Thursday, September 27, 2012

David Stewart Celebrates 50 Years in Whisky

The First time I heard the name Dave Stewart I thought he was a genius, along with Annie Lennox he thrilled my formative teenage years, a quirky guitarist and the voice of an angel the Eurythmics will always be a part of my Lifes Story.

My formative years in whisky were no different, this time the David Stewart of Balvenie was as accomplished at what he does. The Balvenie certainly ranks very highly on my Whisky list and almost without fail every special release with Davids name on it has impressed me. This year Mr Stewart celebrates 50 years in Whisky and below is a press release which will give you more information on how to celebrate with David but be warned it comes at a cost.

Rare bottle of Balvenie Whisky at Whisky Live for R240 000
A highly collectible and rare bottle of The Balvenie Fifty is the most expensive bottle of whisky at the FNB Whisky Live Festival 2012, on sale for R240 000.
Just 88 bottles of this extremely limited edition release of The Balvenie single malt distilled in 1962 will be available, and have been released in recognition of the incredible devotion of The Balvenie Malt Master, David Stewart, who has devoted 50 years, his entire working life to the art of single malt making, becoming one of the most respected craftsmen in his field.
Known throughout the Scotch industry as the ‘modest man of whisky’, he began working at The Balvenie Distillery in 1962 as a seventeen year old apprentice - a year before single malt whisky was officially exported outside Scotland.  He served a lengthy 12 year apprenticeship before taking on the title of malt master.
Exactly 50 years to the day that David joined the highland distillery his incredible devotion is being recognized with the release of this rare cask of The Balvenie single malt distilled in 1962.
The Whisky Live Festival takes place at the Cape Town Convention Centre from 3 - 5 October from 18:00 – 22:00 daily.  Tickets are available online at

Pauline Sayers
Brand Communications Consultant
William Grant & Sons Distillers Ltd
Ph: 021-5560716
Cell: 082 568 5117

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Second Official Cigar Dinner 2012

It’s one of those truly amazing things: spend the better part of 15 minutes in the hustle and bustle of inner city traffic,a surge of energy fills you as the vortex of people and energy surrounds you. Then - as you walk up the path of The Cape Town club, you are instantly struck with the silence of a time before, the architecture, the colonial slant on décor and the amazing portraits of South Africa’s past and present leaders on the walls.

Whilst Milner and Rhodes are truly colonial, the four great Africans depicted are linked by one great achievement: that of Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize, and once again the peacefulness is echoed. It is hard to believe one is still in the city and one may still smoke here, freely, no stuffy glass box with air-conditioning set at the wrong temperature. Wow. What a treat.

Tonight is back to formal wear with jacket and tie required. The regular members shuffled in to the upstairs bar, where we were greeted with some of Jeff Grier’s great local bubbles, the first Cigar of the evening and a rather tasty blue cheese, onion and grape pastry.

I found the Cigar’s construction to be very good and the condition excellent, with a rather elegant aroma, quite light. Upon first draw, it was light and elegant with rewarding big mouthfuls of smoke. Smooth toffee character and light refreshing fruits. This is a harmonious affair with high quality tobacco and light enough to think that perhaps it is not Cuban.

Once we were well into the last third of the Cigar we were ushered to the downstairs dining room where we were greeted by our host Eugene whom introduced the menu and wine selection to us.

Our Amuse bouche was a nectarine and raspberry Gazpacho which had a good hint of Chilli and perfectly ripe tomato, which had me crying out for tequila. Now do not get me wrong: I am not a tequila person, anything with big spirity young alcohol would suffice, and would truly work well.

Our Entrée was a brilliant Tuna Tataki with cream cheese, avo and tomato, the presentation was really good, flavours were rich yet elegant and textures sublime. Eugene chose The Oystercatcher Sauvignon Blanc as a pairing; I found the wine too light with no real minerality and rather flat.

Next up was a starter of Prawn salad with Jalousie dressing, Catafi crisps and quails egg, again beautifully presented with loads of textures and flavours. The catafi, which apart from texture, added nothing to the dish. Paired with this was Springfield’s wild yeast Chardonnay which had me worried that my palate was not getting the wine today, as again the wine was slightly tart with no structure. I would have loved to have had an overtly wooded chardonnay that could stand up to the rich creamy prawn and tannin of the dressing.

As the palate cleanser of lemon granite and lemongrass jelly was arriving Barry Lucas took us through the first Cigar. The format chosen was to look at the Cigars characteristics the same way the late Theo Rudman used to, and as we discussed it, he let slip it was Cuban, much to my surprise. I almost immediately though guessed it was a Hoyo De Monterrey, the cigar seemed smaller than a Corona Gorde, though it was not, and so, Epicure 1 it was.

