Making work matter

By day I am an archaeologist, but by night, well I’m still an archaeologist; too much work I suppose but it keeps me happy. I specialise in Bushmen studies. My field of expertise are analysing stone tools, Bushmen society and their interactions with some of southern Africa’s first farming people. I love my work and it is a complete passion of mine. In fact, I have even written a book on the side while doing my Masters and PhD research title Bushman Rock Art: an interpretive guide.

At the moment I am busy constructing a two day workshop on Bushman rock art. The idea being that we will be introducing people who have a keen interest in rock art to, said, rock art. The course progresses from world rock art through into Bushman rock art then more generally southern African rock art before addressing conservation and preservation issues.

The point of this is not really to express my passion for my industry or the pride I take in my work, but rather how whisky enhances work (or maybe distracts, hence this blog post). It is 20:30 and I am still going and after having a fantastic craft beer, Dam Wolf Yellow Eyes, post dinner, I have decided to dabble in a whisky for the evening. Of course, which one is the optimal question and having gotten married recently, my wife and I have quite a few on the shelf.

After some deliberation, I settled on what must be one of my favourite whiskies from certainly my favourite distillery, the Ardbeg 10 year old. This fine dram ranks very highly in my mind and always leaves me in a state of total euphoria. Having sampled some of their other whiskies, the Uigeadail, Blasda, Airigh Nam Beist and my personal favourite, the Supernova, I can honestly say that as far as I am concerned, this is the best distillery around – for my tastes of course.

The 10 year old’s peat is wonderful. It comes across on the nose with bacon kips, kippers, salt and seaweed. On the tongue it brings a lovely aspect to this whisky with a sweet background and the flavours on the nose all making an appearance. The finish, delicious, long and absorbing holds you in its grasp keeping you mesmerised by the peat. Have all the world’s problems suddenly been absolved? Probably not but when drinking this whisky they seem so far away. Let me have another go. Peat, oh peat, and seaweed, some distant citrus notes, maybe even almonds and nuts tucked under a blanket of bacon kips, old fire and kippers. This is a fine dram. Now hopefully I will produce some fine work as well.

May tasting

The latest Cape Whisky Club meeting was one for the books.

The hosts, myself and my brother-in-law, decided to do a blind tasting of Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, untasted by the club, followed by Three Ships 5 year old, after realising what a good combination these two whiskies were on the weekend, and finishing off with a Nikka Pure Malt White after dinner. The night went well and although we laid out about 10 bottles of whisky in front of the club, only one member was able to narrow it down to Nikka (based purely on the fact that he didn’t recognise the taste and had never had Nikka) and another got the Bain’s – I must say I thought more would but it just shows. After tasting we ran through a few online videos on Bain’s whisky that we found on their website – a nice touch to end the night.

Notes and rating:

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky:
The nose brings up a sweet toffee, caramel and honeyed crispness with notes of banana and what I always find to be plantain. On the palate these flavours are accentuated and bring a strong fresh delivery. The finish is warm and sweet and the lingering honey and toffee is a pleasant reminder of the whisky. In balance, the flavours melt together very well and complement one another throughout.
Club rating: 7/10

Three Ships 5 year old:
I love this whisky. On the nose is a definite aroma of peat with sweet citrus, caramel, oak and toffee notes as well as a hint of spice. Tasting the whisky reveals an emphasis on these flavours as well as what I think is pear, apple and vanilla probably from the oak. The dry finish holds the peat strong and the sweetness of the whisky hangs around. The balance is good and there is a subtle yet complex harmony of flavours.
Club rating: 7.5

Nikka Pure Malt White:
At the onset is peat, citrus, lemon, orange, a hint of vanilla, pepper, sweetness and seaweed. There is also salt hidden in there. On the tongue all of these flavours are there in additional to a medicinal edge, grapefruit and lighter peat. The finish is lingering sweetness, peat and a nice citrus note. A good balance overall and nicely held together.
Club rating: 7.2/10 (previously 6/10)

Aficionados’ BenRiach and GlenDronach tasting

I am a big fan of BenRiach. Their range of whisky, I find, to be incredibly impressive and the fact that they are one of a handful of independent bottlers, there being seven out of about 120 distilleries in Scotland, makes them a little more special. Their whiskies are all handcrafted and of high quality.

About eight years ago the distillery was purchased by three families. It was originally built in 1898 by John Duff and then closed, a whole two years later, because of the Pattison Crash, yet their floor malting remained in production and produced malted barley for Longmorn Distillery. In 1965 it was reopened by The Glenlivet Distilleries during the whisky boom and whisky produced at the distillery was used in Chivas blends, leading to much experimentation at the distillery. After some growth, new ownership with the likes of Pernot Ricard, BenRiach was shutdown once again in 2002. In 2004, however, three families, two being South African, purchased BenRiach and navigated its course to great success and the brand that we see it as today. At the tasting, David Wyllie, our host, a Keeper of the Quaich and operations manager at BenRiach, told us the wonderful journey the families and master distiller, Billy Walker, went through when they arrived at the storeroom; there were many vats of whisky, with contents and tastes completely devoid of records and unknown to them, and so were forced as if by the hand of fate to go through them all, finding out what they had in their own hands. This is in fact how they stumbled upon Curiositas.

