Author Archives: Patrick Leclezio

Small batch, big patch

Four craft spirits to try before you braai

First published in Sawubona Magazine (March 2019).

The last five years have seen a mushrooming proliferation of craft products on the local liquor scene.  It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to contend that we are experiencing something of a spirituous golden age.  Taking inspiration from wine and beer, and moving from early rumblings in brandy, South Africa’s signature spirit, to the heady days of the ongoing gin boom, this momentum is now being felt across a variety of sectors and styles.   Our brandy heritage reaches back centuries, but it’s only in recent years that smaller producers have been re-emerging.  Backsberg, Boplaas, and Joseph Barry, were and still are some of the standout frontrunners, issuing interesting, distinctive small-batch brandies of international quality, and forging the path for a chasing pack, with the result that we’re awash today in these amber riches.  Gin may not be home-grown, but we’ve made it our own – what is South Africa if not a melting pot of vibrant, varied and sometimes adopted influences.   The resources of the Cape Floristic Kingdom, accounting for the greatest non-tropical concentration of higher plant species in the world, served as both input and catalyst for local gin production.  Pioneers like Roger Jorgensen, and Lorna Scott of Inverroche, the latter perhaps more than anyone else, showed that fynbos botanicals have the potential to create extraordinary, unique gins.  The distillery’s “Amber Gin” made infusions and local ingredients sexy, elevating this style into the popular imagination.  The quality and creativity of these trailblazers, their warm reception by the drinking public, and the surge of the rising tide which brought them about in the first place, seem to have generated a perfect storm.  A plethora of South African craft spirits is now taking the expression ‘local is lekker’ to a whole new level.

The appeal of this exciting new landscape is unfortunately also its drawback – there are, as an example, 250 plus gins being manufactured locally.  It’s getting difficult to see the wood for the trees.  Those that have already made their names stand out, but those that haven’t yet, the new generation, can be lost in the growing clutter.  We got stuck in, did a bit of homework, and identified a few which we thought might be worth your attention.

Pimville Gin

Styled by its four founders – Yongama Skweyiya, Thami Banda, Nkululeko Maseko, and Francois Bezuidenhout – as an African gin, made for Africans, with African flavours, an African story and an African home, and named after on one the original towns that formed what was later to be called the South Western Townships (contracted to Soweto – who knew! ), this gin is intended as celebration of the charm and energy of African townships.

The outcome has been a robust gin, instilled with juniper, marula fruit, baobab, and, most prominently in our reckoning, African ginger, that is faithful to and a tribute to its mandate.  There is a flavour continuum for gins that ranges from retiring wallflower to life-of-the-party.   Pimville marches to the boisterous beat of an African drum, asserting its presence in martinis and with tonic.  A bold gin for a bold era.

Copeland Rum

James Copeland is a character study of a craft entrepreneur.   An internationally-renowned, globetrotting Trance DJ, he became inspired by rum during trips to Mauritius.  Armed with a burning passion he decided to make his own…in Kommetjie (which thinking about it just seems like a place where rum should be made – and drunk!).  We met him during the recent Rum Festival in Cape Town, slinging drinks from his “rum shack” (a beach bar fashioned stall) and bringing the message to the masses.

Copeland Rum is a white exponent distilled from a brew of blackstrap molasses, surprisingly polished for an unaged spirit, and exuding a full, rounded fruitiness, notably banana in our estimation.  Although he has plans for aged variants – with various trials currently in maturation – Copeland’s ethos and focus is about and on creating definitive, fermentation-driven rums, bursting with concentrated flavours.  This may be a drink that nimbly straddles rum’s penchant for unruly fun on the one side, and elegant enjoyment on the other.

BoPlaas Whisky

The chaps at Boplaas have some serious ambition, and from all evidence, the skills to go with it.  Wines, sparkling wines, fortified wines, brandies, gins, and “now” whiskies; it seems nothing is too much for this Calitzdorp clan.  Whisky is tricky beast, which is probably why it’s one of the least prevalent spirits in the craft arena.  The production can be complex, the maturation extended, and the market extremely competitive, making it challenging to put out an affordable product that strikes the right balance, and that is sufficiently distinctive to resonate.

