WhiskyBrother is made to tingle all kinds of palates

Len Maseko Drinks on the House
WhiskyBrother co-owner Marc Pendlebury.
WhiskyBrother co-owner Marc Pendlebury.

Rarely do whiskey enthusiasts get to face a dizzying choice of 900 different whiskies without being awed by the vastness of the selection.

A place that poses such intoxicating dilemma for a tippler is none other than Joburg's first dedicated whiskey bar, WhiskyBrother Bar, which was launched recently and boasts a staggering collection of whiskies dominated by Scotch and others from 15 countries.

Yet WhiskyBrother's distinction perhaps warrants some context as there are a few other whiskey watering holes already operating in the city's northern suburbs.

But none match the new joint in terms of size and variety of spirits in stock.

Not every day also does one encounter a bar whose prices range from R25 to a whopping R6500 a tot.

Hence the visit to the bar's premises at Morningside Shopping Centre naturally marked by curiosity.

Five years ago, WhiskyBrother opened the Hyde Park specialist store which became the springboard of the new bar with an impressive range of rare and iconic whiskey brands.

Japanese whiskey, Karuizawa, is a bank breaker at R6900 a tot.
Japanese whiskey, Karuizawa, is a bank breaker at R6900 a tot.

At first glance, the dimly-lit bar with an elegant lounge section and a towering cabinet filled with eclectic whiskies exudes a laid-back ambience.

Intoxicating might be the more apt description of the overwhelming feeling one experiences at the sheer sight of such a massive collection.

Cutting to the chase, I asked to see the most expensive in the house from a selection that is 80% Scotch and which apparently is increasing by 100 nearly every week.

The lot is expected to reach 1000 labels by the end of this month, according to co-owner Marc Pendlebury.

Paradoxically, it turned out the most expensive is not a Scotch but a Japanese whiskey called Karuizawa, with a 1980 age statement, priced at R69000 a 750ml bottle, or R6900 a tot! Well, this is because of its rarity and the fact there are reputedly only 10 left around the world, and all are from a Japanese distillery of the same name which closed down years ago.

The bottle was three quarters full, meaning a few tots have already been gulped.

Japanese whiskey is in vogue at the moment, having gradually risen to fame since the birth of the malt industry there more than 80 years ago.

At least six distillers apparently still exist in Japan, with the most iconic and instantly recognisable malt from the country being Nikka, the world's second largest producer of single malt whiskey.

Pendlebury bought the Japanese whiskey during a visit to London.

"Getting a bottle of Karuizawa whiskey was not so easy; I had to apply first before it could be sold to me - it is so rare, and this is one of the only 10 bottles in the world."

So jealous of the whiskey that Pendlebury will not sell a tot of the rare whiskey "just to anyone".

He is adamant that he would serve this kind of pricey malt only to a discerning whiskey connoisseur who truly knows their stuff - "not anyone who just walks in and wants to show off their money by buying three or four tots of Karuizawa, and quickly slug it down with ice or water".

Interestingly, WhiskyBrother's price range accommodates all palates. At R50 one can still get a spirit that is decently quaffable as another costing R200, depending on the label.

Whiskey fundi Valentine Maseko serves whiskey patrons with a smile.
Whiskey fundi Valentine Maseko serves whiskey patrons with a smile.