These two new limited edition whiskies are the perfect pressie for anyone mad about malt. But don’t take our word for it. We asked the master distillers behind them why these bottles are worth the spend …

A sip of shiraz

Over a career spanning more than 35 years, master distiller Andy Watts is on a mission to put African whisky on the world stage. He’s taken Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky to the US, and is about to launch a premium 12-year-old bottling of Three Ships into Europe and the UK.

Local whisky lovers have the chance to snap up the latest in his limited edition Master’s Collection of unique cask finishes. This fifth outing, an eight-year-old Three Ships malt, has spent an additional three years in shiraz casks. The result? A whisky marrying ripe red fruit with the peat, smoke and spice that defines much of the Three Ships portfolio.

Andy Watts
Andy Watts

What was the genesis of this latest cask finish?

The Master’s Collection is all about making unique whiskies; creating something we haven’t done before, and always in limited volumes. We started off working with sherry casks, but when we released our pinotage cask finish in 2016 the response was incredible. So I started looking through the Distell cellars for other red wine casks to use. I got my hands on some cabernet and shiraz casks, but the shiraz definitely showed the most promise. We put the whisky into these casks in 2017, checked it every six months, and it just kept getting better and better.

What does a cask finish bring to a single malt?

The whole idea of a cask finish is to give an idea of what was in the casks previously, but not for it to dominate the actual whisky. It’s a fine balance. As a base this is a smoky, peaty dram, but the shiraz has softened it. It’s added some spice and soft fruit notes, and imparted a beautiful colour to the whisky.

It’s bottled at a fairly high 51.4% alcohol. Why’s that?

It’s all about the flavour. You’re looking for the sweet spot where you’ve got maximum flavour without overpowering the palate. The more flavour you have in the whisky, the higher [percentage alcohol] you can bottle, without the alcohol dominating the flavour of whisky.

Available from boutique liquor merchants. R949.95

A Tale of Cake

With a heritage dating back to 1843, Glenmorangie is part of Scotland’s distillery royalty; a storied brand with no shortage of history and pedigree to draw on. But in A Tale of Cake, Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s director of whisky creation, injects a welcome dose of colour, quirk and playfulness into the world of single malt.

Matured in oak barrels for 10 years, then sought-after Tokaji casks for a few years more, it’s a whisky redolent with fruit, white chocolate and honey notes.

When it comes to new expressions, which comes first: the concept, or the whisky in barrel?

It depends; often it does start with the idea of capturing a particular feeling or flavour. This was the case with A Tale of Cake, which was inspired by my personal memories of cake. I took that idea as the jumping-off point, and then found the perfect casks to make it reality. For me, whisky making is a perfect balance between art and science, between experimentation and imagination.

Bill Lumsden
Bill Lumsden

The Tokaji casks give A Tale of Cake its signature flavour notes. Was this an obvious choice, or a process of elimination?

We tried a few different experiments, but I did have Tokaji casks in mind from the beginning. I’ve worked with these casks before, and they can be very tricky. Not only are they difficult to come by because they’re quite rare and desirable, but they can also easily overwhelm the whisky, so you have to be quite careful. For A Tale of Cake, we took our signature expression, Glenmorangie Original, and then finished it in Tokaji casks, which brings wonderful cake-like flavours: white chocolate, tropical fruits, honey and a touch of mint.

A Tale of Cake appears to be pointedly whimsical. Was this done on purpose, to give the staid whisky world a little shake-up?

The whole idea for this whisky was to capture a sense of joy and fun… I’ve said the taste is "pure technicolour", so we really had to take that spirit into how it looked on the shelf. At Glenmorangie, a huge amount of skill and craftsmanship goes into every cask of our whisky, and that’s something we’re very proud of; that’s how it should be. But that doesn’t mean that whisky can’t also be fun.

Available from boutique liquor merchants. R945

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