Meeting Andy Watts – Master Distiller at The James Sedgwick Distillery

On 25th April 2013 the WhiskyBrother shop played host to Andy Watts, Master Distiller and distillery manager of The James Sedwick Distillery. The distillery produces two brands of award winning whisky: the Three Ships range and the Bain’s Cape Mountain single grain whisky.

Andy Watts 3_Three Ships_Whisky_Smoky Dram_Arnold Photography

Both brands have done very well the last two years in the annual World Whisky Awards by Whisky Magazine. In 2012 the Three Ships 5YO was awarded the World’s Best Blended Whisky and most recently, in 2013, Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky was awarded the World’s Best Grain Whisky.

Andy started off by giving some background to the distillery and his story of how he got involved in whisky making (see the bullet point information at the bottom of this post). He also answered all of the many questions that got asked of him during his talk. Andy moreover spoke of some of the greening plans they have planned for the distillery.

We then moved on to the tasting (which I suspect is why most of us were there). Andy started us off on the Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, then the Three Ships Select, followed by Three Ships 5YO (which Andy likes  to end off an evening meal with, usually accompanied by a blue cheese board), then the Three Ships Bourbon Cask and finishing off the tasting with the Three Ships 10YO single malt. With each one he lead us through the various flavours and notes that he got on them. Andy Watts 1_Three Ships_Whisky_Smoky Dram_Arnold Photography Andy Watts 2_Three Ships_Whisky_Smoky Dram_Arnold Photography










Thanks to Andy for his time, patience (there were many questions) and most of all sharing his knowledge, stories and whiskies with us. He obliged the whisky geeks that were there (such as myself) and signed bottles of his whisky for us. It was a memorable moment for me to meet one of the true whisky legends in our time. 

Andy Watts 4_Three Ships_Whisky_Smoky Dram_Arnold Photography Also thanks to Marc for hosting us and Marcel for getting Andy there on time and ensuring that we were all well behaved. It was also good to finally meet and put faces to my fellow SA whisky bloggers and tweeters – @thedramdog, @fr1day and @jfdreyer

Some Andy Watts information:

  • Only the sixth manager at The James Sedgwick Distillery since it was established in 1886.
  • Originally chose the life of a professional cricketer with Derbyshire CCC.
  • Got involved in the spirits blending side of the then Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery (SFW).
  • Did a 6 month technical exchange in Scotland with Morrison Bowmore Distillers (Bowmore, Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch)

Some James Sedwick Distillery information:

  • The distillery was bought in 1886 by J. Sedgwick & Co.
  • Is named after pioneer James Sedgwick, captain of the clipper “Undine.
  • Was named 2011’s Whisky Brand Innovator of the Year by Whisky Magazine.
  • Home to the first South African single malt whisky, in 2003 – the Three Ships 10YO
    • Also home to South Africa’s first single grain whisky, in 2009 – the Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky
    • Has more than 70 000 casks of whisky in maturation any given time.
    • Since The James Sedgwick Distillery was established there have only been six managers at the distillery:
      • 1886 – 1922: Mr. WT Stephen
      • 1922 – 1940: Mr. SA Hahn
      • 1940 – 1955: Mr. RA Uys
      • 1955 – 1967: Mr. J Burger
      • 1967 – 1991: Mr. H Louw
      • 1991 – present: Mr. A Watts

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky

As a bit of a break from all the 10yo reviews of late, here is my review of the stunning and award winning South African whisky, the Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky.

Bains Cape Mountain Whisky_NAS_The Smoky DramWhisky: Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, 43% ABV (Cost around R200)

Region: Wellington, South Africa

Style: Single Grain

Age: NAS (minimum 5 years)

Introduced in 2010, Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky is South Africa’s first Single Grain whisky. Named after the pass builder, Andrew Geddes Bain, the whisky is crafted at the foot of his Bainskloof Pass at the James Sedgwick Distillery. The whisky is quite uniquely matured. It is double matured in specially selected first-fill bourbon casks. After the initial three years’ maturation, the whisky is re-vatted to a second set of first-fill bourbon casks to age for a further two years while continuing to extract further flavour.