The Boplaas 6YO is a creditable single grain whisky finished in Cape Tawny (port) casks that have exerted a significant influence on its flavour.  It’ll appeal we’re sure to fans of wine-casked whiskies.  Most importantly it’s a distinct drink with a strong identity, speaking of the region, the estate, and of the people who created it – and transforming consumption into exploration.  We’ll look forward, as we sip at it contentedly, to more of the same from this industrious outfit.

Agua Zulu Cachaça

If you’re familiar with Brazil’s national cocktail – the caipirinha, served just about everywhere in that country – then you’ll be enthused with this selection, and if you’re not then it’s something you’d be advised to remedy.  A masterpiece of delicious simplicity, it’s made from sugar, lime, ice, and, most importantly, cachaça: a distillate of sugar cane juice, similar to the rhum agricole of the French Caribbean.   What we should ultimately want from the local craft industry are products that go beyond the obvious, that cater for niched, overlooked needs, and that provide the type of diversity and particularity not feasible on a mass scale.  The fact that this speciality spirit is now being produced locally is an encouraging signal that this aspiration has come to pass.

Distillery 031’s Agua Zulu, made in the Brazilian style from local cane and with a local touch, is bursting with the distinctively funky, pot-stilled cachaça flavours that guarantee a rousing caipirinha.  This initial incarnation is unaged, but with luck it’ll be succeeded by matured variants in the future, perhaps borrowing from the tradition and being casked in unusual, local wood.  As they say in Brazil: there comes a time when no matter what the question is, the answer is caipirinha.

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As it appeared p1.

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As it appeared p2.

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Two whiskies to reaffirm your faith

First published in Whisky Magazine South Africa (March 2018).

During the course of my relationship with whisky I’ve rarely been disappointed.  Sure, we’ve had our ups and downs, but the troughs are usually my fault, isolated to occasions where I’ve abused its good graces.  More typically, over the years, it’s treated me to a series of wonderful encounters and experiences, nurturing between us a warm glow of contentment.  It has invigorated me when I’ve flagged, rewarded me when I’ve risen, encouraged my friendships, and made for good company at pretty much any time in between.  Most impressively, it keeps surprising me.  We’ve known each other well, for a long time now, so this is no mean feat.  They say familiarity breeds contempt, but it can obviously breed more positive regard as well – like delight.  I’ve had a few of those moments of late, brought on by two newcomers, which, if you’d like to instil a bit of fresh life into your bond with whisky, might be worth your attention.

Glenmorangie Allta

The tenth and latest in the unfailingly interesting, envelope-pushing Private Edition series, Allta fiercely perpetuates the spirit of this campaign.  I was lucky enough to “sense” this whisky along with a few others, Original, Cadboll and Lasanta, at the Glenmorangie HQ in Edinburgh, in an enthralling circular space known as “The Snug”, which showcases pretty much every whisky produced by the company in the modern age – wow!.  It was my first hit of Cadboll, and my first of Lasanta since the the finishing casks were changed from exclusively Oloroso to Oloroso and PX some four years ago.  The former, post-graduating from Muscat and Semillon casks, is a delicious sponge cake of sweet, polished flavours that’ll appeal to a broad range of palates, but especially to fans of Nectar d’Or.  It’s a Travel Retail exclusive so look out for it next time you’re going abroad.  The latter is a personal favourite, but I detected something on this occasion, a burnt flavour, somewhere between toasted sugar and an extinguished match, that I hadn’t previously noticed.  Whether this observation is derived from the new cask profile, or a function of my past inattention, is less important than the additional layer it ostensibly bequeaths to my perception of an already full flavoured whisky.  I won’t be waiting another four years.  The main show though was Allta, gaelic for ‘wild’, a nod to its raison d’être, a strain of wild yeast growing on the ears of Glenmorangie’s own cadboll barley identified by none other than the company’s whisky chief Dr. Bill Lumsden, and now catalysing this whisky’s fermentation.  An aside: the yeast was cultivated for production by South African-affiliated yeast supplier Lallemand.  The underlying rationale for Allta is that yeast variations are an unfortunate rarity in Scotch whisky.  In Dr. Bill’s words: “Yeast’s influence on taste has been overlooked for years, but it’s an area ripe for exploration”.  Perhaps taking a leaf from the Japanese whisky play book, which prescribes prolific experimentation with yeast, he’s created (yet another) whisky worthy of its place in this hallowed collection.  The liquid has much in common with The Original, its half sibling of similar age and cask profile, but is palpably fuller and more robust, bristling on the palate like a Rioja.  Earthy and herbaceous on the nose, waxy, bready and floral, with hints of mint and corn, it relaxes into a sweet, typically vanilla finish.  The distinctions pedestal yeast’s contribution to flavour, as I’m sure was the intention.  This in my opinion is a whisky to be bought and appreciated for three reasons: for its own innate value, for its place in this riveting Private Edition whisky story (to be enjoyed like a series of riveting, unmissable novels), and for making tangible the role of yeast in whisky creation.

