quite a hefty punch.

It’s a very recent release – the first 400 bottles only went on sale online last month, on the 31st of May. I actually ended up buying one of these bottles myself. Attempting to purchase a bottle via their grand opening sale turned out to be a bit of a chaotic enterprise. Given the enormity of interest this sale generated, getting through their online system was an exercise in patience. Yet, it seems like it didn’t take too long for most of the available bottles to get snapped up.

It’s possible that the hype from the distillery’s advertising did the trick, but it’s also possible that Three Ships Whisky is a little more on everyone’s radar than it has previously been. Earlier this year at the World Whiskies Awards in London, the title of the “World’s Best Blended Limited Release” went to Three Ships for its 12-year-old Double Wood expression. This resulted in hordes of folk rushing out to buy themselves a bottle of this award-winning whisky, and it’s now become impossible to find anymore. At least, I haven’t been able to find it anywhere, and it’s no longer available from the distillery. I’d tasted and enjoyed this particular whisky a few years ago, so I’d noticed it for sale at various outlets over the past few years. It was also a limited release, so like the 13-year-old, there were also a finite number of bottles produced. It was released in 2021, so it remained on shelves for quite some time. It’s interesting to see how quickly winning an award can change the way people view a whisky… or perhaps it’s just how much they’re willing to spend on a bottle of whisky?

To return to the 13-year-old Cape Ruby single malt: there are a total of 2,394 bottles available, so even if you missed out on the initial online sale, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get your hands on your own bottle. Its current retail price is $64 (roughly the same price as Glenmorangie’s fairly recent 12-year-old Palo Cortado release). For the sake of comparison, there were 2,760 bottles of the 12-year-old Double Wood, and they remained relatively widely available in South Africa for around three years… but I guess it’s hard to predict exactly how popular a whisky will be.

In addition to its hefty ABV, this latest single malt from Three Ships is also non-chill filtered, and natural colour, so there is a lot to like right off the bat.

Three Ships Cape Ruby Cask Finish 13 Years – Review

Colour: Rich mahogany.

On the nose: Initially sweet and fruity, strawberries. A faint floral note, reminiscent of rose-flavoured Turkish delight. Cinnamon flavoured candy. Some furniture polish. There’s also something slightly tart lurking in the background, perhaps a hint of marmalade. The gentlest suggestion of woodsmoke, so gentle I’m almost not sure it’s even there.

In the mouth: A distinctive sweetness, like hardboiled candy. Some buttery toffee. A hint of ripe red fruit, and an earthy hay note. More woody flavours. Very faint woodsmoke. Quite a dry mouthfeel initially, but with the addition of a few drops of water the whisky becomes much softer and oilier in texture.
I found that I detected a distinctive dill note from my empty glass.

Conclusions:

I enjoyed this whisky. It has a complex range of interesting aromas and flavours that work well together. Yet, I must admit that I was a bit hesitant to buy a bottle, even after having tasted it and knowing that I liked it. The price of whisky in general keeps on going up, but this particular whisky was put on the market at an easy $16 more than any of the other Three Ships limited releases. It is, however, 13 years old, so the price bump might be due to those extra years of maturation. In the end, I’m not unhappy to have made my purchase and to be able to enjoy revisiting this whisky.

Score: 6/10

There is also a niggling thought in the back of my head that I’m just not sure what the future holds for Three Ships Whisky. Master Distiller Andy Watts, the man responsible for this latest release, actually retired from the James Sedgwick Distillery in 2021. He’s remained a consultant for the business, and we’ve continued to see some great whisky coming out of the James Sedgwick Distillery, but there’s no news to date regarding who – if anyone – will be stepping in to fill his shoes. I can’t help but feel that the future is a little uncertain, especially in light of the recent acquisition of Distell (the company who owned the James Sedgwick Distillery) by Heineken, as they seem to be primarily interested in Distell’s cider brands.

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Genevieve

Genevieve is a whisky enthusiast from South Africa with a PhD in Philosophy, so she enjoys drinking and thinking about whisky. She loves tasting new whiskies whenever she gets the chance - so much so that a few years ago she set up a small whisky tasting business, "Kenton on Whisky", in the tiny coastal town where she lives (an excellent excuse to grow her selection of whiskies beyond reasonable limits).

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