This labour of love, the first of its kind, offers a whisky experience beyond that of just shopping.
First published in Prestige Magazine (February 2013 edition).
It’s rare that I lament being in Cape Town rather than Joburg. Recently however I experienced one of those moments, because my brother in whisky (and yours), Marc Pendlebury, opened South Africa’s first dedicated, speciality whisky store. Located in Hyde Park Corner shopping centre (Hyde Park, Johannesburg) this gem of a shop is a mouth-watering development for local whisky lovers. Marc is best known on the whisky scene as WhiskyBrother, one of the most established and prolific South African whisky bloggers. I caught up with him long distance to ask him about the venture and about his whisky journey.
When did you become passionate about whisky and how did it happen?
I was a “whisky drinker” for several years before the passion took hold, which was about 8 years ago. It began when I received an 18yo Speyside single malt. It was unlike anything I ever had drunk up and it sparked my curiosity and a desire to understand how and where the differences arise with regard to flavour and whisky styles.
What’s been the most magical moment on your whisky journey?
I’ve shared many memorable moments with various whisky friends quietly savouring a pour of something spectacular, but my trip to Islay a few months back definitely qualifies as the most magical. The whole island is shrouded in whisky magic, and to have had the opportunity to meet the people behind the wonderful Islay malts and taste whiskies directly from the casks in the warehouses was a moving experience for a whisky geek like me.
WhiskyBrother was originally (and still is) your blogging persona. How did you come up with the name?
Knowledge is a life-long pursuit, and as a whisky enthusiast I am continually learning and experiencing new aspects of whisky every day. I didn’t think that I qualified for a moniker like Dr Whisky or Whisky Guru. The brother extension was about showing my intermediateness, as well as the camaraderie I so often find among my fellow enthusiasts. Also, I thought brother was much more approachable and accurately reflected my personality.
Can you share with us a bit about your background and your life away from whisky? What are some of your other pastimes?
I like to keep busy, so it’s a constant challenge to try to balance my work and personal life. I’m currently finishing my MBA – I probably should have done so before starting on the shop but you can’t keep a passionate idea supressed!
Time with my family and friends is important to me. I’m a bit of a news, tech and social media junkie so I’m often flipping through the various news channels/sites/magazines or engaging on various social platforms. I also play touch-rugby once a week and try squeeze in a run, gym session or walk in the park with my dogs whenever time allows.
Tell us about that moment (or perhaps it was a process) when you decided to pack it all in to start a whisky shop.
It was very much a process! As a serious enthusiast I wanted to frequent a store that specialised in whisky, and so, about five years ago, I thought it would be something great to create, if the time came and it still didn’t exist. Well the years passed and no store appeared, so in mid-2011 I considered it more seriously and started playing with the numbers and scribbling business plan ideas. One thing led to another, and once I was successful in raising the capital in early 2012 it was full-steam ahead.
You stock an extensive selection of whiskies and whisky-related items. What are some of the highlights? Is there anything that’s particularly special to you?
My first highlight is the extensive collection! Seeing so many brands under the same roof is a special sight to behold. If I had to name a few of which I’m particularly fond, I would have to include: Macallan Fine and Rare 1989 (the only one in the country), Dalmore 1978 31yo, Glenmorangie Pride (now sold) and Glenfiddich 40yo.
Apart from these more exclusive and limited items, I am equally pleased to stock the ranges from smaller, independent producers including BenRiach, Springbank, GlenDronach, Kilchoman, Compass Box and Michel Couvreur.
What makes the WhiskyBrother store different from other liquor speciality stores that focus (albeit not exclusively) on whisky? What can whisky lovers expect that would delight them when they visit your store?
The fact that it is strictly whisky, and only whisky. Whisky is a specialty drink and it deserves a specialty store. The store was built intentionally to showcase the amazing whiskies available and the design has included many components of whisky production and history – from the use of copper and untreated oak staves, to the presence of used whisky casks and images of distilleries.
Next would be the large selection on offer. It’s not about only stocking the big brands with the big marketing budgets. I’d like to think all whiskies are equal on the WhiskyBrother shelves; it is up to the consumer to decide on preference. I have as many brands and expressions as is available in our market, as well as a whisky or two you won’t find anywhere else in SA.
Lastly, a specialty store must provide specialty service. I am personally working in the store for the foreseeable future. The whisky consumer deserves to be assisted by someone who has solid whisky experience and can recommend, engage and inform.
My intention is to provide an experience, not just retail whisky.
What’s on top of the list for your next whisky adventure?
I’m currently organising a group tour to Scotland (and plan to make it a quarterly activity), and I’m working on getting a cask bottled that I personally selected.
Nice guy, great whiskies, impressive store. Get over there and check it out. May the dram be with you!