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The Snug at Glenmorangie’s HQ

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The Snug at Glenmorangie’s HQ

Arbikie Highland Rye

Estate producers Arbikie are liquor all-rounders, better known for producing vodkas and gins.  How then, with no relevant credentials, do you get noticed on your first foray into an arena as crowded as Scotch whisky?  The answer: do something no-one’s ever done before (or at least, not for a long time).  The Arbikie Highland Rye’s premise is that it’s the first Scotch rye whisky produced in the last hundred odd years.  I guess that this makes it just a single grain in the Scotch Whisky Association classification, but unofficially I’ll happily concede that it’s rather unique and special.  Now let’s get the bad news out of the way upfront – this is a one-of-its-kind product, with a limited bottling of 998, factors driving a unit price of some R4.5k, which is clearly excessive for a young, barely legal whisky.  Then again, there’s no pretence of value for money – that’s not the idea.  There’s also lots of good news to even things out.  My experience of Arbikie Highland Rye left me with some striking impressions.  Firstly, rye brings something to the Scotch party – there’s enough here to persist and forge onwards with this experiment, which I believe Arbikie is doing; Secondly, this is one of the richest, fullest three year old whiskies I’ve ever tasted.  Whether it’s the rye, the casks, the small batch craftsmanship, or a combination that’s responsible can be debated, but the result is remarkable regardless.  Lastly, rye and sherry do great bedfellows make.  This is an unusual combination, which I’d never encountered before.  American straight rye whiskey is legislated to be aged only in new oak, and although the industry is increasingly breaking these shackles, variations are not commonplace.  But they should be.  Going by Arbikie Highland Rye – which has been “enhanced” in PX casks for 3-6 months – there’s evidence that this partnership works a treat.  If you’re in the fervent niche that’s dedicated to exploring new whisky horizons you may just have to throw pecuniary caution to the wind.

As it appeared: https://whiskymag.co.za/two-whiskies-to-reaffirm-your-faith/

 

Ignition 2019

Fortifying yourself for the festive season and the year ahead?  PATRICK LECLEZIO finds three excellent candidates to do the job.

First published in Prestige Magazine (December 2018 edition).

Off the overly beaten track

Lesser known but exceptional.  Patrick Leclezio reviews three to-be-sought-out whiskies.

First published in Prestige Magazine (December 2018 edition).

Fiddling with flavour

PATRICK LECLEZIO trains a straining spotlight on the invisible ingredients inside your drink.

First published on WineMag.co.za (November 2018).

If you’ve never encountered the term “bonificateur” you’re not alone.  Until last year I hadn’t, and I’d reckon the same goes for most.  Loosely translated from French as “good maker”, prompting the unfortunate inference that some sort of rectification is needed, it denotes a slug of additives introduced into brandy during blending, to influence its flavour or colour or both.  I’d long believed South African brandy to be made only from three ingredients: grapes, yeast, and water – and of course whatever it extracted from its casks during maturation, perhaps better defined as flavouring agents than ingredients – so this sudden edification made me question my convictions, about brandy and beyond.  My purist naiveté was in need of an overhaul.

Brandy casks

The dearth of available information is a telling place to start in weighing up the matter.  Bonificateurs have not been referenced on any packaging, in any promotional or educational materials I’ve come across – with the solitary exception of a fleeting mention in the official industry compendium “Fire Water”, nor during any brandy presentations I’ve attended.  They don’t even feature in the Van Ryn’s Advanced Brandy Course – described in some media as “the most thorough and sophisticated of its kind…” covering “…in-depth all the steps involved in brandy-making…”.  And by this absence I mean of the process and its existence, never mind any specific detail.  When I started with my enquiries one leading distiller told me that the practice was a “very, very sensitive matter “that was “kept as a secret by all manufacturers”.   I needed to get to the nerve centre for further insight.