Shortly after that Deshbir Bhandari handed out the second Cigar, it was presented with band on, which helps when trying to figure what it is! It was a Ramone Allones Phoenicia 32 Exclusivo Lebano, which was a 3rd limited regional release of Allones to Lebanon. In celebration of its 32nd Anniversary of the Habanos Distributor, Phoenicia Trading. Limited to 2000 boxes of 30. Unfortunately, Deshbir did not talk us through this one. I was very grateful to Deshbir for sharing such a wonderful cigar with us. Thank you Deshbir.

The cigar construction was good and condition once more, excellent. It had an aroma of the Vuelta Abajo in Pinar Del Rio and was unmistakeably Cuban. A rich well matured leaf spoke of Cuba’s past with a complexity that only modern Cuba seems to carry off. The smoke is medium bodied to rich, with the last third almost addictive, it really demands ones attention and delivers precise flavours all the way to the very last draw, this deserved a well aged French red or a classic Highland malt to round it off beautifully.

The mains arrived shortly afterwards of Beef wellington and potato fondant with green beans. Whilst packed with flavour, mine was overcooked with rather sloppy presentation, such a pity as until that point, the food had been amazing. The wine selected was Marianne Shiraz and once more my palate failed me. Whilst the wine hinted at a peppery spicy character, it was overwhelmed with a tannic structure that seemed the wine was too young or the grape had been picked before being ripe enough.

Our dessert got the presentation and texture back on track with a light vanilla infused yoghurt pana cotta and almond crumble. The light elegant flavours are a good way to end a meal, but it felt if there was a transitional course missing from the heavy beef. I often find chefs end with a heavy chocolate or coffee which makes one heavy and sleepy, whilst ending lightly is far better, provided the gap between the main and sweet is less severe. This dessert was paired with a Joostenberg noble late harvest which quite frankly was.. sweet. No structure, no complexity and no fruit almost reminded me of an artificially sweetened rose water.

Judging by the room, the fault with the wines were more to do with me than the wines. I did not see anyone get overly excited but there was no grumbling either. I do have these days where I cannot discern any character in wine and tonight was obviously one of those nights.

After dinner we were presented with Malus an apple brandy from Elgin. Tim George, the owner, describes it as a hobby that got out of hand. His journey into producing a fine spirit from Elgin’s beautiful eating apples has been one all too familiar in South Africa. With a liquor board seemingly unwilling to flinch on relooking at the modern industry, he ends up with a unique product that because of archaic laws remains unclassified. Were he in Normandy he would be making Calvados. While there are four specific types of Calvados, it is protected by a defined geographical area of which Elgin does not form part of. The English, who having been distilling Ciders since 1668, finally in 2011 managed to classify and protect their cider brandy. There is still no classification in South Africa for a distilled cider though, so he falls into that huge general category known as spirit aperitif which can range from caramel flavoured Vodka to Tequila to Absinth and apparently now South African distilled Cider.

With his Engineering background he has produced the most phenomenal packaging with a bespoke hand blown glass decanter by David Reade. A wonderful wood carved box and all manufactured in South Africa by South Africans. This does come at a price though, close to R3000. So what of the spirit itself?

Nose: Very spirity, no real levels of depth and loads of opulent youth, quite flat with almost caramel spirit influence.

Palate: Coating rather lightly with immature spirit slight bitter back end almost no sign of apple. Then some muscavado sugar with soft fruit layer.

Finish: Short and reluctant.

Balance: Not there yet, the immature spirit overwhelms the whole, with very little wood influence other than the colour which had a sort of coral tinge from the pinot casks.

What we have here is a spirit that has the potential to evolve into something special. I wish I could have tasted the Cider, for then I could better understand the spirit’s roots. I feel better wood is required for ageing and perhaps a shorter run can be cut. People often ask me what makes Calvados special. As apples consist of 20 % air (that’s why they float) I think there is something special in Normandy air and as such, its apples. Elgin has fewer varieties and has been producing distilled cider for considerably less time, so it will get better. Malus is expensive no matter how you look at it. The effort and craftsmanship is evident and worth it, the spirit itself though has a way to go. Whatever you do, do keep going Mr Tim George.

Thereafter the members slowly sipped some Malus and Coffee with Petit Fours before embarking on the journey home. I am sure satisfied with what was great evening.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A grumpy old man??

