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Dozens of buyers, connoisseurs and media representatives gathered at events in Johannesburg and Cape Town in November, to meet visiting delegates from three small American distilleries, and sample a range of American whiskeys. Among the distillers who travelled to SA this week were Whistling Andy Handcrafted Spirits – a Montana-based craft distillery producing whiskeys, rums, gins and vodka; Red Eye Louie’s – makers of new blended products including Vodquila and Rumquila; and Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey – a Tennessee distillery named for Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green – the African-American head stiller who taught distilling techniques to Jack Daniel, founder of the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey distillery. American mixologist Christy Pope of Cuffs & Buttons, New York, also joined the delegation, giving guests a series of cocktail demonstrations and leading them through the evening’s American whiskey tasting.
Marc Pendlebury, whiskey aficionado and co-owner of Whisky Brother, gave guests an overview of the history and characteristics of American whiskeys – and bourbon in particular, before leading the much-anticipated whiskey tastings.
Speaking ahead of the event, he said: “Bourbon has a rich and fascinating history, which adds to its allure. While it hasn’t been as well known in South Africa as Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey, well-informed and experienced whisk(e)y drinkers appreciate what Bourbon can offer, with some exceptional releases out there, and our discerning customers are keen to get their hands on it.”
American whiskey imports to South Africa grew by over 17% from 2016 to 2017, from US$8.9 million to over US$10.5 million last year. The growth was in line with an upward trend on all American distilled spirits imported to South Africa over the past year, reports Christine LoCascio, Senior Vice President International Issues and Trade, at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.
Earlier this year, Distilled Spirits Council reported that both domestic and international sales of U.S. spirits had shown growth for eight consecutive years. The U.S. distilled spirits market, the second most valuable in the world, enjoyed a record year in 2017, with overall supplier up 4 percent, rising $1 billion to a total of $26.2 billion. Distilled Spirits Counicl projected a new export record of $1.64 billion of U.S. spirits sold around the globe in 2017, 14.3% up on 2016.
While the top five dollar markets for U.S. spirits are still the UK, Germany, Brazil, France and Spain, American whiskey exporters are showing new interest in South Africa as an export destination. The key export growth drivers areTennessee Whiskey and Bourbon, particularly in the Premium and Super Premium categories, while the more niche, American Rye Whiskey is also starting to show strong growth.
Featuring a full day festival of American whiskey tastings and cocktails, American-themed food and even live music with an authentic American rock and blues feel, the event attracted crowds of food and drink connoisseurs. The Proof American whiskey festival was hosted by House of Machines in collaboration with Bulleit Bourbon, Gentleman Jack, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Woodford Reserve, in response to growing consumer appreciation of American whiskeys. With American Whiskey enjoying a surge in popularity in Cape Town, House of Machines also undertook to stage a series of Whiskey tasting evenings every Monday in May.