Monthly Archives: September 2012

Win with Glenfiddich!

The excitement of Whisky Live is upon us again, and in spirit appropriate of the whisky season my friends (and yours) at Glenfiddich have put together a special surprise for all you whisky-loving readers of Words on Whisky.   Here it goes.

Win a bottle of Glenfiddich 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky, the world’s leading single malt Scotch Whisky, in the lead up to the FNB Whisky Live Festival.

Whether you’re a first-time taster, already a passionate connoisseur, or enthusiastic to learn, see, and taste more, visit the Glenfiddich gold stand at the FNB Whisky Live Festival to nose and taste a dram of the core range of Glenfiddich 12, 15 and 18 Year Old under the expert guidance of the Glenfiddich Brand Ambassador team.


Send your name and contact details to to stand a chance to win a bottle of Glenfiddich 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky valued at R320.00.

The FNB Whisky Live Festival takes place at the Cape Town Convention Centre from 3 – 5 October and is open daily from 18:00 – 22:00.  Tickets are available online at  See you there and may the dram be with you!

PS – Please note that the competition is only open to residents of South Africa, or to those prepared to travel here to come and collect their prize :).  Entries must be received by midnight 5 October.


Stocking up for spring – part 2

A bar in need

First published in Prestige Magazine (September edition).

As it appeared – p1.

As it appeared – p2.

I must confess upfront that I have an ulterior motive for this choice of topic – I’m renovating my house.  And, inspired by that wildfire Heineken commercial, my wife and I have come to a nifty arrangement to attempt to avoid the conflicts that tend to accompany these residential makeovers: I get a bar, she gets a walk-in closet.  Being the poetic fellow that I am (or at least that I like to think I am), I intend to see the whole matter through to its rightful conclusion.  It is imperative to me thus that when the moment comes my friends outscream hers in tribute.  This is only likely to happen if my bar is a replete with the necessary accoutrements…if it is impressive enough to move grown men to a spontaneous and volcanic show of emotion.  Take heed then of my lead for a bar in need.

The liquids

A bar can only be as good as what it serves.   We’ll dispense with talk of wine and beer, save to say that they’re required.  This is a spirits column – and, after a hard day in the trenches, when nothing but a stiff drink will do, this is where you’ll be glad that you focused your efforts.

Here is my three step cricket-derived guide to stocking a bar:

Step 1

Fundamentals first.  You need a command of the basic shots required to play all the orthodox deliveries.  Whisky?  Tick.  Vodka, brandy, and rum?  Tick, tick, tick.  Gin?  Of course old chap.  Cognac?  Mais oui monsieur.  And let’s not forget tequila (por favor) and liqueur.

These are the big boys of hard tack, and they should all be represented.  You should offer a choice of at least one brand in each category, preferably something that has been judiciously selected.  The consummate host should also ideally offer guests an alternative for each to cater for varying tastes.

Step 2

Develop depth.  There’s a famous quote that goes like this (after I’ve bastardised it somewhat): “An educated host should keep everything of something, and something of everything”.  We’ve covered the latter above, now for the former.  Everyone has a standout shot, or a favoured part of the wicket.  This should be developed and exploited – for both personal satisfaction and in order to accumulate runs more effectively.  Like to pull?  Learn to do it with a straight bat, a cross bat, forward, back, lofted and so forth.

My preference is for whisky, so my drinks’ cabinet (soon to be bar, hooray!) is whisky-heavy.  But I have a friend who enjoys his gin, and I particularly look forward to the opportunity to sample London Dry, Sloe, Jenever, and others amongst the variety of styles and brands that he’s collected.  This depth makes visits to your bar, for yourself and your invitees, so much more interesting and fulfilling.




Step 3

Exotic elaboration.  A good batsman is made great by the ability to produce the unexpected: shots like the reverse sweep, the switch hit, and the scoop.  These are the cherries on the top – the extra efforts that allow you to excel, that can propel a team to victory, and that can provoke unabashed delight.

Looking for an unusual aperitif?  Why not try pastis, or the similar ouzo and arak.  A digestif that’ll stimulate after dinner conversation?  Whip out a bottle of grappa, or a fine Armagnac.

So, can I now raise my bat and bask in adulation for my astounding strokeplay?  One might think so, but perhaps celebration is premature.  At this stage my wife – with her collection of shoes batting on well beyond a century – still has the wood over me.  There’s a bit of work remaining to be done.

The accessories

So you’ve now put together a suitably cultured collection.  Imagine you’ve got them lined up on the back bar like a row of soldiers awaiting deployment (another metaphor you say?).  Would a General with such a quality assortment of troops just send them out willy-nilly?  Not a chance.  He needs equipment and tactics, and so do you.


A bar’s most important accessories are its drinking vessels.  Goblets, quaichs, and steins might be good for a laugh or a theme party, but for the most part this means glasses – they are generally the vehicles that will get your drink from A to B.

Ok, before we drop a bundle we need to ask ourselves: do glasses though actually make any difference to the flavour, and consequently (or not) the enjoyment, of what one is drinking?  The short answer is yes: our perception of flavour can be psychosomatic.  A good whisky for instance will – most of the time – taste better when drunk from a crystal tumbler than from a paper cup.  So it’s really worthwhile to invest in some quality glassware.  You’ll need tumblers, highballs and zombies to start, and specialist glasses depending on your “tactics” below.


You have the troops, and you have the equipment.  Now what?  Sometimes the engagement will be straightforward: neat, on the rocks, with water or a mixer, and maybe with a slice of lemon or lime.  But sometimes you’ll need to do something a little bit special to carry the day.  Enter the cocktail, and the science of mixology.

