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Wild About Whisky!

 
09 January 2017 by Katy Louise Johnson

“There is no wrong way to drink whisky – it’s yours, just enjoy it” – Steve Adams, Dave and Eve Gunns, Wild About Whisky

The Highlands Meander might be the gateway to the barmy heat of the Lowveld, but it certainly isn’t the place to get acclimatised. The misty mornings and cold evenings of this part of the province invite you to cosy up in front of a crackling fire with a nice drink. Those fireplaces feature large in the picturesque town of Dullstroom’s “Big 5” – the “Big F’s” of fireplaces, food, fishing, flora and fauna.

Image credit: Steve Adams

But Dullstroom has another “warming” experience for visitors and locals alike, a tipple from the Town’s record-breaking whisky collection. With over 1,200 bottles of whisky adorning their shelves, Wild About Whisky owns the biggest whisky collection in the Southern Hemisphere and it is rumoured that even Scotland’s most formidable assemblage at the Craigellachie Hotel's Quaich Bar is short of this impressive total.

Image credit: Steve Adams


So how has Dullstroom become home to possibly the world’s largest Whisky collection?

Aside from the obvious comparisons that can be drawn between the grassy escarpments of the Highlands Meander and the hills and valleys of Scotland and Ireland, the ancestral home of great whiskies, this was also the place where many Scottish and Irish migrants settled, giving the area it’s uniquely Celtic feel.

Perhaps it is this Celtic heritage that has ignited the passion of three friends, and keen whisky drinkers, to take a life-changing trip to the Scottish Highlands and sample some of the best whiskies produced by the country’s many distilleries.

That trip and the opportunity to convert an art gallery with an existing liquor licence into Wild About Whisky, is where the story began. Fast forward eleven years and it has become one of Mpumalanga’s most unique and celebrated attractions and certainly one of the highlights along the Highlands Meander route.

Image credit: Steve Adams


But what if ‘I don’t like whisky’, I hear you cry!

Don’t let owner Steve Adams (on the right) hear you would be my advice, as he will see this as a challenge. I was one such challenge, who Steve quickly converted. Put off by cheap varsity-budget whiskies, I had shied away from ‘the world’s greatest spirit’ for over a decade. So the idea of sacrificing my taste buds for the sake of good journalism was a hard decision to make, one I am now eternally grateful that I did.

Image credit: Steve Adams


With a tasting menu offering 30 combinations, each comprising of 6 half tots, it looked like I had a long night ahead of me. Yet I was intrigued by Steve’s explanation that 70% of a whisky’s taste comes from the barrel, meaning that while wines have around an octave of flavours whiskies offer the whole piano worth of notes.

The question was where to start!

Play it safe with the highly popular ‘Coast to Coast’ option where I would experience six beautifully crafted single malts from the various Scottish regions, while subjecting my taste buds to everything from the light and fruity Glenrothes Select Reserve to the heavily peated Smokehead, with its decadent smoky aromas and rich tastes. Or go from something more adventurous, like the Six Nations where I would be exposed to whiskies from around the world and who knew Taiwan had a distillery!

Image credit: Steve Adams


While the journalist in me yearned to take my whisky adventure to the Far East, my taste-buds over ruled and went for a safer sounding option with the Connoisseur’s Choice. While I still have troubles pronouncing some of the names on this list, try saying Ardbeg Corryvreckan after five half tots of whisky. I would happily buy a bottle of each for my new ‘Whisky Bar’ at home.

It took exactly one tot to transform me from whisky sceptic to full blown whiskey drinker. I soon didn’t need to be prompted to smell first before enjoying the warmth of the neat whiskey igniting all my taste buds, but it was after a splash of water was added that the true smells and tastes revealed themselves. Mellowing the harsher notes and exposing a depth of flavours and aromas I had never believed possible from a simple drink.

Whether it was the rich warm taste that enveloped me, the way Steve brought each tipple to life describing the nose aromas and tongue tastes, or just the sheer opulence of sitting at the wooden bar surrounded by whiskies that had been nurtured into life by distilleries from around the globe. I was hooked.

