The James Sedgwick distillery is the darling child of the South African whisky industry. To be fair, it’s also pretty much the ONLY child, but that doesn’t mean these guys are farting about – with an impressive spirit of experimentation and rebelliousness, Three Ships whiskies are cleaning up at competitions around the world.
Speaking of which, their near entry-level expression – The Three Ships 5-year-old Premium Select – is a regular contender in most “International” and “Africa” categories, and it’s easy to see why. Andy Watts, the distillery’s chief whiskymaker and evil genius cooked up a blend of South African
and Scotch* whiskies, matured them exclusively in ex-Bourbon casks on local soil and created the stuff of legend:
Not entirely sure if Three Ships uses colourant… It’s pale enough that I doubt it, but I’ll stand corrected. Medium gold.
Peat! Three Ships 5 uses some peated malt, imported from Scotland and then locally distilled and matured. A very mild, but distinct and pleasantly warm peatiness throughout the whole nose. Vanilla, oaky sweetness. Cream and freshly baked bread. A slight hint of fruit – apples rather than citrus. Good stuff.
Interestingly, our warmer climate means faster maturation and a more aggressive Angel’s Share. Where casks in Scotland lose 1-2% of their volume per year, casks in South Africa lose 3-4%. As a result, despite being aged for “only” 5 years the Three Ships 5 doesn’t taste young by Scotch standards. A brilliantly oaky, nutty, fruity sweetness. Butter. While not overly complex or deep, it’s surprisingly malty, with the peat lending equal parts smoke and nostalgia. A light mint/menthol taste at the back. The finish is a fairly solid ride out – short, woody, earthy and a little bitter.
Carries a little water quite well, but renders it floral and masks the peat somewhat. Not my preference. My preference would be drinking it neat, tumbler in one hand and braai tongs in the other.
Three Ships 5 fills me with South African pride – it’s a crisp, expertly blended whisky, peaty, warming and flavourful. I’d choose it over the vast majority of other blends and many internationally adored single malts – be they from Scotland, Ireland, Japan or elsewhere.
With that in mind, I need to express how insanely good value it is. Let me put this into perspective: Three Ships 5 is a quarter of the price of almost any entry-level Scotch malt. It’s half the price of my beloved Johnnie Black. It’s 30% cheaper than Johnnie Red. And it’s even cheaper than Famous Grouse, a whisky pretty much only useful as drain cleaner or for using as makeshift pepper-spray.
If you’re a South African, you have absolutely no excuse not to buy and drink Three Ship 5. And drink it with gees!
*(Update 29/10/2016): I have it on good authority that despite the label, Three Ships has not actually used any Scotch whisky in the blend for several years. Everything in the bottle these days is 100% pure South African whisky!