In this pursuit I was privileged to be hosted recently by Johan Venter and Mare-Loe Prinsloo, Heads of Product and Brandy respectively at Distell (i.e. two leading heavyweights working for the country’s largest brandy producer), for a wide-ranging discussion on the matter during which I questioned if the industry might be hiding this process from consumers, by omission if not actively.  Despite a comprehensive denial, and despite an enjoyable and informative session, the disclosure went so far and no further.  When I asked for an indication of which of their brandies used bonificateurs and which didn’t, I was given some satisfaction on the latter, more on this later, but none on the former, other than being told that it was a minor percentage.  My impression was that they were concerned that this constituent would taint those products identified.  If I’m right then this would explain, if not justify, the perceived silence.

Before going any further I need to clarify, at the risk of being pedantic, that the use of additives, within certain parameters, is entirely legal.  Table 6 of the Liquor Products Act titled “SUBSTANCES WHICH MAY BE ADDED TO LIQUOR PRODUCTS” clearly regulates the practice.   I’ve summarised the additives for brandy in the following list (taken from the latest update of the Act, issued on 2/05/2014): bentonite, caramel, carbon dioxide, concentrated must, dessert wine (seemingly also encompassing fortified wine in practice), filtering aids of inert material, flavourants of vegetable origin or extracts thereof (prune and vanilla extracts being two examples), gelatine, honey, must, potassium ferro cyanide, silicasol, sugar of vegetable origin, tannin if it is not foreign to wine, water, and wood.

I should also stress that this practice is hardly limited to South African brandy.  The use of additives and flavourants is pronounced in many of the classic spirits.  Rum is maligned for its use of added sugars and colourants in particular.  Cognac and Armagnac prolifically use a substance called boise, an oak extract, to mimic additional maturation.  Canadian whisky allows an injection of other wines and spirits of up to 9.09% and in certain cases even more, depending on the nature of the deployment.  Scotch whisky often touts that it doesn’t allow any additives, other than flavourless caramel colouring, but in a sense this is hypocritical: it permits peat smoke, and bourbon, sherry, and all sorts of other wines and spirits to be imbued into its product during malting and maturation respectively, the latter in largely uncontrolled proportions; though, to be fair, whilst they’re not acknowledged as additives these flavouring agents are widely communicated to consumers.

That additives are allowable however, is not the issue.  They are – full stop.  The real questions are whether they’re desirable firstly, and whether their presence and use should be made (more) explicitly transparent.

Let’s tackle the last question first.  Yes!  Undisputedly and emphatically – yes.  There’s a real, growing thirst amongst modern consumers to be educated about their consumption, the denial or manipulation of which would be obstructive and disingenuous.   More importantly direct access to this information is a fundamental right underpinning our freedom.  We should be presented, without having to search for it, with the content and composition of any foodstuffs we consider buying and ingesting, because this awareness has an essential bearing on our ability to protect our health and our interests generally.  I have the right quite simply to know what’s in my drink – whether it’s because of potential allergens, or because I may, for instance, be inclined to pay more for conventionally matured than boise-augmented cognac.

Unfortunately when it comes to alcohol the letter of the law is yet to catch up to its spirit.  Whilst it’s legally required of most foodstuffs, liquor is exempt from having to disclose a list of ingredients (or, quite incredibly, even the presence of “foreign” matter), for seemingly unfathomable reasons.    It may be challenging to consistently define certain elements, such as those deriving from the oak – although the exemption applies to most liquor, whether cask matured or not – but it’s clearly not impossible: the European Commission stated in a March 2017 report that “objective grounds have not been identified that would justify the absence of information on ingredients and nutritional information on alcoholic beverages or a differentiated treatment for some alcoholic beverages”.  The report concludes that change to this effect is imminent.  In fact it is already mandatory to display consumer information about calories, additives, vitamins and microelements on the labels of spirits containers in 13 member states of the EU.

