South African Whisky

Review: Bain's Cape Mountain Single Grain South African Whisky by Jason Hambrey

4-6 Years; First fill bourbon casks (twice)
100% South African Yellow Maize
Distillers James Sedgewick Distillery (Wellington, South Africa)

This whisky - a single grain whisky made from South African maize, is quite one of a kind - about as creamy a whisky as you can get, due to the nature of using both 100% corn and maturation in first fill bourbon casks (twice! matured for 3 years in first fill bourbon casks, then dumped into another set of first fill bourbon casks for another 18-30 months).

Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2016

Interesting to try some of this, especially as I taste a lot of corn whisky in Canada – fruity, creamy, and what you would expect from a corn whisky matured in reused casks. Very creamy. Terrific tropical fruit and spice notes to the nose. Coconut, dried papaya, dried mango, dried raisins, banana, honey, geranium – rich and yet soft. The palate leads with coconut, vanilla, dried fruit, corn husks, pineaplle, and remarkable creaminess. The finish is full of dried tropical fruit, pear, and light tannins. Terrific spice notes too – worth a try for every whisky enthusiast, in my opinion.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, at $48.

The Value Score: 2.0 by Jason Hambrey

Of all the features of my website, the most feedback I get is about my value score - it's a mathematical formulation of value based on the average cost for a given rating and a deviation from it - i.e., if, based on standard "market" values, a whisky rated 85 is worth, on average, $53, then if the whisky is cheaper than $53 dollars, it is of high value, and if it is more expensive - it is of low value. The statistical formulation is shown in a previous blog post here, if you want the details. Because of the interest (and importance) of a value score, I have added a page to the website describing the best value whiskies. Check it out!

The story of how it came about is simple - I decided to graph all my whiskies which I had rated according to price and value. What I found, surprisingly, is that there is a rough trend - higher scores, on average, came from whiskies that cost more. After carefully selecting 300 standard whiskies which I had rated, I came up with an "average" line. You can see what I mean in the graph below:

The value score has served well, and I enjoy the result: I only rate the whisky, I input the cost, and mathematics does the rest. However, it relies heavily upon assumptions (of which there are many) - how the average line is defined, what whiskies I consider "standard" to set the market value, and what standard deviation to use (I am an aerospace engineer, so please forgive the jargon if you are lost). The implications of each assumption is actually staggering- so it has taken me some time to digest the score methodology itself. However, given my data of 500 or so whisky reviews, I don't have enough data to let stats do all the work - so these assumptions are necessary.

There has been one outstanding issue with the score as is - I have found that higher rated whiskies are not quite highly rated enough. For instance, a Longmorn 18 year old, at a price of $140,. which I rated a 92, was a bottle I bought two of even though it would have a value score of 64. That being said, it's not a bad value score and $140 is a decent amount to spend.

This lead me to look at options to tweak value scores at the higher end of the scale - by increasing the "average" line of what a whisky is worth for higher scores, or by changing the standard deviation for higher scores - meaning that a greater difference in price from the average cost of such a whisky matters less. But, as I said before - is this valid? Really, it implies that for higher rated whiskies value doesn't quite matter as much dollar for dollar. And then, you think, is it value? After tweaking around with the analysis, doing some more number crunching, I realized that, on a global scale, interesting tweaks help a little, but not a lot. So, the options for me: continue to refine and adjust my assumptions to try to come up with something "perfect" or just use the value score as a rough indicator, rather than the law. Coming up with more assumptions to adjust the score just means that it is more fine tuned to myself, specifically. Option 2 is way easier, and way more appropriate - it is a relatively simpler formulation of how I regard value which actually fits a broader population than just me. All this to say - despite its flaws, I have decided not to change the value score. A few considerations:

  • Beyond the assumptions, which I deem to be reasonable, the only subjective part of the value score is my taste rating of a whisky (which, indeed, is subjective - palates are incredibly diverse).
  • All prices are set to the Canadian Market. Thus, whiskies may be more valuable in different regions of the world as certain whiskies are cheaper than others depending on the market. I always say what the price is based on, but all scores are adjusted for inflation/increase in value so that the value score remains consistent with how the market value is increasing.
  • For different areas of the world - take a look at the average line in the graph above, representing the average cost for a given rating. This line corresponds to a value score of 72. If your whisky is the equivalent of $38 (the standard deviation) more expensive than this line, its value is 40/100. If it costs $38*2 = $76 less, its value is 15, etc. If it is $38 cheaper than the blue line for a given rating, its value is 91. If it is $76 dollars less, its value is 99. Etc...if you are in to this send me an e-mail.

Review: Three Ships 5 Year Old Premium Select South African Single Malt Whisky by Jason Hambrey

5 Years
Malt and Grain Whiskies
Distillers James Sedgewick Distillery (Wellington, South Africa) & Scottish Distiller

Three Ships Whisky is produced at James Sedgewick Distillery, in Wellington, South Africa. It’s the only South African whisky I’ve tasted, and it caught my eye because won some great awards at the IWSC and the WWA…the malt and the grain are distilled separately– the malt whisky in a copper pot still and the grain whisky in a continuous column still, and then combined and aged. The whiskies are aged separately and then combined, a bit like 40 Creek. This 5 year old version has a blend of both South African and Scotch Whisky.

Review (2013)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Nose: what a nose! Strong peaty character, with rich caramel and fruit – pear dominates. There’s also a bit of sour apple, likely a combination of the fruitiness and some of the sourness from the grains which are lingering in the background. Also present are vanilla, of a slightly creamy sort – almost like over-whipped cream. There are also slight spices….The nose makes me want to jump right into tasting, without even giving the nose a full appreciation. The peat is quite present and bold, yet controlled and integrated into the rest of the nose beautifully.

Taste: sweet start before the flavour ramps up, with the mouth heating as the peat gets bigger and becomes integrated into some oak spice. The fruitiness is integrated as well, as apples and pears appear, and dominate more as your mouth becomes accustomed to the peat. Finishes with some spice and heat – white pepper and cinnamon- before the peat fades, and then the fruit remains. It’s sweet, rich, full…superb.

Usually, before my tastings, I condition my palate with black coffee. However, during one of my tastings I had ice cream before -which resulted in less enjoyment of the whisky as the sweetness was sapped out – but it made me realize that the whisky, was, in fact, slightly salty. During my subsequent tasting the saltiness was also unmistakeable, which was an unexpected twist. The other interesting thing is that there is a bit of a sour character, almost like lemon, which tugs at the inside of your mouth. The whisky leaves the mouth with a bit more peat and a touch of oak tannin. Overall, it’s a great taste, although as I’ve drunk more I have wished for a touch more depth.

Finish: the heat dies down, the peat fades, and I am left with more of a fruity than a peaty character, contrary to what I expected. However, the fruit soon fades and remaining is nice peat lingering in your mouth. The finish is certainly evident in the mouth…chewable and enduring. I also love finishes that seem almost to cleanse the mouth once you’ve tasted the whisky, as this one does.

Certainly worth a dram or two!

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High. $35? Yes please.