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Friday, May 10, 2013

Single Malt Report: Three Ships 10 year old South African Single Malt

Next stop on the whisky voyage...

South Africa, specifically the Western Cape, where James Sedgwick Distillery (JSD) has been producing Three Ships whiskies since 1977.  The JSD remains the big whisky dog in South Africa right now.  The other distillery, Drayman's, has been better known for their microbrewery.

JSD makes a trio of Three Ships blends, one of which, the 5 year old, has been bringing in some international awards (World's Best Blended Whisky 2012 from WWA and Gold 2012 from IWSC).  They also have a young grain whisky, Bain's Cape Mountain, and a number of cheaper budget-priced blends.

The Three Ships 5 year old blend is a combination of South African and Scotch whiskies.  But their one single malt, this 10 year old, is 100% South African.

Distillery: James Sedgwick Distillery
Brand: Three Ships
Ownership: Distell Group Limited
Type: Single Malt
Region: Wellington, South Africa
Age: at least 10 years old
Maturation: Likely mostly ex-bourbon casks, but also possibly some ex-sherry or french oak casks as well (okay, it's obvious I'm guessing on this one; if anyone knows JSD's oak facts please let me know, cheers!)
Batch: 2011
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The first batch of this single malt arrived in 2003 -- see Serge pan the hell out of it here.  The next batch didn't come out until 2010.  Once that sold out, batch #3 was released in October 2011.  Here it is:

Sampled neatly only, from a 30mL sample
Color - Rosy gold
Nose - Restrained nutty sherry and pencil shavings first.  Then cigarette butts, followed by orange creamsicles, peaches, apricots, and brown sugar.
Palate - Toasted almonds, citrus, a tiny bit of sweet wine, and mellow malt.  There's some nice soft rich American oak that gets chased around by some distant persistent phenolics.
Finish - Here comes the citrus again, mostly limes this time.  Brown sugar, faint dried fruits, and a hint of pepper.  It's actually kind of rummy.

Firstly and most importantly, this is very tasty stuff.  Compared to the Sullivan's Cove, there seems to be less of an attempt at complexity.  But that's not a problem because this South African single malt achieves success in its simplicity.

Secondly, there have got to be some former wine casks worked into the maturation.  If I am wrong, I will eat some Marmite. (Take that, Vegemite!)

Thirdly, if you were scared away by Serge's review, I just want to remind you that he was covering the first batch from 10 years ago.  Though I haven't tried that batch, I really do think JSD has made some leaps in whisky production in order to compete internationally.  If am I wrong, I will eat some Marmite.  (I'm going to regret these promises.)  Here's a link to Oliver Klimek's positive review on the recent batch and here's a link to whiskybase's decent reviews on it as well.

Finally -- here it comes -- the price.  You can get Three Ships 10yr via UK retail shops; with shipping it can run up to $80.  BUT, this same whisky sells for $30-$40 in South Africa.  To me, that's the perfect pricing for it.  This is what $30 whisky should taste like.  Lively with a little zip, it drinks well.  You're not going to write a thesis on it, but it's amicable for all seasons.  I'm always on the search for whiskies like that.  Anyone going to South Africa soon?

Availability - some UK retailers, many more South African retailers
Pricing - $50-$80 if ordering from UK, $30-$40 in South Africa
Rating - 85