When I questioned an official at our local Department of Agriculture on the topic I was given this response:  “At the moment this is optional, you can indicate the ingredients on the label but it is not compulsive (sic).  The reason for this is that there is not yet any international guideline or requirement for wine or other liquor products.  South African legislation follows international requirements to make sure that we stay up to date, that our labels still complies with the requirements of the overseas countries when we export … If it should become an international requirement to indicate the ingredients on a label, the Liquor Products Act, Act 60 of 1989, will be amended accordingly.”  So whilst the industry has been remiss in respecting our right to this information of its own accord, it ostensibly will to be forced to do so in the medium term.   Good news!  How everyone’s going to react to the sudden appearance of all sorts of unexpected things in their drinks is another matter.

Once transparency is assured, the debate then becomes about whether an allowance for additives is of benefit or detriment: a thorny and complicated matter to unpack.  There is no right or wrong in my opinion, there are only varying perspectives.  One perspective is that if it’s able to contribute positively to flavour, with a result improving what it would otherwise have been, then it must be of benefit.  Another contrasting perspective is that it masks inadequacies, and fosters low standards.  Johan Venter voiced Distell’s brandy-making philosophy as endeavouring to get things right from the start rather than correcting mistakes at the end.  The existence of this recourse though – for any spirit, not just brandy – provokes the exact opposite motivation: you can bet that any short-cuts on offer will be exploited by less principled producers.  The knowledge that shortfalls can be corrected may limit ambition, or may engender the wrong kind of ambition.  Further perspectives concern identity and purity.   Additives introduce the potential for widely varying flavours, narrowing the boundary between diversity, which we want, and divergence, which we don’t.  When I buy yoghurt (read brandy), I want something that tastes and feels like yoghurt, not like milk or cream (read grappa or pisco).  It gives me the context in which I can root and understand my appreciation.  South African brandy regulates its additives precisely, sufficiently one would hope to preclude this risk, but it may not be the case elsewhere.  Canadian whisky’s only real limit to the extent to which permitted additives can be used is a clause stipulating that it should have an “aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian whisky” i.e. it depends on an organoleptic evaluation, which can’t be objective or consistent.

During my meeting at Distell, I was given five brandies to nose and taste: Flight of the Fish Eagle, the potstill component from Klipdrift Premium, Oude Meester 12YO, Van Ryn’s 12YO unfiltered, and a Van Ryn’s 47YO, none of which employ bonificateurs, the intention being to show me these aren’t necessary to make great brandies.  If I needed any convincing, then this did the trick in spades, the experience of the two Van Ryn’s being a particular privilege.  The 12YO is not available for purchase unfiltered, which is a shame, its usual bold fruity flavours being amplified to gigantic, and the 47YO, an intense, dead-in-your-tracks eruption of  nuanced complexity, is not marketed at all…yet.  I had not long before also tasted the Van Ryn’s 27YO, a big, boisterous, irresistible hug of toasted oak and dried fruit, which was also confirmed additive-free.   A pattern was beginning to emerge – from these Distell learnings and from elsewhere.  Potstill brandies and more mature brandies typically don’t use bonificateurs.  When I asked Johan Venter if he wished this allowance didn’t exist, his response was “horses for courses”.  Whilst it’s a deduction supported by constrained information – I’m entirely aware that I haven’t tasted this Pierian spring – it makes sense that these horses would be most needed on courses where the muscle of pot distillation and maturation is inhibited i.e. blended brandies.

VR27YO

The best will always be the best, and with additives, in some cases like Scotch (and its flavouring agents), maybe even more so. There’s also no doubt that our best brandies are exceptional.  The additives allowance – on the face of all available evidence – has not been necessary for this splendid outcome.  It may be the case however that the worst may be worse than would have been the case.  Like my hosts at Distell I personally don’t like the idea of papering over cracks that shouldn’t be there in the first place.  Equally, it may mean that pleasant brandies are available to us more cost effectively than would otherwise be possible.  You’ll have to take your own perspective.  One thing’s for sure though – most of my misgivings would be decisively expunged if (and will be when) the curtain is drawn back just a little further.

As it appeared: http://www.winemag.co.za/patrick-leclezio-how-widely-are-flavouring-agents-being-used-in-your-brandy/

 

 

 

 

 

Bang for your buck

An antidote to perverse pricing.  PATRICK LECLEZIO identifies five whiskies vying hardest for value.

