Bain’s South African ‘bourbon’

This week’s work travel finds me in Orlando attending a conference. For those that know the local foodie landscape in Orlando, you are aware that there are some amazing dining options with truly world-class chefs. My first evening in town this week, my work colleagues mentioned dining at Disney. For those that have followed us for a while, you know that we are not huge fans of most restaurants on the Walt Disney World property. Crowds, kids, characters and noise generally do not combine well for an outstanding dining experience. As foodies, these are the experiences I crave while on the road. However, my colleagues had done some research and chosen Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Jiko describes itself as an authentic South African dining experience at Disney. I’m often even more skeptical of themed dining experiences at Disney. A little research of my own identified that Jiko’s wine cellar has one of the largest selections of South African wine in the United States. Further, their menu features many authentic dishes with recipes and ingredients imported by Jiko to meet their needs. The cocktail list also features native ingredients. For example, their margarita replaces triple sec with an African liqueur. Imagine my surprise when the waiter, having learned of our interest in whiskey, could not wait to introduce us to a master whiskey taster on site from Bain’s Whiskey. The waiter instructed that we would be tasting a South African ‘bourbon.’ As you all are aware, the “Bourbon Act” more formally known as The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits defines bourbon in 27 CFR 5.22 as originating in the United States. Therefore, Bain’s can not legally be called a bourbon.

From Bain’s website, they column distill and age their single-grain, 100% South African maize (corn) whiskey in first-fill bourbon casks for 3 years and follows this by a second aging in first-fill bourbon casks for an additional 18-30 months. The result is a smooth 86 proof whiskey.

Nose: butterscotch, caramel, chocolate

Entry: sweet, buttery

Finish: short with chocolate, toffee, caramel

Score: 85 (B)

The experience, however, was much greater than a grade of B. The gentleman who we met with was presented to us as a ‘master taster.’ Together, side by side we sipped the Bain’s and discussed the flavor profile. The beauty of whiskey tasting was reflected in the different flavors we each detected. While I thought, consistently in fact, that I got these beautiful full-bodied chocolate notes, he described it buttery like popcorn. Here, we agreed on ‘buttery’ as an adjective to describe this nicely mid-brown whiskey. As we have so often noted on our Twitter feed, whiskey brings people together and builds relationships. The 10 minutes we spent enjoying the Bain’s became a teaching moment for my colleagues as to how to ‘properly’ taste whiskey and a topic that has continued this entire week. I’d score the experience a 100 (A+).

Bain’s is available in the US with a retail price of ~$38/bottle.

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