Whisky drinkers who are willing to explore outside of Scotland often find themselves on the shores of Australia and Japan to sample renowned world whiskies. We seldom see these whisky hunters landing in South Africa to look for the same things. Not many people know about James Sedgwick Distillery in Wellington, S.A – the home to Three Ships and Bain’s Cape Mountain Grain Whisky.
It is interesting to note that James Sedgwick Distillery is the only commercial distillery in South Africa and their products have won awards after awards in the international scene. The only unfortunate thing for many whisky drinkers in Southeast Asia is the fact that James Sedgwick distillery is selective in their distribution channels due to their limited stocks.
We are lucky in Singapore; our first whisky bar – Quaich Bar – has forged a close relationship with Distell, the company managing James Sedgwick distillery. Therefore, we are one of the first South-East Asian countries to get our hands on their exceptional whiskies.
Before we dive too far off the topic, let us go back to the distillery and explore the origins of this 131-year-old distillery.
History of James Sedgwick Distillery (JSD)
James Sedgwick, a former sea captain, founded a company called the J. Sedgwick & Co. which dealt with liquor, cigar and tobacco in 1850. After his death in 1870, two of his sons, Charles and Alfred, took over and expanded the business. They founded JSD in 1886 at Wellington, S.A. and named the distillery after their father. The distillery sat on the banks of the River Berg but did not begin its life as a whisky distillery until much later.
JSD started its life as a commercial whisky distillery in 1990 when they relocated the production of Three Ships to JSD. The move also coincided with the appointment of the 6th distillery manager – Andy Watts. Andy learned the art of whisky-making in Scotland and had perfected his skills for many years before coming to work with JSD. His skills, experience and knowledge have contributed to the success of JSD.
Innovation and Improvement in James Sedgwick Distillery
The last 26 years see significant innovation and improvement of the distillery. In an attempt to ensure that the distillery is environmentally friendly, the leaders have set upon a journey since 1991 to reduce the carbon footprint of the distillery. In an extensive overhaul, the distillery replaces their old stills with new copper stills made by Forsyth’s of Scotland and also installs a new high-tech control room to support their skills and craftsmanship.
The leaders also converted the marshland next to the distillery into a dam to ensure a consistent water supply for whisky-making. Such innovative and imaginative solutions to their problem is one of JSD’s most significant achievements. It is no wonder that Whisky Magazine recognised their efforts to use innovative technology to preserve the wildlife and environment around them by awarding them with the “Whisky Brand Innovator of the Year” in 2011. The distillery also won the title of “World Best Distillery (world)” in the World Whisky Awards 2015.
JSD is the pioneer in whisky-making in South Africa and has brought about many firsts to the shores of Wellington, S.A. For example, Three Ships finished their 15-year-old whisky in pinotage casks, the first in the world.
Whisky Produced in JSD
JSD produces two brands of whiskies – Three Ships Single Malt/Blended Whisky and Bain Single Grain Whisky. Both names receive various awards over the years and are some of the best whiskies in the world.
Three Ships has a range of five different whiskies. One of them is a single malt, while the others are blended. Almost all of them have won awards in various international whiskies competition.
Three Ships Select Whisky
The Three Ship Select Whisky is launched in 1977 and has served the whisky community in the past 40 years. It is a blend of malt and grain whiskies. The high quality blended whisky has won the hearts of many whisky drinkers with its taste profile. It is an excellent dram for both whisky lovers and casual drinkers.
Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish
JSD launched Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish in 2005. It holds the title as the first 100% South African blended whisky as the distillery made both the malt and grain whiskies on the home ground. JSD also matured the whisky within its warehouses. The Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish is a great catch for the ladies, with its vanilla sweetness and honeyed notes.
Three Ships 5-Year-Old
The Three Ships 5-Year-Old is another blended whisky made by JSD and launched in 1991. This malt used in this blend contains heavily peated malted barley. When the malt and grain are mixed to form the 5-year-old whisky, the peatiness of the malt reduced into a pleasant smoke. It is also well-received among ladies.
Three Ships 10-Year-Old Single Malt
The Three Ships 10-Year-Old is launched in 2015 after maturing the liquid for ten years. Distilled in 2005, this is the first single malt whisky to carry a vintage statement. Made from peated barley, this whisky is slightly smokier when compared to the 5-year-old blend.
Three Ship 15-year-old Pinotage Cask Finish
The Three Ship 15-year-old Pinotage Cask Finish is the first whisky in the world (and of course South Africa) to finish in a Pinotage cask. The Pinotage is a distinctive South African wine created in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold. This whisky is also the oldest whisky released by Three Ships to date, crafted by their #6 Master Distiller, Andy Watts. This rich and complex whisky reflects the unique heritage of South Africa.
Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky
The Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky shares its home with Three Ships in the JSD. The single grain whisky pays homage to the man, Andrew Geddes Bain, who built the Bainkloof Pass to connect Wellington to the interior of the country in 1853. The whisky is distilled from corn (yellow maize) and double matured in two batches of first-filled bourbon casks.
James Sedgwick Distillery Today
JSD continues to be a pioneer in South African whisky and contributes significantly to the world of whisky. Andy Watts is now the head of the entire Distell whisky portfolio, which includes single malts – Bunnahabhain, Deanston & Tobermory – as well as blends – Black Bottle and Scottish Leader. Jeff Green is replacing Andy Watts as the master distiller at JSD after shadowing Andy for the past six years. His efforts to learn has paid off, and we look forward to more great whiskies from JSD!