There is a huge transformation process taking place in South Africa. Together with newfound freedom and the opportunities it presents, South Africans, in all their rainbow colours, are discovering the pleasures of whisky.Once the land of beer and brandy and coke, whisky has made significant inroads into the hearts and minds of the populace.The enthusiasm and curiosity, which was once the exclusive domain of the wine industry, is now shared with whisky.Whisky advertising is at an all time high and has recorded huge growth year on year.Billboards, glossy mags, newsprint, television and radio are all used extensively.Sponsorship is also a successful tool in the industry. Actually, Justerini and Brooks’ biggest international sponsorship happens in Cape Town each January in the form of the J&B Met, the country’s premier horse race and social and fashion event.So what has set off the recent growth?Many factors have contributed. That President Thabo Mbeki is a Johnnie Walker Black convert is well documented. That Jimmy Bedford has become a local icon and visits regularly is also fact. That the general public finds it pleasurable to express their newfound economic success with a 12 year old Glenfiddich is also strongly evident by premium whisky sales.There is no doubt that the industry has marketed itself aggressively during the last few years, but there’s another very telling factor.Whisky has been brought out into the open.It is no longer seen as “my father’s drink”. It has been exposed.Enter a new company, NC Connect. Its first project, an annual whisky festival, first held in Cape Town four years ago, aimed to specifically demystify the drink and discover the mystery of whisky.The Cape Town Whisky Live Festival was an instant success.Johannesburg followed the year after, and was even bigger. The brands enjoyed the platform. Principals started to take notice, as did banking giant First National Bank.Four years down the line The FNB Whisky Live Festival enjoys the mantle as the largest consumer whisky festival on the planet.Both shows, each lasting three days, saw close to 14,000 consumers come through the doors eager to find out more.They come to learn. They attend a selection of workshops presented by the stars of the industry. They come to taste new brands and expensive whiskies. They come to pair foods with whisky and, they come to buy.So important has the project become that global ambassadors, distillers and master blenders specifically visit the country during early November, Whisky Live Festival time.And this year the show had no fewer than 11 international whisky ambassadors and master distillers – the largest representation ever witnessed in South Africa. Clearly a sign that this market is being taken seriously.The FNB Whisky Live Festival is now recognised as a benchmark for depicting the whisky lifestyle. New whiskies to the region are introduced and tested at the Festival, distributors and marketers are sought.South Africa is also the perfect springboard to the continent, which is largely ignorant to the pleasures of whisky.The Festival also generates a huge amount of publicity for the category, with glossy brochures specifically dedicated to the whisky which is due to appear at the shows complete with tasting notes.The frenzy created bodes well for future whisky festivals.Meanwhile in Holland, the International Whisky Festival, which joined the Whisky Live organisation in September, took place for the seventh time and was the best yet.It all started in 2000 in Amsterdam and proved increasingly popular during the years.From an unheated church in Amsterdam it moved to The Hague and now for the third time it was held in the Pieterskerk in Leiden.The event has always taken place in a church.However only the one in Amsterdam is still a working church, so on the Sunday morning the holy ceremony was held with a nice spirited odour still wafting around.Being organised in a church the event created a really spiritual feeling. Most foreign visitors are surprised that an event like this can take place in such a building.This was echoed by one Scottish exhibitor when he saw the venue: “Whisky in a church…This must be Heaven.” The formula has been more or less the same; there are four sessions of four hours in a weekend.This year there was a record crowd of more than 4,500 visitors equally divided during the four sessions.Majority of the bookings are made through the website. Most of the visitors are from across Holland, but there were whisky enthusiasts from Belgium, Germany, England, and Scandinavia.Masterclasses are held in separate rooms and were attended by 650 persons in 30 different masterclasses presented by several brand ambassadors.There is always room for improvement and innovations and this year the Bourbon Street bar was introduced next to the existing Whiskies of the World bar, Mackmyra, Swedish Whisky was at the festival for the first time.A session by invitation on Sunday morning from 11am till 1pm, especially for the trade, attracted 170 professionals and looks like to be continued next year.It is not only whisky companies who display their wares but also stands with food, clothing and tourist information.Also there is entertainment by Celtic and Highland dancers, bagpipes and sing along songs.New for this year was a demonstration of the art of barrel making by cooper Gary Taylor from the Speyside Cooperage.Leiden is 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam Schiphol airport; the church is 15 minutes walk from the station.Remember to make a note in your diary for next year’s festival.For more details of the Whisky Live shows across the world see page 43 of this edition, or visit www.whiskylive.com where you can book tickets as well.