South Africa

With 100,000ha of vineyards, South Africa has long been a big brandy producer; but attempts at founding a whisky industry had always failed. But the closing decades of the last century were stirring times in South African history and the political, social, and economic upheavals transformed every facet of society, including the drinks industry. It started in 1972 when one of South Africa's biggest drinks producers, Stellenbosch Farmers' Winery (SFW), bought a small grain distillery, Robertson & Buxton (R&B), as a test-bed. In 1977 SFW launched Three Ships, a blend of Scottish malts and R&B's grain, and by 1980 it had sufficient stocks of three years old grain for the blend to qualify as whisky. In the decade of sanctions that followed, global brands stopped investing in South Africa, so the indigenous infant was able to thrive.

In the late '80s, though, circumstances took another dramatic turn with the impending release of Nelson Mandela and therefore domestic industries prepared to face the global competitors who would return to the market once sanctions were lifted. Three Ships Premium Select was launched in 1991 and since then the brand has enjoyed global success with a number of award-winning expressions. The company is also behind Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky, the first single grain to come out of South Africa. The R&B site was soon outgrown and eventually had to close. The transfer of the mashtuns and washbacks to a larger site in Wellington coincided with SFW's merger with the Distiller's Corporation to create Distell, a conglomerate with global interests including Scotch brands Bunnahabhain, Deanston and Tobermory. The site is now better known as The James Sedgwick Distillery.
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