First published in Whisky Magazine South Africa (June 2018)

It’s easy to get carried away by whisky fever.  I know because I’m particularly susceptible; I’ll wax lyrical at any given opportunity, and I’ll clamour for the fancy stuff.   There is a plethora of great candidates with much to be recommended.  In fact whisky as a whole just lends itself to this enthusiasm.  The flavours are varied and interesting, and have struck a chord with a multitude of drinkers.  The stories equally are compelling: rich histories, beautiful settings, and colourful characters weave an engaging narrative.  And the industry is highly capable, having carefully cultivated and exploited these attributes.  It’s no surprise then that people tend to get passionate about this drink.  In my circles I’m often talking up all sorts of fine whiskies – usually the type that comes with an increasingly hefty price tag.  Do they warrant their cost overall, or has the market been hypnotised by the hype?   I could make the case that whisky is just a beverage.  You drink it and then it’s gone.  Are we paying the appropriate premium for perceived increments in quality?  It’s a difficult, objectively almost unresolvable, question – but I made a broader associated realisation recently.   Over the years I’ve gradually passed over the cheaper-end whiskies in my bar, subconsciously assuming that I’ll get better satisfaction from the more expensive stuff.   I needed a reality check, so I challenged myself to seek out five whiskies each costing under R500 that I could casually drink with equivalent fulfilment as my top-shelf selection (or even more fulfilment – because who doesn’t appreciate getting the same for less).  Here they are in no particular order.

Bourbon: Maker’s 46

Straight bourbon is probably the most tightly regulated of all spirits.  This situation has its positives and negatives.  Amongst the latter is the narrow band of flavour to which it is inevitably consigned, although lately, encouragingly, this has been levered wider by some innovative product initiatives.  But these can only go so far.  More exciting still is the introduction of a spate of drinks that are straight bourbon (in spirit, no pun intended), but not straight bourbon (according to the letter of the law) i.e. they usually start off as a straight bourbon, but then diverge in one way or another.   You’ll be able to identify these by their labelling, which typically reads “Kentucky Straight Bourbon…” addended with a qualifier of some sort.  Maker’s 46 is one of these.   It is effectively the same  liquid from the standard-bearing Maker’s Mark, but aged for a bit longer, during which time seared French oak staves (the divergence / qualifier) have been introduced into the barrel.   The result is a full-flavoured, hot-cross-bun of a bourbon.   There’s vanilla, toffee and biscuits here, all expected in a wheated bourbon, but I was surprised by the prominent spice, from the staves I’m guessing , and by the thick depth of the flavour:  this is one heck of rich whisky.  Maker’s 46 just squeaks into the budget, but it nails my approval by a wide margin.

Blended Scotch: Dewar’s 12YO and Dewar’s 15YO

Whilst I’ve sort of lost track of it over the years the 12YO Dewar’s had always been a personal favourite.   Nothing seems to have changed.  Dewar’s was a pioneer of “marrying” – the process during which whisky stands and settles for a few months after blending or vatting.  There are other influences of course, but this is likely a contributing factor to its extraordinary balance.  These components have clearly all got to know and like each other.  There isn’t a single argument, and there are no underlying tensions.  All the flavours work together in perfect, contented harmony within and across the nose, palate and finish.  The glorious, integrated array of fruit, cereal, spice, honey and oak in the 12YO will not disappoint, and the 15YO does it again with some added complexity.  You’ll be hard pressed to find better blended Scotch all-rounders at these price points.  Sadly they’re a bit sparse in South Africa compared to some of their peers, but it’s worth hunting around until you find them.

Blended Irish: Black Bush

If I played golf this would be my hole-in-one drink.  I’d want the celebration to be unreservedly enjoyable, I’m picturing a chorus of clicking glasses and vibrant camaraderie, but without excessively punishing my pocket.  Black Bush is the ideal catalyst for this outcome, and indeed many other wonderful occasions.  What it promises on paper: high malt content, predominant Oloroso cask ageing, significant maturation, it delivers emphatically in its full-bodied person: an intense out-of-the-park flavour that is husky, fruity, and spicy, with a masculine background of leather and perhaps tobacco.   If I had to plot the broader continuum of whisky pricing versus performance, definitely featuring a quadrant I’d label “perverse”, Black Bush would dominate the opposite position, at the head of the “charity” quadrant; for what it is they’re almost giving this stuff away.  An enduring classic.  I’ve never had a glass of Black Bush in which I didn’t delight.

