If ever there was a spirit designed by the gods, it’s whisky. Its warm, amber colour, its strong but sophisticated taste, its ability to make you look instantly cool…
Yes, whisky is a special drink. It demands respect, and what better way to honour it than to see how it’s made? You don’t have to travel to America, Scotland or even Japan to do this. Some of the world’s best whisky is made right here, in Wellington, at the James Sedgwick Distillery.
A mere 45 minutes away from Cape Town, James Sedgwick, aka the Home of SA Whisky, makes both Bains and Three Ships whisky. The only commercial whisky distillery in Africa, it was named after James Sedgwick, who sailed to the Cape in 1850, and soon after arriving, opened a tavern. Following his death in 1886, his company bought the surrounding buildings, and in 1990, the first whisky was made. Now, 26 years later, it has opened its doors to the public, and I was excited to be among the first to enter.
We arrived at the distillery at 9:30 am and were treated to a delicious cocktail made with Three Ships 3 YO, ginger ale and a maraschino cherry (it definitely beats a cup of coffee!). While we waited for the entire tour to arrive, we got to blend our own whisky with a miniature distillery operated with an iPad. The app explains all the blends, and helps you make the best decision suited to your taste. It then collects in a tiny bottle for you to keep. Everyone who does the tour can and should do this.
— Cape Town Etc (@CapeTownEtc) September 1, 2016
The tour begins in the still house. You get shown all the machinery and learn about how the distillation process happens. Everything from the ingredients used, to the exact temperature needed to make the product, is explained to you. The still house operates 24/7 and there is always someone present to make sure things run smoothly.
Next, you are taken to the maturation store. This place is where the barrels are kept as the whisky (you guessed it) matures, and it smells incredible. The site we were shown houses 27 000 barrels – and that was just a fraction of what the distillery holds. Here, you learn about the intricacies that go into making whisky. Everything from the type of barrels, to its placement within the site, has an effect on the product.
The best is always saved for last. Now that we understood how the whisky is made, we got to taste it. The tasting room is gorgeous. It’s dark with dim lighting, showcases James Sedgwick’s brands, and has interesting titbits of information all over the walls. We tasted Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish and Three Ships 5 YO Premium Select, which was awarded the best blended whisky internationally.
The whiskies are paired with an array of savoury and sweet treats that you can mix and match as you please. There are suggestions, but at the end of the day, everyone’s tastes are different and this freedom allows you to find your favourite combination. You can add water to your whisky if you like, and then set to work. My favourite pairings were pumpkin tart and Bains, dark chocolate mousse and Three Ships 5 YO, and apple crisps with blue cheese and Three Ship Bourbon finish (weird, I know, but it works).
Just when we thought it was over, we were treated to lunch and more whisky. By now, we’d had enough to decide on a favourite from the range. The meal was light and fresh, exactly what we needed after the tour and tasting.
The whole experience is really special, especially for those who love whisky. Currently the tours happen on Fridays and Saturdays at 10 am and 2 pm. 10 people are allowed per tour, so booking is essential to avoid disappointment.
Photography courtesy Jig Saw PR