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Draymans whisky, South Africa

By Dominic Roskrow

When South African craft brewer Moritz Kallmeyer decided to turn his attention to whisky making there were plenty of people who said it couldn't be done.

Just a few years later he's not only making single malt whisky that is turning heads and winning hearts, but he's firmly pitched his flag at the forefront of the new world craft distilling industry.

People kept telling me it couldn't be done in South Africa

In addition to that, he's brought some of the party tricks of boutique beer making to the world of whisky and even though it's early days for the fledgling distillery, he's already making his mark as an innovator.

Now one of his ground-breaking whisky projects is getting so good that he's seriously thinking of holding it back, investing in some top class packaging, and rebranding it for the high end of the blended whisky market.

"I have always done a blend based up on a Solera system so that it is constantly changing," he says. "I put in what I can get and encourage people to set up their own solera system at home. But in the early days the mix was about 20 per cent Draymans single malt and 80 per cent Scotch blends.

"That's now the other way round and it's about 80 per cent South African single malt. It's changed beyond all recognition and it's of such a high standard now that people are telling me to keep it back. I might do something unusual and special with regard to packaging and market it as a premium blend."

Moritz owns and runs Draymans Brewery in the suburbs of Pretoria in South Africa's High Veld, about 1600 to 1800 metres above sea level. He makes his living from his beers, which enjoy a big reputation in South Africa and he also distills local clear and un-aged fruit spirit and now malt whisky.

"The beer makes me my living," he says. "I sell it directly through beer festivals and the internet. But I have reached the time when I have to decide whether I want to stay as a craft brewer or I want to expand and let other people make it so that I can grow it across South Africa. When I'm selling the beer I never mention the whisky at all."

It hasn't been the easiest of rides launching a craft whisky within South Africa, Moritz admits.

"There was a lot of cynicism" he says. "People kept telling me it couldn't be done and refused to accept that a single malt could be produced this way in South Africa. Now people come and tell me that they were among the cynics and apologise and say they were wrong.

"There are those that are proud that they have this South African whisky and they are willing to accept that countries such as ours can make a whisky that has its roots locally and is not attempting to just be like Scotch. But they're the people who read or write about whisky, go to whisky events and join whisky clubs. In South Africa there are still 98 per cent that think whisky only means Scotch or Irish."

Moritz says that the direct approach of conducting tours, holding tastings and other events, and matching food with whisky are the best way to get an interest in Draymans whisky.

"I've learned that in South Africa it doesn't matter how much media coverage you get it won't translate to sales," he says. "It makes much more sense to talk to people directly and to have them visit the distillery. For instance recently I had 13 people here, and sold 15 bottles each costing more than £40."

For the time being, says Moritz, the approach of Draymans will be one of 'slowly and surely'.

"South Africa is a long way other parts of the world when it comes to this sort of thing," he says. "When I started brewing there were only two or three craft brewers and now there are more than 50 so craft brewing has taken off. But it was slow. Hopefully we'll see more craft distillers in South Africa but it will take time."

Mortiz says that he is happy with where the distillery is in terms of its development and he's pleased that its reputation is starting to spread overseas.

"I've got more than 100 casks of single malt whisky here now," he says. "We got the set up right early on and I'm happy just to continue with the single malt and the solera whisky. I'm delighted, too, that it's in the airport because that will raise its profile still further."

And even South Africa's population might be prepared to take a proper look. "All in good time," he says.