Wednesday, 1 September 2010

#385 - Cask Logistics in South Africa

In entry #382 I posted some thoughts from the other maniacs and myself in response to a question from Jeff Borowitz regarding the selection of casks for ageing. Our South African maniac Joe Barry was kind enough to follow up on Jeff's question and forwarded it to Andy Watts, Manager of the James Sedgewick distillery in South Africa. Andy wrote;

"Great to hear from you again and this is a very interesting and good question. I will try to answer with my opinion which is not necessarily that of the company or other whisky companies / distillers. Please also remember that we are relatively very new in the whisky business and therefore we don’t currently have all the “nice” options of very old aged stock!  To try to answer you would ideally have some kind of strategy within your company which would give guidelines as to what products the marketing department would want available with volumes and when! 

This strategy may change due to various reasons; however it must remain the back bone of your planning. This means that for example a certain amount would be laid down for a 12yr plan but also an acceptable volume may be added so that if during this 12 years the strategy changes you do have some stock to go forward with.

In our case our oldest commercially available whiskies at current are 5yr old but with the success of the previous 10yr old single malt it highlighted the fact you need a whisky strategy. Over the last few years we have put that in place and this means we now have whiskies laid down which will eventually bring an ongoing 10yr old and then also older versions.

I would be very reluctant to make the decision that a particular whisky is made for being 30yr old and then just left in maturation. I believe whisky inventory control means constantly assessing the product and making decisions regarding re-vat into a different / older type of cask etc. At all times quality must take preference over age!

Economics also plays a very big role in whisky inventory and that is why, in our case, the older offerings are generally low volume. The accountants are reluctant to sit with stock of high value which can’t move. It is therefore a case of demand outstripping supply on these products. Special occasions or significant dates in history may necessitate releasing whisky at a younger age than anticipated or leaving it in for an extended period of time. 

Personally I believe that style is starting to play a more important role in the whisky we drink making an age statement not always necessary but there is no escaping the fact that age is a traditional part of the whisky heritage and there will always be aged products and a demand for them.

I hope the above gives Jeff some insight into the mind of a distiller. If I have missed anything or not been specific enough then please let me know but I think the reality is all companies will approach this differently and there is no hard and fast rule. Whisky Live will see me at both Cape Town and Jo’burg this year and look out for the new 10 yr old single malt which will be on the Three Ships stand.  It is due for release towards the end of October and I can’t wait to hear the honest comments from all of you whisky lovers."

Joe added: "An interesting point to note is the pending release of new single malts from South Africa, the one Andy mentions and a first ever from Draymans which was supposed to be ready for the World Cup but will now appear at Whisky Live here."

So, apart from the theories of a the maniacs that were posted in July, we now also have a contribution from somebody working in the whisky industry. That's great - although I should point out that the situation might be a little different in Scotland. In fact, given the differences between the way the process works in countries like Japan, Ireland and Canada it's possible that things work a little differently in every country.
Sweet drams,