The distillery is located in Speyside and the whiskies take on a typical regional character, even the phenomenal Curiositas, albeit masked in peat; 95ppm to be precise. The number of expressions of BenRiach whisky is amazing. For me, as you might guess at this point, the Curiositas is my favourite. It has a lovely peated nose but sweet and gentle character very much in line with Speyside whiskies. There is bacon kips and smoked kippers and the taste is a beautiful mixture of all of these qualities. I personally place this whisky between 94 and 96 out of 100. At the tasting we also sampled their classic 12 year old which is a soft, gentle whisky, ideal for summer drinking, with fragrant notes, a floral character and honey. On the tongue spice is picked up will vanilla, almonds and it is rounded with a fresh and crispness smoothening out the whisky. The third and final BenRiach was the dark rum finish, 15 year old. This is a very nice whisky and one or two people skewed their faces at this one; you have to like rum. It comes through on the nose, in the taste and hangs around in this dram’s long and dry finish. There is also a strong note of raisins throughout and you will pick up caramel, wood, toffee, maybe some apple and even some malted barley. I gave this a 84.5 but I must admit, the Aromaticus fumosus, which is also finished in a rum cask rated higher for me, 86, at a previous tasting and I much prefer the stronger rum character in this whisky. I did ask David about this and he told me that with the Aromaticus fumosus they use Jamaican rum casks that have not been used for whisky whereas with the 15 year old the casks are onto their second or third use. For those who are interested in what else they have to offer, which includes Pedro Ximinez, Tawny Pot and Madeira finishes and even an experiment with South African red wine barrels, soon on its way if a success, visit their website and take a digital stroll:

GlenDronach was the other distillery on the menu for the night and it is in fact owned by BenRiach, who bought the distillery in 2008. The distillery itself is one of the oldest, built in 1826, and is situated in the far eastern part of the Highlands. The whiskies are all matured in sherry casks, so they have a deep amber texture to rich mahogany, and explode with stewed fruits, Christmas cake, dried fruit, mince pies and spices. On the night we tasted two of their bottling’s. First off was a first for South Africa in fact, the Platinum 16 year old. It arrived in a crate on Tuesday and was brought out at the tasting for its first tasting in South Africa. It is a lovely whisky rich with stewed fruits, sultanas, orange zest, mashed barley and on the tongue smooth toffee, spice, dates and dried fruits. Chocolate lurks around the fringes with a cigar flavour, raisins, barley and a lovely sweetness – this has all of the characteristics of a Highland whisky matured in Oloroso casks. It is a spectacular whisky and perfect for sitting around a winter fire and finishing off an evening. The last whisky of the night, the GlenDronach 1992 single cask, with 58.2% abv, turned out to be an incredibly smooth dram, surprisingly with its high alcohol content. It too is matured in oloroso casks. Much of the fruity character that was found in the Platinum came through here but there was the addition of spice, sherry, nuts and sugars with a definite chocolate taste, almonds, walnuts and a slight smoke capping it off. This whisky is beautifully balanced and has a lovely theme; there are no surprises, it delivers from the nose to the finish and all of the flavours complement one another and appear at just the right time. For me, a person who definitely sits on the bog side of the fence, this scored a massive 86. For more info go to:

The night, I think, was a spectacular success and Paul, owner of Aficionados, pulled together a great tasting. With the help of David Wyllie and the wonderful golden goodness in those bottles, it was never destined to be anything short of a master class.

Visit Paul’s website to join on the next tasting our purchase specialist beverages at a great price.

Ardbeg 10 year old

In lieu of confirming my attendance at Ardbog Day in Dullstroom hosted by Wild About Whisky, on the 1st of June 2013, I thought I would submit to the temptation of exploring an Ardbeg 10 year old bottle.


There are three things that cannot be hidden when it comes to this bottle.

First, and perhaps most enigmatic, is the text. In this case it screams a subtext written in ancient symbols unknown to us today. Letters apparelled with great admiration that their very nature is adorned with beauty and meaning. In no uncertain terms, this bottle tells you that it is here to blow you away; it is ‘The Ultimate’ carved in gold alongside Jim Murray’s preaching: ‘Unquestionably the greatest distillery to be found on Earth. If perfection on the palate exists, this is it.’ I can’t fault him.

It is a giant amongst its companions

It is a giant amongst its companions

Ardbeg 10-3

The bottle, with its ancient letterlings, is held together in Celtic knot-work, binding its appraisals to the whisky and holding steadfast the iconographic Ardbeg ‘A’ as if it were a constellation carved into the night sky and known to all as a bearing of guidance.

Ardbeg 10-7

An ancient testament to this whisky's glory

An ancient testament to this whisky’s glory

Following, is green. The dark alluring green stature, of not only the box but also the bottle, leads you into exploring its finely worked intricacy. Green is the colour of Ardbeg, and I am sure we will all be touting this colour come Ardbog Day, and it certainly glows through in the design of this masterly crafted vessel of the much loved, highly peated whisky.