Image credit: Steve Adams


Needless to say, I sampled a few more tasting menu’s than perhaps I should! Before rounding my evening off with two whisky and chocolate pairings, which at R78 was an absolute bargain in my book. However, if I thought choosing from the 30 options on the tasting menu was hard, choosing two of the mouth-watering chocolate treats was near impossible.

Image credit: Steve Adams

Thankfully, Wild About Whisky, also offer great accommodation alongside their vast whisky selection. So stumbling to bed was relatively easy and the fact they offer half tots, as well as full ones, meant the next morning was relatively pain free.

The following day it wasn’t the vast quantities of whisky I had drunk, the fact that this was now my drink of choice or the wide array of bottles that adorned every wall that most surprised me. Instead it was the tour group of women, who stopped in for a quick lunchtime tasting that had me intrigued. Even with my new found love for whisky it is hard not to picture it as a ‘mans drink’, however speaking to Eve one of the other passionate owners of Wild About Whisky this couldn’t be further from the truth. With just as many women now doing tasting as men and seeming to prefer the stronger tasting peaty options, which were once considered to be the exclusive tipple of only the most hardened whisky drinker, it goes to show the world of whisky drinking has opened its doors to everyone.


Image credit: Steve Adams


So whether you’re new to whisky, or an experienced hand, Wild About Whisky is a must. Their passion for the amber nectar is intoxicating, the range of whiskies will suit all tastes, budgets and whisky drinking experience (you’re guaranteed to find one you haven’t tasted!), opening the world of whisky to everyone.

Image credit: Steve Adams

 

All along the Highland Meander you will find great levels of service and Wild about Whisky is no exception and they strive to ensure the customer experience exceeds expectation.

Yet if you are still not convinced to give whisky a go, their gin tasting menus are also fabulous and a wonderful next day cure to mental fogginess induced by the whisky tasting the night before.  This is certainly a Mpumalanga Bucket List must, but be warned with 1200 to taste you might find yourself coming back to Dullstroom again and again and again!

Image credit: Steve Adams


So I leave you with Steve’s five whiskies you must ‘try before you die’ and a note to all those confused by the missing ‘e’ in my spelling of whisky: This is the Scottish way, the Irish added the ‘e’ turning whisky to whiskey!

Steve’s ‘try before you die’ Big 5 of the Whisky World!

1.       Anything from Japan’s closed Karuizawa distillery! With a 90 year pedigree and a host of awards and accolades to their name, many in the whisky world were heartbroken at the closure of this famous distillery. Fortunately some of their whiskies can still be found, at a price!

2.       Redbreast 21 Potstill whiskies are unique to Ireland and include unmalted barley along side the malted variety. Giving a spicy, cereal character that’s found nowhere else. What makes Redbreast 21 so special is the complex notes of tropical fruits and dark berries making it one of the best whiskies to ever come out of the Emerald Isle.

3.       Garrison Brothers – Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey This one is going to require a trip to the USA, but it will be worth it. Matured in heavily charred virgin oak casks ensures there are plenty of caramel and toffee notes, along with honey, coconut, tropical fruits and spices. This Bourbon one of the best I have ever tasted. While true Scots Whisky fans might be horrified with this addition, it certainly deserves a tot or two!

4.       Any Port Ellen Citric, salty and faintly peaty, all Port Ellen whiskies are mind-blowing, making the closure of the distillery in the early 1980’s criminal! Be warned these single malts fetch very high prices due to their rarity, but the second you open the bottle you will forget about the money you spent.

5.       Octomore 07.4 Is a real cracker from the Bruichladdich Distillery on the Inner Hebrides island of Islay. A distillery famed for its notoriously smoky, oily beasts of whisky, the Octomore 7.1 is one of the most heavily peated single malt whiskies in the world. Yet there is far more than just peat! Honey, vanilla, dried fruits and cake spice make this a complex whisky and a must try for any true connoisseur!


CONTACT INFORMATION:

For more information about Wild About Whisky contact: +27 (0)13 254 0066 | +27 (0)82 600 5388 (Dave) | +27 (0)83 765 7877 (Steve) or visit their website www.wildaboutwhisky.com

 

Wild About Whisky is located on Dullstroom’s main road, their address is Auldstone House, 506 Naledi Drive, Dullstroom GPS Coordinates: 25°25'14.5"S 30°06'07.3"E