Three Ships Bourbon Cask

I just returned from South Africa (Cape Town) and a lovely time was had by all. While travelling, I always try to carve out some time early in the trip to seek out a bottle of whisky or whisky-adjacent spirits that are locally made, or at least only available locally. I do this for two reasons: First, it’s easy to get tunnel vision about what products are available at my regular liquor stores, and I like to try to get access to things I can’t get at home. Second, then I have a bottle of whisky that must be finished before the return trip!

My only prior experience with the Three Ships brand of whiskeys from the James Sedgwick Distillery in Wellington, South Africa, was this oddball single cask. Alas, I was dismayed at the shelf at the nearest liquor store to my AirBnB, where I found only blends from Three Ships, no malts. Still, a tradition is a tradition so I picked up a bottle of Three Ships: Bourbon Cask, which is a blend of South African malt and grain whiskeys aged in ex-Bourbon casks for a minimum of three years. The whisky is bottled at 43% ABV.

Of course “aged in ex-bourbon” is kind of like saying “written on paper” or “served on a plate”. In this case the distillery is drawing attention to the use of several different “ages” of ex-bourbon casks that were used, with a goal of achieving a different flavor profile from each.

Three Ships is made by master distiller and former cricket star Andy Watts at the James Sedgwick Distillery, which is a shockingly old institution in operation since 1886. It’s known for Three Ships as well as Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky.

Nose: Achingly, cloyingly sweet, with a hearty dose of brown sugar, caramelized banana, wood sugars, and an alcohol overtone I can only describe as akin to cheap rum.

Palate: Syrupy body. Slightly hot, but without a strong tongue burn. Blackened bananas, bitter charcoal, and burnt caramel are the primary flavors.

Finish: Cloying again, with more rum-like sugars, mushy banana, and cola. Distasteful, alas.

With Water: A splash of water adds perhaps a note of black licorice to the aroma and evens out the sweetness on the tongue but does not appear to affect the finish.

Overall: Unpleasant. I don’t know if the flavors originate from low-quality grains or if the issue resides in the relative youth of the grain whisky component, but this really demands the use of ice or strong covering mixers in much the same way that the cheapest scotch blends do. Clearly I should have spent more time bottle hunting until I found a malt from Three Ships. I think I can extrapolate from this experience that the blends are not worth attention.

Three Ships Bourbon Cask
43% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $20 (approximate)
Acquired: (750ml bottle) Ultra Liquors, Cape Town, South Africa, $20 (approximate)

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  • After all that travel…. hopefully just a blip on an otherwise great trip. Here’s to you reaching Australia, Germany, or some other place with interesting and hard-to-find whiskies.