The spirit of liquid gold

2011-04-08 10:36

South Africans love their whisky. Sure there are ­beverages such as beer, wine, champagne and an assortment of other spirits, but none continue to draw consumers as fast as whisky.

After champagne, people love nothing better than to flaunt an 18-year-old of this or a 25-year-old of that whisky – while wearing expensive watches on both wrists (yes, ­Kenny, we’re looking at you).

According to the latest financial results of the Scotch Whisky ­Association, the local market grew by 6.6%, making South Africa one of its top export markets ­worldwide. Of course this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

On any given Thursday you’ll find the trendy set at the latest hotspot sipping on the golden nectar – from the young entrepreneur in a tailored suit savouring a Johnnie Walker Blue to the group of professional women drinking a Gentleman Jack with a ginger ale chaser.

The fact is, whisky is now everybody’s drink.

With so many brands to choose from, whisky blends have become an accessory to an ­aspirational lifestyle.

Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo, the general manager of the Soweto Hotel on Freedom Square, explains: “In township culture, people always tried to look their best no matter where they were going.

They aspired to the finer things in life, and it showed in the clothes that they wore and the pride that they had in luxuries such as cars and houses.

“Whisky was part of that mix and, like many other things in this world, South Africans have found their own unique way of enjoying it,” she adds.

Judging by today’s whisky ­aficionado, how South Africans drink their golden nectar is divided along gender lines. ­Women seem to prefer it sweet while men are sticking to the ­purist’s way of neat, on the rocks or with a splash of water.

Mahlare Maphoto, a 31-year-old professional in the banking sector, says her drink of choice is a J&B Jet (and makes a point of ­mentioning “not the Rare”).

“I ­usually mix my whisky with ­lemonade, apple juice or ginger ale.

I don’t like it straight, no matter how many eyebrows that might raise among whisky connoisseurs.

It’s my whisky and I’ll have it any way I want it!”

Pretoria-based entrepreneur Floyd Mdluli likes his whisky straight because “I like to taste my Glenfiddich when it hits the back of my throat”.

Says Mdluli: “There are whiskies that you’re not supposed to spoil – not even with ice cubes. The most I’ll do is just to add some water. Otherwise, I want it neat.”

According to one of the ­co-founders and organisers of the yearly FNB Whisky Live Festival, Karen Chaloner, the whisky market in South Africa is unpredictable.

“In the six years we’ve had the ­festival, I have observed some interesting trends among consumers – notably that the whisky drinker has become younger and remains highly aspirational to a lifestyle that revolves around the good life.

“These are the people who ­attend the hot parties. It’s now clear that whisky is no longer an exclusive drink for the snobbish and sophisticated, but has instead become a trendy ­beverage for the young, hip and sexy,” says Chaloner.

Whatever happened to the good old days when the early 20-somethings kept to the more ­affordable whisky brands such as Jack Daniels?

Why has Johnnie Walker Black, held in high regard just a few years ago, become the “student drink” of 2011?

According to Chaloner, the whisky drinker usually ages with his or her drink.

“The beginners usually start with the light Irish whiskey blends and bourbons because they’re easier to drink and more affordable.”

She adds that the more mature and discerning the person, the more carefully they choose their whiskies.

“Once the person starts gaining a sophisticated palate, they explore other whiskies like single malts.

These are generally more expensive and the drinker doesn’t want to mix their whisky with any­thing,” says Chaloner, who adds that whisky lovers are ­generally between 20 and 30 years old, are multicultural professionals, yuppies and the emerging middle class.

It is obvious that to enjoy ­quality whisky, one needs seriously deep pockets.

And in a society where the Kunenes and Mpisanes flaunt spirits older than the legal drinking age, it’s no surprise that most young whisky drinkers want to feel part of the so-called Black Diamond set.

As for how each of them like to drink their whisky, it depends on the taste buds of the local drinkers, who can’t be boxed.

So, bottle up and get ready for a golden party.

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