I do believe I am reaching that age where I become a grumpy old man. I remember as a youngster being able to spot them from a mile away. Always asking questions and getting seriously uptight when given the wrong answers. I always had a soft spot for these people, as more often than not, they were right. It was only when having to deal with them for the umpteenth time, that you figure that, there is just no pleasing them. I always wondered why they chose to be this way and I really did believe it was a choice.

Now I find there is little choice, I walk in and look at something question it, and get the most pathetic illogic drivel excuse in return. Take events around Cape Town. I present quite a few whisky tastings and am in return invited to quite a few events. I do not believe I have in the last four years had 100% RSVP just say no thanks. In fact 60% is more accurate, if, I am prepared to follow up at least 3 times that is. Those that do bother only 70% actually pitch on the day, sometimes it is even worse and more arrive than planned. Of those that do pitch at least 20% will be late and 5% exceptionally late. Alarmingly I have not started one single tasting on time in nearly 6 Years. This may in fact be a global phenomena not restricted to Cape Town, I do not know.

Then there is Dress Code, very few invitations I receive have dress codes lately, surely though when you are invited to a five star venue to share some luxury spirit or drink a minimum of smart casual is required.This year alone I have attended two Black Tie events where check shirts with pencil ties and jeans (no not designer true religion just greasy stone washed type) were worn and allowed in. Other events I have attended where dress codes have not been specified, had shorts and tee shirts worn freely again not designer chinos with high street tees, more your mull around the house or potter about in the garden variety. Ironed you must be joking probably not even clean.

I do believe I am rather level headed guy and well grounded. I have no illusion of grandeur and am seriously not pretentious. I just wonder if it has something to do with respect. I put myself through some really crazy and disrespectful situations in my life, not so much a rebel without a cause, rather a rebel without a clue and as I matured I started respecting myself more and others too. As I try instilling respect in my own children, it becomes blatantly clear that respect is not earned; it is being slowly eradicated all together. You better believe I am grumpy about it.

So what of a solution, I for one, will no longer keep the guests whom have arrived on time waiting for those that are late. I will ensure that all my invites have dress codes and RSVP dates on them. I will not accept any late bookings and will strictly apply the dress code.I will do my utmost to RSVP to all invites, I will do my very best to arrive on time and dressed appropriately and will show respect to you and your views, even if I disagree with them. I will try take deeper breaths and not intereupt your excuses. It must be said that the worlds very best excuse, still remains one thing and one thing only, an excuse.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Tis February we all fear, as the budget speech typically adds a good 10 to 20% to the price of our favourite tipple. This year Feb had one extra day for us, yet I still never managed to get in a post on my blog, so that is my first hole in 2012, hopefully my last. I really do need to get more diciplined in this regard.

With boys settling in at school, my calendar is starting to fill up quite nicely with whisky tasting events, the next public one will be on 5 March at the 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa hope to see you there. In the meantime corporate functions keep me on my toes and my palate strongly in tune.

A while back fellow blogger and whisky enthusiast Patrick Leclezio got together a few whisky friends and shared some of his Chivas 30 with us, even though I missed the evening due to circumstances I was left a sample. I have invited the same group back and we will hopefully be sharing a dram from my cupboard in the not to distant future.

I promise to blog about that too.Till then Slainthe Mhath.

Monday, January 30, 2012

First Cigar Dinner of 2012

I was not sure if we were supposed to wear Summer Cuban Casual or Summer Cuban Tourist Casual, but I tried to squeeze into the Guayabera and slacks, took a deep breath asked the boys how I looked. They struggled to speak between smirks, giggles and howls of outright disgust. The club elder was less subtle “Like an Igit if you really want to know.”

Right ; three quarter shorts, sandals and cotton shirt (at least I bought that in Cuba), Panama hat hmmm, I know I have one, show boys photographic evidence of them wearing it, they assure me I never owned one and that anyone can Photoshop things nowadays…

I arrived early at Caveau. The MC had also arrived dressed very casually, with Panama hat, mind you. As they all arrive - it’s weird from the usual black tie, today it’s casual. Good thing too because it's a scorcher. The evening starts with a Mojito. Not sure why it’s quite so medicinal, so I get a second, just to make sure. The Cigars arrive. I inspect them. They look in pretty good shape, which is great considering they were box pressed in October 2000. That makes them 11 years old. Watching them closely I suggest to most that a shallow cut or punch cut will probably be a better choice that a normal clip as older stocks tend to unravel easier.

