Africa – the next big whisky market?
We all know the big whisky world markets, North America, South America, Europe, Aisia, Scandinavia, Russia etc etc. but what about Africa? Africa is a continent NOT a country, a billion people. It is 54 countries. And changing by the day it seems. Poverty and a rich top shelf (like anywhere) blend in a hot religious and ethnic mix. Famine, wars and poverty are the daily norm, a growing middle class, so what chance whisky?
Johnnie Walker have found their way. Diageo and Pernod Ricard are the giants. Diageo established itself through a Guinness brewery in Nigeria in the 1960’s. Whisky is the most popular alcohol in Africa and Scotch the most popular whisky. Diageo sells to the premium markets in Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, Angola, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and plans to extend into Ethiopia, Angola and Mozambique. Who knew there were whisky markets there? Certainly not me. My view of Africa as a whole is probably blighted by the news media; poverty and war. So who are the players and where do they play? As afore mentioned, the big boys are already in.
Nairobi ; A bar in the Westlands district – pool tables, flat-screen televisions, and middle income 20-somethings. drinking Scotch. A Johnnie Walker tv ad, shows an African dressed as “Johnnie Walker” in red tailcoat and cravat, carrying an iPad, hostesses with glasses of Red Label. A Johnnie Walker app going on about the character of the dram a flavour experience no other ordinary whisky can match, it says, c’mon JW, they may be up and coming, may be getting more wealthy and able to afford the dram, but they are not daft! According to research, as many Africans get richer, they drink Scotch, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. Johnnie Walker is doing even better: sales doubled in east Africa in 2010, to 790,000 litres. By global standards, Africans don’t drink much whisky. Each Nigerian sups a third of a glass each year on average. A Frenchman gulps doon 40. Diageo has a 20-storey ad on the side of a skyscraper in Nairobi showing JW Black. Africans will drink it to show off (like many a place), with its patronage on culture, whiskies with distinctive labels do well. A bottle of JW Red in a Kenyan market goes for $11 (obviously they do not have to pay the sassunach tax).
Countries such as South Africa, Angola and Morocco offer an opportunity for growth in whisky sales. Tanzania and Ethiopia have emerging Scotch Whisky markets where Scotch is an aspirational drink. The opportunities are great but the challenges even greater methinks. Protecting consumers from counterfeit products, ensuring recognition of Scotch Whisky as a drink made in accordance with the Scotch Whisky Regulations. For instance, a haul of smuggled whisky was discovered at the port in Libya’s capital, Tripoli. It is also illegal to drink alcohol in the Muslim North African. Ethiopia has a good club, Addis Ababa Whisky Club. A fellow Angel Hans Offringa told me a story of North Africa, he was offered bottles of “John Walker”, with the exact same logos and design as JW!
Let’s move south … Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky is distilled and double matured at The James Sedgwick Distillery situated near the foothills of the Bainskloof Pass in Wellington – a 45 minute drive from Cape Town, where South Africa’s first Single Grain whisky is created. In 1850 James Sedgwick, captain of the clipper “Undine” and the pioneer after whom our whisky distillery is named, sailed into Table Bay and decided to make it his home. Nine years after settling at the Cape, he established “J. Sedgwick & Co, purveyor of quality liquor, tobacco and cigars” and in 1886 the company purchased a distillery in the picturesque town of Wellington. The rest, as they say, is history.
And guess what? Aye there is always a Scot aboot; Scot, Andrew Geddes Bain built the Bainskloof Pass which winds across the Limietberg, connecting the town of Wellington to the interior. The Pass was completed in 1853, named after the pass builder Andrew Geddes Bain, Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky is crafted from only the finest South African grain. It’s then distilled and double matured, living its first three years in first-fill bourbon casks before released and re-vatted for a further two years in first-fill bourbon casks. Another award winning brand sneaking out from here is the Three Ships range, tried em, good! Still in SA; WhiskyBrother, Johannesburg’s first speciality whisky store and part of our Angels network. Specialising only in whisky, this new store offers famous blends to lesser known independent single malts, in-house whisky geeks assist with in-depth info and offer recommendations based on taste preferences. WhiskyBrother aims to offer the largest range of whiskies under one roof in South Africa.
To end this wee trip to the Dark Continent, let’s build on some real positives. This year we are looking after a pipe band from Jo Berg; South African champion grade 2 and grade 4 pipe bands of The Transvaal Scottish Pipes and Drums. They are here to take part in the “Worlds” in Glasgow this August. The world champion pipe bands competition attracts bands from the world over (we are also looking after bands from Canada and USA). Whilst here, they will also be making a visit to Tullibardine distillery in Perthshire and sampling many drams in and around Glasgow – look out for them at the Pot Still. Last year we enjoyed the company of 6 guys from Kenya on a whiskey tour of Ireland, including Tullamore, Kilbeggan, Jamesons distilleries etc, plus many tasting events in and around Dublin, they went home … happy! Even came back to us asking about purchasing casks! Finally, there were the fantastic couple from Jo Berg (again) who won a prize with Diageo, who hired us to design and undertake a Diageo distillery tour for them; Oban, Talisker, Blair Atholl among the visits – in the middle of December, not what they were used to.
So, how to end? I am not privy to the big boys plans and only tell my stories from information gained on tour, chatting to fellow Angels and contacts in the industry. But I am sure there will be an explosion of whisky (and whiskey) into the continent not so far away, if it has not already happened. It can’t be long before a new distillery opens up or a new independent arrives. We welcome the day. Now, after all this heavy thought, it’s late, am going to settle down with a nice bottle of THREE SHIPS 10 YEAR OLD SINGLE MALT. Launched in 2003 as a limited release, I was lucky enough to be “gifted” this on my birthday, slainte!
PAUL MCLEAN writes for ANGELSWHISKYCLUB.com