The 2010 Whisky Live festival saw around 20 000 people through the doors of the venue in both Johannesburg and Cape Town to sip and enjoy the golden spirit. South Africa is privileged to be able to call upon the expertise of someone like Dave Hughes. Not only did he train as a distiller and spend time working in Scotland, he’s also the only non-British resident to belong to the Worshipful Society of Distillers, an august body formed in 1638 to protect the distillation of spirits in London – and he also boasts the title of Freeman of the City of London, a rare honour bestowed on him for his services to the development of the wine and spirit industry.
While he’s often mistaken for a Father Christmas wannabe because of his distinctive luxuriant snowy white beard, Hughes is serious about whisky in all forms and his knowledge is encyclopaedic. Here he shares his impressions of a few special bottles he tasted – and presented to some lucky individuals who were granted access to the Boutique Whisky Bar at Whisky Live 2010, both in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
“Four whiskies were constant throughout the duration of the show and I’ve decided to feature those in this, first-ever, tasting section,” Hughes said.
Gorgeous mature notes with fruit cake prominent.
Then hints of dusty spice, banana and citrus and whiffs of peach and plum with a delicate floral backing.
In the mouth there were good, thick, mouth filling characteristics with chocolate joining what the nose promised.
Some tropical fruit and a decided ginger crispness on the finish with a touch of vanilla and ripe pears that combined in long, sustained aftertaste.
Balvenie 17-year-old peated cask
This I’d never tasted before. Like most Balvenies the nose was gentle and comforting.
Distinct floral notes of violets and lavender.
The power slowly built with smoke and spice showing strongly, along with honey and vanilla.
In the mouth, that smoke softened to reveal more spice (cinnamon and nutmeg) and oak.
Honey and vanilla step up a gear.
The finish had lots of sweet spice and the smoke was as prominent as ever.
Very long lasting and decidedly satisfying.
Bunnahabain Cruach Mhona
An exclusive, limited edition bottling which was another first for me.
The odd name means “peat stack” and is pronounced “Cruach Vhona” sounding almost African…
The distinctive nose tells you it was well named!
Sweet, peaty aromas with the dry smoke of burning grass with hints of hay and some herbal notes.
In the mouth the peat kicked into full gear while a light malty sweetness developed with a light twist of white pepper.
Naturally all this was backed by seaweed and a briny, salty tang.
There’s a long, lingering finish which had prominent smoke with some spice and lots of seaside notes.
I found this to be a delicious whisky that would go incredibly well with a wide range of foods.
Knob Creek Kentucky straight bourbon 9-year-old – 50% abv
Here’s a change of pace, switching to the other side of the pond with an American spirit.
Attractive nose with a combination of nuts and maple syrup and hints of rye and sweet spice.
Rich and full in the mouth with a lively, fruity palate where the nuts come to the fore and a slight roasty character developed.
I found a lovely, satisfying warming glowof sensation as it was slowly swallowed.
It had a dry finish with a distinct vanilla note on the aftertaste.
It promises to be a delightful “sipper”, especially when slightly chilled.