Andy Watts. Picture: SUPPLIED
Andy Watts. Picture: SUPPLIED

South African wines and brandies often win global recognition. Whiskies‚ not so much. But the country’s only commercial whisky distillery — in the small town of Wellington‚ in the Western Cape — snagged two "world champion" awards in London on Thursday.

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky was named the best grain whisky and its creator‚ Andy Watts‚ was chosen as the best distiller/blender at the Icons of Whisky awards.

"Receiving these two world titles in one night is the most humbling experience of my 34-year career in the whisky industry‚" said Watts‚ a former professional cricketer.

The awards‚ hosted annually by the UK’s Whisky Magazine‚ attracted entries from distilleries in Scotland‚ Ireland‚ the US‚ Japan and elsewhere‚ and Watts said the two prizes he received proved that South Africa had "overcome ... the perception that only traditional whisky-producing countries can be taken seriously".

"Our industry in SA is only 40 years old‚ and although we’ve had many hurdles along the way, we have become innovative in our approach to manage our unique, warmer climate‚ found creative ways to use homegrown raw material to our best advantage, and constantly strive for crafting exceptional whiskies."

Born in the UK‚ Andy visited SA in the 1980s to coach cricket‚ and was approached by then Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery (now Distell) to train in Scotland on whisky production.

In 1991, he moved the company’s whisky production to the James Sedgwick Distillery in Wellington‚ where he developed Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky over a decade before it was released in 2009 as the first to be made with South African maize.

It was first named the world’s best grain whisky in 2013‚ and has received gold and double gold at all the major international whisky competitions.