South African drinks-makers often look offshore for trends that might take hold at home. Visiting the home of Scotch, Boplaas distiller Daniel Nel recently encountered a country-wide wave of whisky innovation underway – some of which Boplaas has led to great acclaim in South Africa. Daniel accompanied his father, Boplaas co-owner and cellarmaster Carel Nel, on a visit to the region. Boplaas’s own distilling heritage began with the making of fine potstill brandy and dates to 1880. In addition to its range of acclaimed brandies, the family distillery produces award-winning gin and whisky.
“The UK distilleries of England and Scotland fall in one of the oldest regions in the world to consistently distil quality spirits,” he says. “When I arrived in London I was amazed to see all the small gin distilleries. What amazed me even more is that the same craft distilleries are now producing whisky, distilled and aged in London.” The London Distilling Company was recently the first distillery to release a London Whisky in over a century and East London Liquor Company will soon add a London Whisky to the gin and vodka in its portfolio.
“The Lakes Distillery is another very young distillery of the Lakes District, one of the most beautiful regions in the UK. From day one they’ve worked with the goal to make a benchmark quality English malt whisky.”
In Scotland the Nel’s visited large-scale single malt producers Glenfiddich, Strathisla, Torabhaig, Glenfarclas, Glencadam, Knockdhu and Macallan. “Macallan recently spent £140-million on a state-of-the-art, semi-underground distillery that opened a couple of months ago,” says Daniel. “The Macallan 60YO 1926 single malt recently sold for $1,1-million at auction, making it to most expensive whisky ever sold.”
At the Glencadam distillery, close to Dundee, they were invited to taste the distillery’s 13YO, 17YO and 21YO whiskies. “The most interesting one was the 17YO Portwood expression, initially aged in old Bourbon casks before it was extra matured in Portwood hogsheads for 2-3 years. The port-seasoned casks give the whisky a wine-like sweetness on the nose and palate, finishing off with nutty, spicy fruitcake aromas.”
Of special interest for the team from Boplaas, which is renowned for its champion port wines – was the use of port barrels in whisky-making. “Some of the most exceptional single malt expressions from the likes of The Balvenie, Glenmorangie, Tomatim and Dowmore use port-seasoned casks, giving the whisky an extra dimension of depth, complexity and richness,” says Daniel. “The port cask is also one of the most expensive and rarest used by the industry. What makes these port cask whisky expressions even more exclusive is when they specify the actual style of port that the barrel was used for.”
In the production of its own single grain whisky, Boplaas has conducted its own experimentation with different casks – to great reception. “One of our latest expressions to be released soon was aged in ex-Bourbon casks for a minimum of five years before it was extra matured in ex- Boplaas Cape Tawny Casks for one year,” Daniel says. “The Cape Tawny gives a richness of dried white fruits like peaches and apricots, coupled with butterscotch, almonds and pecan nuts. The Boplaas Cape Tawny Cask Whisky received a platinum medal at this year’s Michelangelo Wine & Spirits Awards, making it the best South African whisky at the show.”