Ardbeg 10-4

Lastly, the frightening stature of the bottle, the task ahead in finishing its contents and the deep-seated superiority in the design of the finished product looms in the long shadow cast by this whisky. It is a treasure to behold and takes a central seat on the coveted whisky mantelpiece.

See you all, I hope, at Ardbog Day!

Ahead of the pack

Ahead of the pack

In honour of gold: Three Ships 10 year old

In light of the fantastic news that Three Ships 10 year old has won gold at the San Francisco  Spirits competition, I thought I would impart some of my own notes on this whisky.

Firstly, I get a wonderful sense of pride drinking Three Ships and Bain’s for two reasons: they are homegrown and are winning medals all over the place. For a while now I have held Three Ships, with its various expressions, and Bain’s in high regard for its impeccable and complex taste and good price. Congrats Andy Watts; you probably won’t see this but well done!

I have tasted Three Ships 10 year old a number of times and my own rating waxes and wanes a little. I have come to realise that so much of this comes down to what I drank before. For example, in my initial rating I gave the rich tanned goodness an exemplary 90. I enjoyed the smokey tones mixed in with the fragrance, fruits, caramel and oak with a crisp topping on the taste followed by a spice in the finish. It is a lovely whisky. I then had it again at a Cape Tasting Club’s meeting after having a Drayman’s 10 year old and I struggled with the whisky. Drayman’s is a good whisky with nice rum, raisin, apricot, oak and a little bit of those pink sweets on the tongue and it may have overburdened the complex flavour of the Three Ships. On that tasting, I gave it a regrettably low score of 78 but commented on the lovely balance of the whisky. I tasted it one more time, again after the Drayman’s, in a blind tasting with the club and it upped to 83. Once again, the previous whisky played a role (we also had Nikka pure malt and Black Bottle beforehand) but I found the whisky to have a hint of peat and smoke with a dry caramel, toffee, fruit and spice flavouring, hanging around a little on the finish.

So, from these three tastings I have ended up with different results. For me, however, I would give this whisky an 88. It is a lovely dram with a beautiful filling of sweetness and a fragrance of smoke. You can’t go wrong with the 10 year old and the judges certainly hit the nail on the head.

Again, well done!

Lagavulin 16 year old

I shouldn’t drink this whisky. When I do it feels as though my arms melt off my body beginning at my shoulders, my legs begin to twitch and my heart seems to find its hammock in the sun and go to sleep. This whisk is phenomenal to the point that if on death row, it would be my final meal; for me it is as close to perfect as a whisky can come.

I also recently discovered how superbly this goes with Lindt Salt Rock chocolate. Definitely worth a try.

C: Deep amber

N: The peat comes through strongly along with burnt rubber, plaster, sweet citrus, seaweed and salt – 24

T: Peat, again, and seaweed, salt, citrus notes, apple, maybe a lemon zest and wet moss – 24

F: The peat hangs around for a while, reminding you of its dominance in this whisky but there is fading citrus undertones, oak and rubber that all fades slowly – 25

B: In my first tasting in which I took notes all I said here was perfect! Not helpful from a tasting note point of view but strikingly to the point. The balance sits well between peat and sweet with a mixture of ocean flavours, such as the seaweed and salt, making you think of a cold and barren seascape. The blending of these flavour is perfect and there are no real surprises – 25

Total: 98

April tasting

I haven’t done this for some time due to internal conflict about running a blog, but here goes; round two.

The latest club tasting was a great success and I would recommend something of this nature to any other whisky club or group of mates out there who want to have some fun with their whisky.

The two hosts, myself included, arranged a four whisky blind tasting for the club, meaning that no-one other than the two of us were aware of what was being tasted. In the club, when we do a blind tasting, it has to be from whisky that has already been opened. So, we chose, and in the order we drank it, Glen Grant the Major’s Reserve, Glenmorangie Original, Three Ships Bourbon Cask and Black Bottle. Each glass was numbered and so people commented on the number of the glass.

Then, to add to it, we constructed five flavour plates based on the main flavours in each whisky with a fifth red-herring. We went all out here; grenadine juice and creme brulee was included for the Glenmorangie, honey with the Black Bottle, vanilla essence and orchard fruit for the Glen Grant and for the Three Ships caramel, honey and banana plus a lot others on each. The fifth plate contained cinnamon, pepper, salt, orange and barley.

The club unfortunately weren’t willing to guess what they were tasting. I had hoped the Three Ships and Black Bottle would get named but that was not to be. They also completely miss-identified the plates and the red-herring featured prominently.

We are still a young club and so we need to grow. With time I’m fairly certain the club will start nailing blind tastings, but for the meantime it was just good fun.


Glen Grant:

Previous average: 5.71

Blind tasting: 6.08



Previous average: 7.79

Blind tasting: 5.42

This was my fault, we should have tasted the Glenmorangie before the Glen Grant, which is so much sweeter and killed the Glenmorangie.


Three Ships:

Previous average: 7.32

Blind tasting: 7.33


Black bottle:

Previous average: 7.42

Blind tasting: 7.33