The construction looks good, with the box pressing for 11 years the feel may well be a bit hard, the construction was good and the slightly oily wrapper had a shimmer showing its age. The draw was good and a very subtle easy start, new-mown hay, green, grassy almost. As this burnt on it revealed itself as a really fine medium-bodied cigar, a dusty centre with notes of cocoa and honey - not sweet though. The finish was really big with spicy notes of ginger and white pepper.

It was never planned but after some fantastic mezzos, the starter of smoked salmon trout with baby potato and rocket seemed to match the cigar’s profile, the oily fish, the wrapper and the green rocket developed the pepper notes. All in all a cigar that worked really well as an aperitif. It was challenging enough to keep one interested and subtle enough to smoke to the end.

Caveau co-owner Jean-Yves Muller gave us a brief rundown of the wines. They were superb. The first was a Chenin Viognier blend, easy drinking, crisp with good minerality. Jean-Yves did not tell us the actual terroir (but maybe I was not paying close enough attention) but it seemed almost like Rawsonville with its stony river banks. The second was a red blend of, if I heard correctly, Syrah, Mouverde and Cinsault. I was thinking both are Rhone style, so maybe it’s the Swartlands Perdeberg. Anyway, both were good quality made for everyday drinking which translates to affordable without the headache.

Both found good balance with the cigars, the second of which is one of those masterful sticks that just burn evenly and slowly, it ebbs and flows and really becomes your companion for the next hour and a half. It is truly good company, it does enough to keep you interested and rewards when you give it attention. Smoked during the main course, which in my case was beef fillet, medium rare, with black beans and sautéed potato. The genius here was they had rested the medallions sufficiently before serving, which often in more casual settings does not happen. The other offering was yellowtail, which looked superb, succulent and grilled to perfection.

The fast pace of the casual environment moved things along nicely which allowed us to truly relax and really enjoy the cigars at leisure. And easy it was, the construction was good although it may be packed slightly light. The burn was pretty good, only needing a few adjustments along the way. It really provided a typical old school earthy Cuban note, rich mouthfuls of smoke and creamy enough so as not to overpower. I think it is one of the few sticks out there that still provides us with a Cuban palate and it’s as good today as it was 30 years ago.

We ended off with some fantastic cheese boards and some good coffee. While it approached 1am, I headed off, truly happy with another great cigar club gathering. The usual suspects were left to continue the Journey.

Cigar 1 Rafael Gonzalez Corona Gorde Box Code CPV Oct 2000 (Villa Cara also manufacture Romeo y Julietta and Partagas)

Cigar 2 : H.Uppman No 2 Piramides Box Code MOA Nov 2009 ( H.Uppman Factory, now known as Jose Marti)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I was just beginning to think I may well have taken a wrong turn when another breathtakingly beautiful corner exposed the large gates. From what I thought was going to be a small quaint boutique hotel opened an enormous well kept property. With its white walls and beautifully manicured lawns and gardens I was quite impressed. I walked down to the old cellar with its traditional double volume space. A long table was set up for us and the simplicity of the place really had me intrigued.

A whisky dinner with cigars can go horribly wrong; luckily this was an easy crowd, a well managed kitchen and not surprisingly great whisky. I later discovered it was very much a farewell dinner for the GM and seemingly 4 of the senior staff. Le Franschhoek 5 Star hotel is truly a magnificent venue. I did not think I would be doing work there again due to the exodus of all the staff and I never really thought of it again till this weekend. My son was to play in a seven aside Rugby Tournament so rather than get up begrudgingly at 5 am Saturday morning we decided to drive through Friday afternoon and overnight. Where to stay?? After purveying a multitude of options The Villas struck a chord. I ignored the insistent "where is this place?" from both wife and children, remembering how a year earlier I too felt it seemed a long way out. Once we had driven through gates, though they were silenced.

I think my journeys around the world have taught me one thing about myself, and that is I am never content with something until I can share it with others. This is why I soldier on my journey of Discovery and of course sharing a dram or two

Take 20837 /1a

Well it appears a belated happy New Year to one and all is in order.It seems I am always trying to use a blog to make communicating easier for those of you that follow me yet somehow I cannot seem to keep them going. So for the nth time lets see what we can do. Tommorow 26 Jan I gather with fellow cigar club members at Caveau for a casual Cuban affair. Coming up in a few weeks time I will be presenting some incredible malt whiskies not readily available in South Africa. I will try my best to get my website updated. I have been offrered quite a bit of help from fellow whisky lovers. I will try my hardest to ensure that we repeat the Wine and Whisky fest we held at Montecasino last year( in fact there is a Rumour that we will do it twice) so watch this space. Hope we will meet this year and share a wee dram or two.