These are the world’s most popular cocktails (in no particular order): Mojito, Pina Colada, Cosmopolitan, Tequila Sunrise, Martini, Cuba Libre, Screwdriver, Margarita, and Daiquiri.  Pick three (from this list or any other), and learn how to mix them.  As I mentioned earlier this may require specialist glasses, and some other equipment as well.  Martinis and margaritas should be drunk from glasses dedicated for the purpose – anything else, after all this effort, would be too inelegant to even contemplate.  Shakers, glass rimmers, and muddlers may all be required…along with a supply of limes, olives, mint, salt, and various mixers.

So, there you have it, our home bar is complete – and impressive enough to claim the raucous approval of both our palates and our guests.  Heineken, I may not be drinking your beer (all the time), but I hope to do you proud.

Stocking up for spring – part 1

The new serving standard

First published in Prestige Magazine (September 2012 Edition).

As it appeared – page 1

As it appeared – page 2

Premium.  It’s the watchword of our times.  The online Oxford defines it as: “relating to or denoting a commodity of superior quality and therefore a higher price”.  I’ve simplified it to: “relatively extra” – specifications, quality, prestige…any or all of that good stuff.  Everybody wants premium.  And why not?  Life is too short to settle for less.

Whisky is no exception; in fact it’s the epitome of this phenomenon.  In the whisky world expensive, lavishly-packaged variants are being introduced on a weekly basis.  Older, better, more!  It’s exciting but also a little bit intimidating, because the bar (yes, I like my puns) is being set progressively higher.  For instance, it no longer seems enough, in a well-to-do home, to serve visitors the regular fare – a 12YO blended Scotch, the first step to premium, is the new minimum standard.

To properly appreciate this new game, and to make the most of it, one needs become familiar with the players.  This may be particularly relevant right now as we come out of winter hibernation, look to refill our liquor cabinets, and start entertaining afresh.  In the not-so-distant South African past, although there were others lurking about, the choice invariably came down to a straight contest between Johnnie Walker Black Label and Chivas Regal 12YO.  One either preferred the huskiness of the former or the honeyed flavour of the latter (or, in many cases I’m sure, one just bought premium for premium’s sake).  No longer.  Whilst these two stalwarts still dominate the market, the repertoire of easily accessible options has expanded quite delightfully.

I recently sought out a few of Cape Town’s whisky luminaries and prompted them to gather at the Bascule, the city’s whisky HQ, to review the local pool of 12YO blended Scotch.  In the midst of some typical whisky-fuelled R&R (repartee and revelry) we somehow managed to string together a few coherent observations, précised below for your reading pleasure.  Enjoy, and may the dram be with you!

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker is the world’s best-selling whisky.  Diageo, its owner, is much maligned in the whisky world, but one thing is clear enough: it takes nothing less than high-quality, highly consistent whisky to attain and maintain such lofty heights.  I found the nose somewhat brash, but if subtlety’s not the result then it’s not the objective either.  Rather, this is a bold and tasty mainstream whisky that hits each and every place on the Scotch trifecta – malt, peat, and sherry – and hits it hard.  And if you’re a young turk with a big swinging dick looking to make your mark in the world then there’s still no better way to announce your intent than by walking into a bar and calling for a Johnnie Black, yeah baby!

Chivas Regal

If Johnnie Walker is Scotch then Chivas is Speyside…in all of its debonair elegance.  In very broad terms the region has become known for the fruit and honey flavours which happen to be prominent in Chivas Regal.  The whisky’s official tasting notes also claim a slight smokiness, but this was beyond my ability to identify.  Perhaps it comes from char as opposed to peat.  Regardless, it’s not important.  Chivas is not about smoke, or anything so robust.  It is understated refinement personified.  Interestingly one of our party noted that this is not a distinctively whiskied whisky – apparance of its cereal origins is restrained, and dominated by sherry notes.  Indeed to a novice it might be difficult to distinguish from a similarly aged cognac or rum.  I’d perhaps venture to suggest that this is a whisky for all seasons.

Grant’s 12YO

This new kid on the block comes from a pedigreed background.  It’s a blend in which we can assume the famous Glenfiddich and Balvenie malts, emanating from the same hallowed stable, to be at the forefront.   Sadly for this fine whisky my attention was diverted by a claim which seems rather forced: “Grant’s 12 Year Old is the only blended Scotch whisky to ‘marry’ the finest 12 Year Old grain and single malt whiskies for six months after blending in bourbon casks”.  Technically this may be true, but it’s not quite as impressive as it sounds.  Dewar’s (and W&M) has a long tradition of marrying whisky, albeit in sherry casks, and one of the variants of the local Three Ships, albeit not a Scotch, is married in bourbon casks.  The good news – for peat freaks in particular – is that Grant’s is the smokiest whisky in this category.  Phenol-menal!  Kudos too on the best packaging amongst the lot.

Ballantine’s 12YO

The regular Ballantine’s is my favourite blended Scotch in its price category.  It reminds me of my time in Rome when I spent many an evening pondering the spectacular sights, glass in hand.  And big brother does not disappoint.  A flavoursome and interesting all-rounder – my personal runner-up.

J&B Jet

Jet’s mild flavours won’t start a party in your mouth; rather this is a whisky that’s ideal for newer initiates, and for occasions when fuller flavours might be distracting.  Fresh but not vivid – perfect as an aperitif on a spring evening.

Dewar’s 12YO

I’ve kept the best for last – and that’s not just my opinion.  Each of the heavyweights at our gathering concurred, with no hesitation whatsoever.  This whisky is magnificently integrated – it displays superb balance not only amongst it complex flavours, but also between nose, palate and finish – and is completed by a smooth, silky mouth-feel.  Hugely underrated.

Big thanks to Hector McBeth, Marsh Middleton and Bernard Gutman.