Malt: Monkey Shoulder

I’ll allow myself to stand corrected but I think Monkey Shoulder is the only whisky named after an injury – one sustained by distillery workers whilst shifting barley with shiels on a malting floor.  It’s the type of quirkiness that defines this young, fun, monkey-mischievous whisky.   In days past it might have been called a triple malt, with its parts originating from three malt distilleries: Kininvie, Glenfiddich, and The Balvenie, but today it is known as a blended malt – a sadly underrepresented style, those with such clearly identifiable provenance even more so.  For this reason alone, that it’s one of few representatives, it’s a whisky worth noting.  That it’s also smooth, approachable, uncomplicated, and reasonably priced – an ideal introduction to malt whisky drinking, but with enough range of flavour, especially for what is ostensibly a young whisky, to keep the more seasoned interested – puts it over the top and into my group of hard-hitting stars.

As it appeared: http://whiskymag.co.za/bang-for-your-buck/

Get with the JET SET

The formula for travelling with ease and poise

The golden age of travel may long be over, but there’s no reason why those of us on the move can’t emulate the élan of our predecessors.  All it takes is a few grains of insight and a spot of preparation…conveniently supplied by THE INDY’s three step guide.

Step 1: Before you go

The first step is also the most vital.  Your baggage needs to stay within that shifting, easily shot line at which enough lapses into overloaded.   The trick to transitioning is to remain as unencumbered and unburdened as is reasonable.

If it’s going in the hold it’s got to be bold.  You’ll need something tough, functional and protective, but also inexpensive – don’t fork over for a piece that’s going to be punished.

THE INDY suggests: Think Travelite rather than Louis Vuitton.  Hard shells only – you may be wanting to return with a fragile bottle of that hard-to-find Japanese whisky.  Quality wheels are important – reserve your energy for walking the Champs Elysees not for pulling a recalcitrant case through CDG airport.  Built-in locks – your bag should be the only thing carrying your stuff.

On shorter trips take a cabin case so that you can glide past without breaking stride whilst others congregate like cattle at the conveyor belt.  Efficiency is of the essence.

THE INDY suggests: The Victrinox Spectra is light, robust and impeccably-engineered – and if not licenced then at least dressed to kill, in its cool, matt carapace.  You could take it to a black-tie dinner without anyone blinking.

Does anyone travel anywhere without their laptop these days?  You’d likely feel naked without it.  Your laptop will need a bag – one that’s able to accommodate a few other necessities as well: notebook, e-reader, cables, passport, and the like.  Ensure that this bag includes a padded shoulder-strap and a pass-through to slip it over the handle of your suitcase – you’ll want to set out with your sword hand hand free.

THE INDY suggests: Thule is best known for its exceptional roof racks, but it puts out a mean set of bags as well.  The Subterra 15” hits the sweet spot with its travel-busting, rugged outer skin, its chamois-lined sunglasses pouch (one of a multitude of convenient pockets and pouches), and its slick well-thought out design.

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Clutter is the enemy, but there are those bits and pieces that you ignore at your peril.  Get adaptors before you go – our local plugs are virtually unique (the odd Indian socket notwithstanding).  And remember the travel restriction on liquids – you’ll need to decant these into small containers.

THE INDY suggests: The chaps at GO Design specialise in travel accessories.  They’ve got those adaptors and bottles, and pretty much every travel related item that you can imagine.

Step 2: In transit

Comfort is king.  The flights and the in-between flights will set the tone for your trip.  Time away is premium priced, so you’ll want to get to the other side well-rested, relaxed, feeling fresh and ready to seize the day.

The single most important influence in accomplishing this objective is your choice amongst airlines, which are not all created equal.  Some offer more than others – whether it be in terms of space, coverage, catering, entertainment, amenities, and ground support.  Pick wisely.

