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Distilled Spirits Council (Image: David Handschuh)

South Africa’s growing numbers of Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey lovers are becoming increasingly appreciative of authentic American Bourbon, says Marc Pendlebury, whiskey aficionado and co-owner of Johannesburg’s first and only dedicated whisky bar, Whisky Brother.

Speaking ahead of American National Bourbon Day on 14 June 2018 Pendlebury said, “Bourbon has a rich and fascinating history, which adds to its allure. While it hasn’t been as well known in South Africa as Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey, well-informed and experienced whisk(e)y drinkers appreciate what Bourbon can offer, with some exceptional releases out there, and our discerning customers are keen to get their hands on it.”

Offering a huge range of releases from super premium to entry level, American Bourbon has something to offer every whisk(e)y palate, from sweet, smooth spirits through to bold, robust drinks.

Age ’not the measure of quality’

The quality of a good whisky, like Bourbon can’t be determined by its price, age or the colour of the drink – it has to be tasted, says Pendlebury. “Bourbon gains its amber colour from the oak barrels it is aged in, so colour and age are not the only indicator of the quality of the drink. The best way to assess whether it’s a quality Bourbon is quite simply to taste it.”

Pendlebury advocates trying as many different Bourbon releases as possible, to learn to distinguish the tastes, aromas and textures of the various releases. A growing corps of South African whisky aficionados are doing exactly that, he says, bolstering the emergence of whisk(e)y bars in South Africa.

“There have probably been hundreds of thousands of whisk(e)y releases around the world throughout history, and this is part of the excitement for aficionados, who covet the rarest and seek out opportunities to taste them,” he says. And Bourbon, in a unique class of its own within the whisk(e)y realm, deserves greater recognition among South Africans who appreciate whisk(e)y, he says.

How to taste Bourbon

While American Whiskey distillers insist that Whiskey should be drunk ‘any way you like it’, there are recommended ways to best appreciate the distillers’ art:

– Taste Bourbon neat, in a Glencairn-type tulip-shaped tasting glass that concentrates the aroma at the rim.

– With lips slightly parted, smell the Bourbon and rate the aroma, identifying specific notes.

– Take a sip, but don’t gulp it. Take a mouthful and ‘chew’ the drink, moving it around your mouth before swallowing. Consider the flavours and the ‘mouth feel’ (is it creamy and smooth or does it have a bite?)

– Wait to appreciate the lingering ‘finish’. Bourbon will leave a short, medium or long finish, which could be described as smooth or mellow, through to crisp, dry, spicy or with a burn. It may even give you a warm sensation (which has been fondly termed the ‘Kentucky Hug’) after you’ve swallowed it.

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