whiskey glass placed on to craft whisky cask

What is craft whiskey? Meaning & context in South Africa

South African Whiskey

Mar 10, 2024

Craft whiskey is a term often discussed in the context of small batch whiskey or more general craft spirit production. 

In this article we explore the meaning behind "craft whiskey", its characteristics, its overlap with other types of whiskey and its place in the greater context of craft spirits. 

Read on to find out more! If you're a new reader, we recommend joining our community for free to stay up to date with whisky content in South Africa and around the world.

whiskey glass placed on to craft whisky cask

What is craft whiskey? Meaning & context in South Africa

South African Whiskey

Mar 10, 2024

Craft whiskey is a term often discussed in the context of small batch whiskey or more general craft spirit production. 

In this article we explore the meaning behind "craft whiskey", its characteristics, its overlap with other types of whiskey and its place in the greater context of craft spirits. 

Read on to find out more! If you're a new reader, we recommend joining our community for free to stay up to date with whisky content in South Africa and around the world.

whiskey glass placed on to craft whisky cask

What is craft whiskey? Meaning & context in South Africa

South African Whiskey

Mar 10, 2024

Craft whiskey is a term often discussed in the context of small batch whiskey or more general craft spirit production. 

In this article we explore the meaning behind "craft whiskey", its characteristics, its overlap with other types of whiskey and its place in the greater context of craft spirits. 

Read on to find out more! If you're a new reader, we recommend joining our community for free to stay up to date with whisky content in South Africa and around the world.

What is craft whiskey?

Craft whiskey is usually produced by distilleries operating on a small scale, with an emphasis on imparting a distinct profile on the whisky, smaller batch production , sometimes making use of local or sustainably sourced ingredients and innovative, or traditional production methods with a twist.

Producers of craft whisky typically prioritise the hands-on involvement of a master distiller from start to finish.

 The "craft" designation signifies more than just the size of the distillery; it underscores a dedication to creating unique, high-quality spirits, with each batch reflecting the distinctive vision and meticulous care of its producers and often the region of the production.

Is craft whiskey produced by larger distilleries?

Yes, larger distillers can and do produce craft whiskey, often through small-batch, experimental, or boutique lines within their broader portfolio.

These offerings aim to capture the artisanal spirit and innovation typically associated with craft distilleries, focusing on quality, unique flavour profiles, and limited production runs.

By doing so, large distillers bridge the gap between mass production and the craft market, catering to consumers seeking craft whiskey characteristics with the resources and distribution capabilities of established brands.

The marketing & hallmarks of craft whiskey

With each of its hallmarks, craft whisky tells a unique story - which is why distillers typically spend more time curating a narrative their releases under this category, to embody the essence of their approach, and connect with the hearts and minds of whisky lovers. 

The marketing of craft whiskey focuses on highlighting its distinctness from mass-produced spirits, focusing on key elements that convey the essence that is conveyed by the word “craft  in the context of spirits.

  1. Small-Scale Production: Highlighted in marketing, small-scale production underlines the exclusivity and detailed care in craft whiskey, showcasing the attention to quality at every step.

  2. Traditional or Innovative Production Techniques: Craft distilleries' use of traditional and innovative distilling methods is a central theme in their production and marketing, illustrating the craftsmanship and creativity that set their craft whiskey apart.

  3. Local Sourcing and Sustainability: Emphasising locally sourced ingredients and sustainable practices appeals to consumers' desire to support environmentally responsible and community-focused products.

  4. Personal Stories: The narratives of craft distilleries, focusing on their origins and the people behind them, create a connection with consumers, adding authenticity and identity to the whiskey.

  5. Quality & Tailored Flavour Profile: Marketing efforts spotlight the superior taste and complex flavour profiles of craft whiskey, positioning it as a premium option for discerning drinkers.

Craft whiskey may fall into the category of small batch whiskey - or the even more niche market of tiny batch whisky - by sharing some characteristics, mainly related to its small scale production and tailored flavour and aroma profile.

We also cover small batch bourbon production and the characteristics associated with bourbon within the small batch niche in a related post.

small batch whiskey in bottle
small batch whiskey in bottle
small batch whiskey in bottle

What are craft spirits? 

Craft spirits are produced by independent, often small-scale, distilleries committed to quality, craftsmanship, and ingenuity across a variety of spirit categories, including whiskey, gin, vodka, and rum.

Distinguished by their limited production runs and tailored approach, craft spirits frequently feature high-quality, locally sourced ingredients.

Producers of craft spirits are known for exploring innovative distilling methods and flavour combinations, aiming to provide consumers with exceptional and diverse drinking experiences that stand apart from those offered by larger, mainstream brands.

Craft whiskey in the context of craft distilling

Craft distilling refers to the practice of producing spirits in small quantities, with a strong emphasis on artisanal techniques, quality, and distinctive flavour profiles.

Craft distillers engage deeply with every aspect of production, from the selection of ingredients to the distillation, aging, and bottling processes. This comprehensive approach allows for a level of innovation and experimentation often not feasible in larger operations, resulting in spirits that offer a rich array of tastes and experiences.

Craft whisky in South Africa: Short overview and background

Craft whiskey in South Africa is gaining traction, despite stringent regulations that challenge new distilleries.

South African law, as outlined in the Liquor Products Act, mandates specific conditions for whiskey production, such as a minimum three-year aging period in wooden casks, and allows the use of any grain for whiskey production. This regulatory environment significantly impacts the pace at which craft distilleries can introduce their whiskey products to the market.