THE INDY suggests:  Emirates has become, in a very short space of time, the world’s second largest conventional, international airline.  With good reason.  It is industry leading in almost all respects,  from its fabulous footprint numbering 150 odd destinations, its consistently razor-sharp pricing, and its fleet of modern aircraft, to the bars on its cavernous A380’s, the chauffeur-drive to and from the airport, the free in-flight internet, and the complimentary meal vouchers and hotel rooms for extended layovers.  It is virtually unrivalled.  Whether in economy, business or first – and we tested each cabin, and the accompanying lounges, on a recent trip to make sure – you’ll get unsurpassable bang for your buck.

When you’re stuck in a seat for hours, the boredom pinning you fast on all sides, you’ll be desperate for some reprieve.  On most airlines the entertainment system offers a double-edged surprise: pleasant in that the options of movies and shows are plentiful, nasty in that the headphones with which to listen in are disappointing – ranging from diabolically bad in economy, to mediocre in business and first.  BYO good people.   And don’t forget the adaptor.

THE INDY suggests:  Go in-ear – remember the golden rule: unencumbered and unburdened, and noise cancelling – an aircraft is droningly loud.  Which bring us to the Bose Quiet Comfort 20, unanimously (to the best of our knowledge) rated by credible reviewers as the best in-ear, noise cancelling headphones in the world.  You’ll not look back.

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At some 40 000 feet you have limited hierarchy of concerns.  You want to avoid plummeting from the sky.  You want to be fed.   You want access to a lavatory.  Your most pressing needs assured, you’ll move on to entertainment – as already covered.  That leaves sleep.  Glorious sleep.  You can best beckon the sandman, frustratingly elusive on an airliner, by properly equipping yourself with earplugs, eye shades, and a travel pillow.

THE INDY suggests:  With products based on NASA cushioning technology, Tempur has been at the forefront in foam, the material of choice for your sleep inducing requirements, for decades.  They offer the typical travel “doughnut”, but this works for some and not for others, and it’s useless in the upper cabin classes.  You’ll sleep tightest with our hands-down favourite: the slumberous, travel-sized version of their standard erganomic pillow.  Tempur also supplies eye shades – which are soft, comfortable, and easy on the eyelids.

Step 3: At your destination

Whether you’re travelling for work or pleasure you’ll want to be primed for action – looking good, and feeling confident.  Don’t leave these things in the lap of the gods.  It pays to be prepared.

At THE INDY we believe that one should always be impeccably turned out, presenting oneself to the world to the best possible effect.  To make this happen on your travels you’ll need to have your grooming essentials securely packed and conveniently accessible.

THE INDY suggests:  Tumi’s ballistic-nylon luggage has become iconic amongst die-hard travellers, and it includes a range that represents something of a zenith in toiletry kits.  Check out the Hanging Travel Kit for extended voyages and the Split Travel Kit for shorter sojourns; both sport a well-organised, stylish layout, and an aura of rugged invincibility.

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You can’t be carrying everything that you could conceivably need, but if your destination is prone to precipitation, then you’d be well advised to sacrifice space for a brolly.  You’ll be wanting after all to maintain a crisp comportment in any given set of conditions.

THE INDY suggests:  The Blunt XS_Metro is a compact umbrella that’s slightly overgrown its class, but what it costs in size, it repays tenfold in strength and build quality.  Rain has the nasty habit of running with wind, the mortal enemy of most umbrellas.  Not of this one though.   As a bonus it’s available in an array of funky colours.

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You’re walking about sightseeing, folding and unfolding one of those damned hotel maps, clueless tourist written all over your face.  What do you do?  Your historic predecessors would have hired a cicerone, but that time has passed and you wouldn’t want a stranger harshing your vibe anyhow.

THE INDY suggests:  Ulmon’s CityMaps2Go app offer interactive, easy-to-use, offline maps (no roaming required, it works using GPS) for most of the world’s major cities.  You’ll stay so effortlessly orientated, and informed – with its photos and insider tips – that you might even be mistaken for a local.

Final tips:

–              Pack your clothing rolled.  It’s amazing how much more you can fit using this format.

–              Check-in online and download your boarding pass.  You’ll get your choice of seating, and you’ll avoid those long, dispiriting queues on arrival at the airport.

–              If you don’t have frequent traveller status, review your banking package for lounge access privileges.

–              Travelling across time zones wreaks havoc on your internal body clock (the so-called “jet lag”).  Speak to your doctor about supplementing with the natural hormone melatonin to assist with the adjustment.