James Sedgwick Distillery
What better way to be welcomed to a distillery than with a cocktail? We were warmly greeted at James Sedgwick Distillery with a drink made up of the Three Ships Select, ginger ale and bitters. I was extremely excited to tour this facility as I am in love with all things whisky. I am also a keen drinker of Bain’s Single Grain Whisky. The distillery was established in 1886 in Wellington close to Bainskloof Pass and both malt and grain whiskys are distilled on site. Our tour started in the distillery where the different processes were explained to us.
Malt whisky is created by using malted barley. The barley is covered with water and then drained to begin the germination process. It is then placed into a malt kiln to dry. The drying process halts the germination and this is when peat is added to the barley. The distillery buys in peated barley which is then milled to a fine grist and added to water. It is heated and then enters the mashing phase. It is during this stage that the starches are converted into fermentable sugars in the form of a liquid called wort. This liquid is moved into fermentation tanks where yeast is added. Within 72 hours the glucose converts into ethanol and carbon dioxide and the resulting alcohol is referred to as the wash.
The Pot Still
The wash is distilled in a copper wash still and produces what is called the low wines. The second distillation is through the copper pot still where the foreshots (impure spirits) are removed. The pure spirit, or the heart as it is known, is left to go for maturation. It was interesting to me that the 20 000 litre pot still comes from Bowmore on the Isle of Islay.
Grain whisky is made from either maize or wheat and is distilled in a column still. The process begins with the milling of the grain into a fine grist, followed by the mashing stage, fermentation and distillation. Up to this stage, the process for the malt and grain whisky is the same. The wash is then sent to the column still where the unwanted flavours are removed. The lightly flavoured good spirit is taken out near the top of the column and demineralised water is added before maturation. This column still is 6 stories high and was designed by an Irish customs officer.
We then moved to one of the cellars where we could see 27 000 of the 137 000 casks of whisky currently under maturation. During maturation the wood interacts with the clear spirit to impart both flavour, colour and aroma. This distillery makes use of American bourbon oak casks and produces both single malt and blended whiskies. In South Africa the barrel maturation must be a minimum of 3 years, unlike Scotland where it is 3 years and 1 day. The barrels are used for up to 18 years and the whisky is finished off for anywhere between 6 and 30 months in first fill barrels. The newly released Three Ships 15 Year Old was finished in a Pinotage cask making it a uniquely South African whisky.
Natural resources on site
The Berg River runs through the site and the river water is used for the cooling tower. The resulting run off water is 2 degrees Celsius higher in temperature than the river water. A dam has been created to cool the water before it runs back into the river. The fish in the dam spawn year round and the ducks therefore have plenty to eat on. However, they were also feeding on the grain and so the ducks have recently been given away to local wine farms.
After the tour we did a paired whisky tasting. The platter consisted of smoked and plain apple crisps, smoked snoek pâté, pulled beef, blue cheese, dark chocolate mousse and pumpkin pie. We started with the Bain’s Single Grain Whisky which presents with a nose of toffee and hints of vanilla. The palate offers up subtle spice warmed by the oak, and a citrus finish. We then moved on to the Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish which is a blended malt and grain whisky. This has hints of leather on the nose, a palate of vanilla, black pepper and cinnamon and a long sweet finish. Our final tasting was the Three Ships 5 year old blended whisky. It has a salty nose, peat on the palate and a chocolate finish. Being a lover of peated whiskys it is no wonder that I bought a bottle to take home with me.
The distillery has recently opened for tours and tastings which take place in the old maturation cellar. Bookings are essential as groups are limited to 10 people and the cost is R350 per person. The tour times are Friday and Saturdays at 10am and 2pm. Purchases can be made on site. It is worth noting that in South Africa, excise is R50 per bottle and charged to the distillery 21 days after the bottling process is complete. Completely different to what we experienced in Scotland where the bottles are held in a bonded warehouse on site.
Disclosure: I was invited as a guest of the Cape Winelands District Municipality and I was not required to write a blog post about my experience. This post is in line with my blogging policy.
Inspiration published on Lavender and Lime November 23:
- 2015 – Macarons
- 2012 – Secret Santa 2012
- 2011 – Ingredient Challenge: Ready Steady Cook
- 2010 – Bacon And Mushroom Pasta