South African craft whiskey distinguishes itself through a focus on local ingredients, innovative ageing processes, and unique production techniques.

Let's have a look a 3 South African craft whiskies in particular below.

Best South African craft whisky to try

The "best" South African craft whisky is subjective, and finding your favourite craft whiskey produced in South Africa might involve a taste test of a number of drams until you find your favourite.

Some of the craft whiskies we cover below include feature releases from small batch distillers or a limited line in a larger distiller's whiskey portfolio that highlights an innovation or unique approach in the country's whisky production.

Three ships 10 year old single malt whisky bottle
Three ships 10 year old single malt whisky bottle

Three Ships 10 Year Old Single Malt Whisky - James Sedgwick Distillery

Three Ships 10 Years Old was South Africa's first single malt whisky highlighting an innovation in the industry's whisky production, and has become a celebrated dram released 4 times since its initial launch in 2003.

This whisky is aged in specially selected American oak casks of varying ages - while the older smaller casks contributed to the whiskey's smoothness, the younger casks drew out fruit and oak flavours. 

limpopo reserve 10 year
limpopo reserve 10 year

Limpopo Reserve 10 Year - Qualito Craft Distillery

Qualito's Limpopo Reserve 10 Year captures the essence of the Limpopo province with its warm, vibrant climate influencing the whiskey's character.

This single barrel whiskey, matured in South African red wine oak barrels, showcases a rich palette of caramel and fruitcake flavours, with a musky aroma that invites a deeper exploration. 

This award-winning whisky is also crafted with non-GMO grains and subject to a triple fractional distillation process, it is unchilled-filtered, and free from colourants.

helden cherrywood whisky
helden cherrywood whisky

Single Malt Spirit Finished On Cherrywood - HELDEN 

Helden's Single Malt Spirit aged on Cherrywood with AccelerAge® technology, melds traditional malting with innovation, producing a spirit of rose gold hue. 

Its aroma blends fruity, floral notes with a hint of ginger, leading to a savoury sweet palate with spice touches. 

It's non-chill filtered, bottled at 46% ABV and showcasing natural gold hue, with a crisp and dry finish. This spirit exemplifies the fusion of heritage and modernity in craft distillation.

Final thoughts on craft whisky

We hope you've enjoyed learning more about craft whiskey, and some of the key characteristics to look out for - including its small batch production, precisely crafted flavour profile, incorporation of innovative production techniques or its use of a traditional technique in a new landscape, as well as utilisation of local ingredients, and surrounding environment. 

We urge you to explore craft whisky from around South Africa and across the world to find your favourite. As whisky enthusiasts, we also cover a wide range of topics on our whiskey blog.

Whether you're interested in tastings, and you are searching for a whisky tasting in the Western Cape, or you're looking to learn more about the differences between bourbon, scotch, whisky and whiskey in an informative comparison - we have something to suit your whiskey interests. 

You can also join our community to follow along with our whiskey news and adventures.

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Frequently asked questions about craft whiskey & craft spirits

What is a craft distillery?

A craft distillery is characterized by small-scale production focused on quality, innovation, and unique flavor profiles. In South Africa, the craft spirits industry gained significant momentum after 2003 when legislation favoring microdistilleries was relaxed. This shift has allowed for a resurgence in local distilling knowledge and expertise, leading to a wide variety of high-quality spirits​​.

How many craft distilleries are there in South Africa?

The craft distilling scene in South Africa has seen significant growth, particularly after legislative changes in 2003 facilitated the operation of microdistilleries. This vibrant market is now home to numerous craft distilleries, each contributing unique spirits that highlight South Africa's rich botanicals, innovative distilling techniques, and diverse cultural heritage. Here are some craft distilleries in South Africa:

  • Deep South Distillery: Known for its award-winning gins that incorporate the flavors of the local fynbos and the scenic beauty of Cape Town’s southernmost parts.

  • Qualitico Craft Distillery: Located in Phalaborwa, it produces a variety of spirits, including unique whiskeys that reflect the distinct character of the Limpopo province.

  • Other notable craft distilleries include Drayman’s Brewery, which has expanded from brewing to distilling, offering spirits like single malt whisky and Wilderer Distillery, celebrated for its gins and innovative moonshine products.

Which alcohols are produced in South Africa?

In South Africa, a wide range of spirits is produced, reflecting the country's diverse agricultural landscape and rich cultural heritage. The most produced types of alcohol include:

  • Beer: Beer is the most widely produced and consumed alcohol in South Africa, with a rich variety of both mass-produced and craft beers available across the country.

  • Wine: The country is renowned for its wine production, particularly from regions like Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Paarl, producing internationally acclaimed wines.

  • Brandy: South Africa also has a strong tradition of brandy production, with several award-winning brandies that adhere to strict production standards.




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Join the craft cask whiskey community!

Become a member of our whiskey community for free to get access to an exclusive range of curated content - from reviews of top drams, to unique whiskey tasting experiences, and insights into the latest industry trends—our mailing list content is a valuable source for whiskey enthusiasts looking to stay in tune with the world of whiskey. 

Don't miss out, join our community today.

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Copyright © 2024 Craft Cask

Join the craft cask whiskey community!

Become a member of our whiskey community for free to get access to an exclusive range of curated content - from reviews of top drams, to unique whiskey tasting experiences, and insights into the latest industry trends—our mailing list content is a valuable source for whiskey enthusiasts looking to stay in tune with the world of whiskey. 

Don't miss out, join our community today.

Copyright © 2024 Craft Cask

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