I’ve just returned from two weeks of travelling around South Africa – an amazing country packed full of breath-taking scenery, vibrant culture and stunning wines. Whisky culture in South Africa is not nearly as established as it is elsewhere in the world – but, its unmistakably growing. From giant road side hoardings (mainly Diageo and Jameson) to regular sightings of the locally produced Three Ships and Bains whiskies – even in the most unassuming of local dive bars. Malt (and grain) are on the rise across the Rainbow Nation.
Nowhere is this more obvious than at the Bascule Bar, housed in the Cape Grace hotel in Cape Town. Boasting the largest selection of whiskies in the Southern Hemisphere (well over 500), the quay-side establishment is something of a hidden gem in the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront district of the city. The Pound/Rand exchange rate is (for reasons that largely escape me) quite favourable right now, so as an English tourist, my visit last week to the Bascule Bar unlocked an ability to trawl through the establishments ‘Old & Rare’ cabinet in a manner that I’d seldom be able to achieve here in the UK.
Today’s review comes from defunct distillery Convalmore - The Dramble's first review of this now seldom seen distillery. The Victorian era site was established in 1893 and operated until 1985 when it was sold (empty of all its equipment) from United Distillers to William Grant and Sons. The buildings are still standing, but are now used only as warehousing for Glenfiddich. Our bottling comes from G&M’s old style map label series. It was distilled in 1969 and bottled in 1992 making it between 22 and 23 years of age. Like all of G&M’s map bottlings, its delivered at 40% ABV.
Nose: Light and crunchy honeycomb sits alongside dry, tangy and ripe pineapple – quite sour, but in an entirely pleasant way. Soft beeswax polish mingles with dried mango slices and seriously old tobacco leaves (dry and crumbling). Running throughout is brick dust – quite powdery, almost sooty in nature. Dusty books and old wooden desks reinforce the sense of age and are joined by tart and sour apples and a fizzing ginger beer.
Taste: Thin on arrival, but still with some texture – a touch of waxiness almost (hmmm, shouldn’t that make it seem less thin?!). Beeswax with bee honey provide initial sweetness, but then there’s a wave of polish, orange liqueur and soft, but ancient wood which delivers intense bitterness. Already there’s plenty of drying tannins at play here. In the mid-palate, grassiness – dried hay and mowed lawn. The back palate decides to try a different tact – cream cracker biscuits, toasted bread and brioche – all sprinkled with tingling white pepper. All a bit bonkers.
Finish: Short with gingernut biscuits, shortbread, buttered toast and steeped dark tea. Quite tannic. Quite drying.
There’s a lot to like about this Convalmore – its unashamedly old style - almost devoid of the sweetness that is commonplace with modern bottlings. There’s a strong emphasis on sour fruitiness and the effects of longer maturation in ex-bourbon casks. The combined result works well on the nose (which is quite lovely), but comes across as far too acerbic and not nearly as cohesive on the palate. In the mouth, there’s an awkwardly development from one style to another, which never settles on a particular direction. Certainly thought-provoking, but not the best days of my life.