It is, or should I rather say was, the best kept secret in whisky in South Africa. Because on the 21 March 2013, Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky was named the World’s Best Grain Whisky at the annual World Whisky Awards. And since then it is getting more and more challenging to get a bottle as it keeps flying off the shelves!

Colour: Deep golden amber (slightly burnished) with many thick and long legs.

Nose: Sweet, vanilla syrup and warm toffee pudding notes. Slight burnt caramel with a charming floralness to it, as well as hints of coconut and dried fruits.

Palate: Creamy texture (and taste, like the top part of rice pudding – butter and sugar) with woody undercurrents and a gorgeous warm spiciness to it that runs all over your tongue and mouth.

Finish: Remarkably smooth and warm with a velvety mouth feel that has a lengthy finish with a backbone of spiciness to the end.

Overall: This is an absolutely delicious and elegant whisky that is complex with a lovely sweet and spicy flavour. Perfect for those cold winter days and nights that are fast approaching us. This single grain whisky has shown to the world yet again what brilliant whisky is being made in South Africa. Congratulations to Andy Watts, master distiller of Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky and Jeff Green, distiller of Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky on this wonderful dram.

My Score: 85

Three Ships 10yo

Three-Ships-10-single maltWhisky: Three Ships 10 year old Single Malt, 43% ABV (Cost around R250)

Region: Wellington, South Africa

Style: Single Malt

Age: 10 Years

The first South African single malt whisky to be released was in the form of the Three Ships 10 Year Old in 2003. That first limited-release earned a gold medal at the 2007 International Wine and Spirits Competition.

This helped to show that South Africa and Three Ships were serious about their whisky. It was also rated 91 in the 2012 Jim Murray Whisky Bible. This limited edition whisky has been produced and matured at The James Sedgwick Distillery

Colour: Deep gold to burnished copper

Nose: Starts off slightly sweet with hint of peat (honeyed smoke) and then moves along to dried fruits (especially pear), smoky fudge, and notes of stick toffee pudding. A charming and fresh nose.

Palate: Sweet smoky spiciness, honey, peaches, glycerine, vanilla and hints of Christmas cake. A palate that is soft, well-balanced, round and full that coats your tongue. It leaves a lovely warmness at back of ones throat.

Body: Full bodied with fine-looking medium to thick legs that covers the inside of the glass (and not to mention your mouth).

Finish: A finish that is long, warm, spicy and toasty. Lingering oak and dry at the very end.

Overall: A wonderfully balanced whisky, that is full of flavour, with a sweet florally scent and stunning palate. This single malt really shows what brilliant whisky is being made in South Africa. Well done to Andy Watts and team.

My Score: 86

Another SA whisky blog

Yes you read correctly. Another SA whisky blog. With the interwebs already full of outstanding  whisky blogs and sites, you may be asking “why another one?”

As I regularly read up on any whisky news and reviews that I can get my digital hands on, I noticed something. Of late there have been many noteworthy whisky news items coming out of South Africa. The most recent (or it was recent when I wrote this post) being that a South African whisky, Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, won the award for the World’s Best Grain Whisky in the 2013 World Whisky Awards. With this trend I felt like another SA whisky blog thrown into the mix could only add to the wonderful exposure South African whiskies are getting.

I am most certainly not a whisky expert by any stretch of the imagination. I always say that I am but a mere enthusiastic amateur. This blog allows me to share my views on the various whiskies that I get to savour, as well as any whisky news or whiskies musing that I may have. As with any type of art form, whisky and whisky tasting is subjective. So as much as will share my thoughts and comments, the final verdict on a whisky will always lie with oneself. Feel free to leave comments on any of my reviews or ponderings with your own thoughts or observations.


The Smoky Dram