Lo­cals scoff­ing at Scotch, bum­bling into bourbon

South Africans are get­ting in­trigued about the US drink made from mielies

Business Day - - LIFE - Mpho Tshikhudo


You can al­most ac­cu­rately read the foot traf­fic at whisky-tast­ing shows such as the re­cent Whisky & Spir­its Live Fes­ti­val: the well-heeled cap­tains of in­dus­try, who would have come straight from the of­fice, usu­ally tar­get two or three stands.

While there, they will knock them­selves out ask­ing a bunch of ques­tions while the rest of us mere mor­tals strug­gle to get a look-in. Their fe­male com­pan­ions, usu­ally dressed to the nines, will in­evitably desert them to go and spend time in the gin cor­ner.

The mere mor­tals, on the other hand, will go about tast­ing in­dis­crim­i­nately. Nat­u­rally, they make the big­gest con­tri­bu­tion to the racket in the premises, of­ten drink­ing them­selves to ex­haus­tion. They get red in the face and in­vari­ably Uber home af­ter the event.

In short, women throng the gin stalls, sil­ver-tongued ex­ec­u­tives opt for the Scotch cor­ner, while the rest of us am­ble around sam­pling any­thing that is thrust our way.

The bourbon stalls at the re­cent Whisky & Spir­its Live Fes­ti­val were rel­a­tively quiet, but that doesn’t mean the tip­ple isn’t qui­etly worm­ing its way into the hearts of SA drinkers.

“The con­sump­tion habits have changed over the years and num­bers are look­ing pretty good,” Saz­erac Bour­bons brand am­bas­sador Lau­ren Penny says. “From 2016 to 2017 the bourbon cat­e­gory grew by 45%. The con­sump­tion habits have cer­tainly changed. Peo­ple are start­ing to ask ques­tions about what they are drink­ing.

“It’s not about just order­ing any brand that’s avail­able. Con­sumers are get­ting in­trigued and want­ing to know more. It’s ex­actly what we want peo­ple to do. It’s an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity for the bourbon brand.”

For Penny, the ma­jor dif­fer­ence be­tween bourbon and Scotch has to do with the taste. “Bourbon is clas­si­cally sweet, and that’s got a lot to do with its ba­sic in­gre­di­ent be­ing corn [maize]. So it’s sim­i­lar to whisky in style but it’s got a beau­ti­ful soft sweet­ness to it.

“What’s more, it’s cheaper com­pared to some of the Scotch brands, so you won’t break the bank. It’s af­ford­able and ver­sa­tile at the same time.”

By law, bourbon has to have a mash bill with at least 51% maize. Once the mash bill cri­te­rion is met, the bar­relage­ing process be­gins — to qual­ify as a bourbon, it has to be aged in a charred white oak bar­rel.

The other cri­te­ria is that bourbon has to be made in the US. It is be­lieved Ken­tucky is the home of bourbon. The same way France has laws about how and where wine is pro­duced, bourbon has leg­is­la­tion and prac­tices that con­trol its pro­duc­tion. The laws en­able the drinker to know they are pur­chas­ing a gen­uine prod­uct.

Bourbon made out­side of the US wouldn’t be clas­si­fied as bourbon, Penny says. “It would just be an Amer­i­can style. Bain [SA whisky brand] has got a very sim­i­lar bourbon style to it but it can’t be clas­si­fied as bourbon be­cause it has to be made in the US to be called bourbon.”

Bourbon is bot­tled at be­tween 33% and 45% al­co­hol by vol­ume. In rare cases, it is also bot­tled at 47% al­co­hol by vol­ume. Scotch is usu­ally bot­tled at 40% or 43% al­co­hol by vol­ume, though num­bers such as 46% and 57% can also be found.

In SA, bourbon has been a hit with fans of clas­sic cock­tails, Penny says. “A lot of peo­ple are en­joy­ing clas­sic cock­tails. The for­tu­nate thing about the clas­sic cock­tails is that a lot of them were made with bourbon be­cause they were pi­o­neered in the States. South Africans grav­i­tate to­wards bourbon for its sweet­ness.”

How is it meant to be en­joyed? I ask.

“You should en­joy it the way you want to en­joy it,” Penny says. “Clas­si­cally bourbon is en­joyed straight-up, you know just like that, or with soda. It de­pends on your per­sonal pref­er­ences. I al­ways drink it straight-up or on the rocks.”

With in­creased ad­ver­tis­ing and ed­u­ca­tion, bourbon’s pop­u­lar­ity is bound to in­crease, she says. “South Africans seem to be overly ex­posed to Scotch, and it’s with rea­son. The Euro­peans are the pi­o­neers of the whisky cat­e­gory. What a lot of peo­ple don’t know is that bourbon dis­tillers started pop­ping up in the US from the early 1700s, when the Euro­peans landed on the con­ti­nent.

“Bourbon has just not re­ally been ad­ver­tised enough and ed­u­cated enough across SA for peo­ple to ac­tu­ally un­der­stand how deep-rooted that cat­e­gory is,” Penny says.

Yan­kee spirit: The vis­i­tor cen­tre at All­tech Lex­ing­ton Brew­ing and Dis­till­ing Com­pany in Lex­ing­ton, Ken­tucky, which was founded in 1999 by Pearse Lyons, the pres­i­dent of an­i­mal nu­tri­tion com­pany All­tech. In­set: Ken­tucky Bourbon, age­ing in bar­rels, at the Mak­ers Mark Dis­tillery. Only prod­uct made in the US can be called bourbon, by law./123RF

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