Over the last decade, shelves at liquor stores have changed. There was a time when one five foot section contained every whisky from all over the world that one shop carried. Scotch, bourbon, Irish, Japanese, and other whiskies have all expanded their reach and popularity exponentially in that time.
Now a store with a good selection has lots of space dedicated to each of those categories, and then some. One thing they didn’t contain until now is South African whisky. That changed with the introduction this fall of Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky onto American shelves. Bain’s is a single grain whisky.
A few days ago I was fortunate enough to have dinner in New York City with Master Distiller Andy Watts, the brains behind Bain’s. Over a period of about four hours tasting his whisky in proprietary cocktails and sipping it neat (from Champagne flutes), I got a real sense for Bain’s. I also had the opportunity to hear him speak about his ideas behind the brand, the style, and the production, as well as personally pick his brain about this project.
Andy cut his teeth in Islay working with Scotch producers so he has a traditional background in whisky making. Scotland’s tradition goes back hundreds of years; South Africa’s a handful of decades. When he conceived Bain’s, he realized he had the opportunity to forge a new path and perhaps build something that will become traditional in the years ahead.
Using all of his experience in whisky making and applying conceptual methodology from several whisky making regions to South Africa’s unique set of circumstances, he created Bain’s.
Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, $29.99
This whisky is produced exclusively from South African grain and water that flows over 850 million-year-old sandstone. It’s distilled in column stills and then undergoes a double maturation. Bain’s spends three years in ex-bourbon casks followed by another 18 to 30 months in another (new) set of ex-bourbon casks. The moment you pour this whisky it shimmers in the glass with a deep golden hue. It looked absolutely glorious in Champagne flutes and I recommend doing the same when you drink it at home. When you stick your nose in, a lovely whiff of vanilla dominates followed by wisps of marzipan, and subtle bits of tropical fruit.
The palate is soft and lush with a marvelous mouthfeel that simply screams with refinement and belies the low price-point. Continued vanilla, dried stone fruits, hints of toffee, and more are in play. The finish is more than satisfyingly long, and additional spices, bits of crème fraiche, and a touch of dried white fig emerge. There is a natural bit of sweetness here from the oak that makes this an easy sipper.
Andy’s goal when he set out was to make a distinct whisky that would appeal to both those that are new to this spirit and seasoned drinkers. I believe he’s succeeded marvelously on both of those scores. Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky is easy to drink, but it also has subtle layers of complexity that will keep those that love Scotch, bourbon, and other expressions of whisky engaged and headed back to the bottle for more. For under $30, this whisky is an absolutely stellar value.