Chit Chat: Mickey Baloyi

2011-11-04 09:14

He’s nicknamed ‘the African Scot’ because he knows the golden nectar called Scotch whisky like the back of his hand. With the Whisky Live Festival kicking off in the week ahead, Mokgadi Seabi went in search of this whisky raconteur

When and how did you start your love affair with whisky?

I actually have Scottish genes on my mother’s side. One of my ancestors was from Scotland. I believe that’s where my interest for Scotch whisky was born. And over the years, I have visited the country a number of times, including the surrounding islands, so I have learned a lot about the beverage and have grown to love it from there.

Does it mean you started drinking the stuff and you just felt at home?

By all means no. I studied extensively. I have also been tutored by famous critics and commentators. One of my personal favourites is Dave Broom, a young man but extremely knowledgeable. I rate him number one in the world on the subject.

What’s your earliest memory of whisky?

It was in the mid-sixties. I grew up peddling alcohol on trains during apartheid. I was also bootlegging and owned an illegal shebeen in Saulsville, Pretoria.

Sounds like you and alcohol have travelled a long journey together...

I might be a whisky person but I have actually worked with every kind of alcoholic beverage you can think of enough to know that I prefer whisky. I believe alcohol is the first and second testaments. Like the Bible, you can’t wish the alcohol industry away, it keeps evolving every year.

How, then, did you go from being a consumer to a connoisseur?

Any alcohol drinker does not like the taste when they first taste alcohol. The second time around it’s more palatable and you become a trialist, thereafter you adapt and if you have an edge like me, you become a connoisseur. After that, it becomes part of your lifeline.

But how much whisky would you have to drink before you can become a pro like you?

You don’t have to drink it, but you have to know about whisky. It’s like being a car collector or a cigarette aficionado. You dabble until your knowledge has increased. I have made intensive visits to Scotland and did research with master blenders who taught me everything they know.

You’re a member of the Keepers of the Quaich (pronounced quake). What’s that all about?

Being a Keeper of the Quaich means you belong to an exclusive club of whisky aficionados. To be one, you have to be recommended by fellow keepers to be an honorary or fully fledged member – and I’m a full one. The youngest member is about 30 and the oldest around 90, and there’s about 2?000 of us in the world. You must have at least seven years in the industry promoting the goodness of Scotch whisky and even then, you have to have a long history of being passionate about the beverage.

What makes a whisky worthy of being a collector’s item?

Collectability of certain whiskies depends on the years of craftsmanship. The master blender of that particular whisky – like the Grant family’s Dave Stewart, whose Glen Fiddich 50-year-old whiskies are collectors’ items that are good value for money. Unfortunately he has retired now.

And what do you do with all that precious whisky you’ve collected? Decorate your house?

There are people who save them for resale as an investment, those who buy to drink and those who collect simply because they appreciate beauty.

It’s like an art collector, you just want to have it because you know it’s a masterpiece.

There’s a man who has the largest collection of whiskies in South Africa and he doesn’t even drink alcohol. He’s now in the process of building a whisky museum.

Which one are you?

I collect to appreciate and to drink.

Over the years, have there been any changes in consumer habits when it comes to whisky?

Whisky doesn’t have race or gender. It’s not an old man’s drink, it’s for everyone above the legal age. It’s a trendy beverage that is very popular with discerning drinkers and those who just want to make a statement.

How do you best enjoy your whisky?

It depends on the time of day, the season and the food I’m eating. I now pair all my meals with a whisky.

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