Bain’s Single Grain Whisky Deconstructed Tasting with Andy Watts
As part of the general release of Bain’s Cape Mountain Single Grain Whisky into Europe, Andy Watts @TheWhiskyMaker has been on a whistlestop tour of Europe as part of his #BainsOnTour programme. Andy is the Master Distiller from The James Sedgwick Distillery in Wellington, South Africa; where Bain’s whisky is made. We caught up with Andy at The Òran Mór in Glasgow to take part in a Bain’s deconstructed tasting and learn about the history of Bain’s whisky from the Master Distiller himself!
We have already had the privilege of sampling Bain’s whisky and you can read our review here – I still stand by every word of this review – and didn’t realise when I obtained a sample of this whisky that it wasn’t widely available in the UK already! The problem, Andy told us, was firstly that Bain’s was bottled for the domestic market in South Africa in 75cl bottles (not 70cl required in Europe) and secondly that Bain’s was pretty much only being made for the domestic market when it achieved international acclaim by winning World’s Best Grain at the 2013 World Whisky Awards. Andy took the decision not to cash in immediately by poaching from their domestic stock to distribute to other markets. Instead he preserved their domestic distribution and started a programme of laying down additional maturation stocks for worldwide release in 2017/2018 – and so here we are.
A little more about Bain’s Cape Mountain Single Grain Whisky; it is made from 100% South African Yellow Maize – which Andy suggested was most likely shipped to Scotland to make grain whisky here before the sanctions on trade with South Africa due to apartheid. Their mash is fermented with two proprietary yeast strains developed at The James Sedgwick Distillery and distilled through a column still to 94% ABV. The still, Andy explained, has the potential to allow selection of the exact alcohols and congeners they may want to keep or remove during the distillation process allowing exact control over their distillate. Their new make spirit is reduced to ~65% ABV for cask filling, this grain whisky is then matured for 3 years minimum in refill ex-bourbon casks for their Three Ships blended range.
For Bain’s Andy took the decision to mature in not one but two 1st fill American oak ex-Bourbon casks specially selected for this process. The initial maturation for 3 years and the secondary maturation takes between 18 and 30 months dependent upon the season during which it is transferred. With warehouse winter temperatures of 18-20oC and summer temps of 30+oC, winter transferred stock takes a little longer to fully benefit from the new cask influence. The resultant whisky is 4-5 years old once completed – although as Andy explained 5 South African years of maturation bears no resemblance to say 5 years in Scotland, if anything it is more akin to Bourbon maturation in the US. Andy also noted that due to the hot dry climate they too experience cask ABV increasing as well as decreasing during maturation and reckons on a loss of 5% volume per annum to the Angel’s Share – compared to only 2% in Scotland.
For our deconstructed tasting Andy took us through the following 4 whiskies all presented at 40% ABV. A little drop of water was recommended to help ‘open-up’ each of the whiskies although Andy professed to doing the majority of his tasting with whisky reduced to 20% ABV. Something I recalled Sir David Stewart from The Balvenie also advising.
#1 Unmatured grain ‘new make’ spirit
Colourless but with a distinctive sweetness and smooth and mellow palate, this had aromas and flavours of solvent, feints, sweet ‘high’ esters, ripe banana and muscovado sugar softened in butter
#2 3 year old grain whisky matured in a 3 or 4th refill American oak ex-bourbon cask (i.e. Three Ships blending stock)
A hint of gold (2/20) quite neutral, the sweetness of the spirit was still present, a touch of woody oak and a hint of vanilla and some of the fruity flavours present, with a drop of water became creamy
#3 3 years old grain whisky matured in 1st fill American oak ex-Bourbon cask
Deeper gold (4/20) much stronger fresh vanilla bean pods, sweeter, creamier and more spices with cardamom and cinnamon, fruit has developed a tropical note
#4 Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky double matured in 1st fill American oak ex-Bourbon cask #3 with 18-30 month secondary maturation – see our full review here.
Following our tasting we were also treated to a delicious meal in the Private Dining Room at The Òran Mór which included Haggis Neaps and Tatties with a Bain’s whisky sauce, fillet steak and potato rosti and cheese and oatcakes or marmalade whisky sponge with crème anglais, washed down with some of Distells finest South African wines ether Nederburg’s The Brew Master from the Heritage Heroes range (with starter and steak) or the award-wining Chenin Blanc which I paired with the cheese course in place of dessert. Bain’s also made an excellent accompaniment to the Brie from the cheese platter with the sweetness of the whisky cleansing the palate following the creamy cheese.
Thanks to Andy Watts, Emma Clarke (@winenymphuk) and Distell for some excellent whisky, wine and great company.