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Helden Distillery


Helden Distillery, Kopjeskraal Rd , ,
Parys, North West 9585, SA
Helden Distillery
  • Helden Distillery
Featured Spirits
Single Malt, Whisky, Gin

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Welcome to Whiskey Lore's Whiskey Flights, your weekly home for discovering great craft distillery experiences around the globe. I’m Drew Hannush, best selling author of Experiencing Irish Whiskey and Experiencing Kentucky Bourbon and today I will be your travel guide as we celebrate World Whisky Day 2024 by traveling virtually to an area of the globe is known for enjoying whisky and gin, but that has yet to develop its own style. But for South Africans, that is starting to change. And we’ll be meeting today with the man Pieter Van Helden, who is trying to change all of that. 

After a long flight into Johannesburg, it's time to pick up a car hire and head an hour and a half southeast to the Helden Distillery, where we’ll meet Pieter, its founder and head distiller.

And while we wait for the keys and I convert some US dollars into Rand’s, let’s take a moment to learn a bit more about the town of Parys, South Africa, where the distillery is located. 

Parys, South Africa

When you look at a map and see the town name Parys, you might wonder its inspiration came from the French Capital. Rumor has it, it was. When the location was being developed for a town in 1876, a German land surveyor named Schillbach, who was stationed in Paris, France during the Franco Prussian War, felt the Vaal River, that snakes its way through the area, bore a remarkable resemblance to the Seine River in France. Discovery of gold nearby in the 1880s led to fast growth for the town. For those looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg, Parys relaxed atmosphere, antique shops, art galleries, and vibrant weekend markets. I’ll make sure to ask Peiter more about things to do in the area after we learn a bit about his craft.


Well, the drive to Parys is fairly easy, although you do have to pass through Johannasburg traffic. There is a toll gate along the way and its best to have some Rands available to pay as credit cards from international banks may not be accepted. There are also some age restrictions for hiring a car. It’s always good to check those car rental agreements before locking in any plans. The 120 kph speed limit on the motorway (around 75 mph) is a welcomed sight, but there are speed cameras snapping your license plate. Best not to get a surprise charge from the car hire agency, for exceeding the speed limit.  


Rather than grabbing food in Johannesburg, it's worth building up an appetite, as I hear Helden’s not only had a distillery, but also a restaurant. As we make our way into a parking space outside, I’ll tell you how I met Peiter. It was actually over Instagram, when his distillery was nominated for our Bracketology: Craft Distillery competition. To give you a sense of what startups go through, he was the one manning the Helden Instagram account. Such is the life of a start-up craft distiller. When I started researching for this visit, I got a strong sense this distillery was going to focus heavily on terroir and science. Apparently, Pieter and the founding investors have some 5 doctorates in chemistry and chemical engineering between them. What fascinates me is the idea of finding what the whisky flavor of South Africa will be.

As Pieter and I sat down for our conversation, finding out what the drinking culture in South Africa is and what is already being distilled there seemed like a good place to start.

The Interview

Drew Hannush (01:07.661)
Well, South Africa is a very interesting place in terms of, if I were traveling, me being the whiskey fan, I might not actually think of looking for a whiskey distillery in South Africa because I just don't naturally associate whiskey with that area. Talk a little bit about the area that you live in and what people tend to.

gravitate towards there in terms of spirits and or any kind of alcohol actually and You know kind of kind of give us a feel for that

Pieter van Helden (01:48.612)
Yeah, so I started my distillery in Parais, as you mentioned, just a nudge southwest of Johannesburg. And it's not an area known for spirit production or anything of the like. South Africa is actually very well known for its wine industry, which is based in the Western Cape. And together with the wine industry, of course, there's also the South African brandy industry, which is really quite big.

and well renowned worldwide, making brandies in a typical cognac style for the you know the Potsdam brandies that's made there because of also the French heritage into the wine industry in South Africa. So brandies are very big, it's called age spirit in South Africa being locally produced. Whiskey is actually quite big in South Africa, however most of the whiskey in South Africa is imported. We do have other whiskey distilleries in South Africa at the

at the moment as well. The most well -known one is in the is the Sedgwick's distillery in the Western Cape. However, at the time when I started our distillery, there was very few producers of whiskey and very few that aim to be specialist producers of whiskey. You would have the odd gin distillery making something, putting it in the cask for a while, but no other distilleries focusing on trying to do something which is really...

trying to encapsulate the African view on whiskey. And, you know, gin has become a very big and very popular spirit in South Africa. So we have over 300 ginneries in South Africa and only a handful of whiskey producers that has recently started up. So the small scale, let's call it craft whiskey scene is really only emerging now in the last five years or so with some...

Drew Hannush (03:46.125)

Pieter van Helden (03:46.852)
other distilleries like Bourb class producing a six -year -old and a slightly older whiskey. We have only started our distillery in 2018 and really the first production was in 2020. So it's really a very early days for our distillery and in the area where we live it's mostly the agriculture around here is mostly corn.

Drew Hannush (04:08.205)

Pieter van Helden (04:15.94)
So maize farms. However, that's not my distribution primary focus. We focus on malt whiskeys, which is also agriculturally grown in South Africa, but in a different region to where the distillery is actually located.

Drew Hannush (04:30.477)
Very nice. So what kind of setting you apart is this focus on South Africa and really sourcing things from your local area rather than, so first kind of give us an idea. How did you get interested in making whiskey and what was kind of your background before that?

Pieter van Helden (04:53.188)
So my whiskey journey started actually very long time ago in the late 90s while I was still at school. And I joined a university engineering school over a holiday and they showed us different engineering disciplines and one of it was distillation. And to showcase it, they used some fermented fruit and distilled a nice spirit out of the fermented fruit on the lab scale. And I was totally enamored by this kind of this process where you can take

something as crude as the wash that they used and get this beautiful drinkable spirit out of it. So I went back to school, asked the teacher for the extra distillation kit in the lab. May I borrow it? You know, I'll give you something I make just to show you what I'm doing. And she was kind enough to lend it to me and I taught myself how to distill at home. Of course, almost blew up my parents kitchen in the first round.

Drew Hannush (05:46.829)

Pieter van Helden (05:49.156)
So I taught myself how to distill and started mostly with fruit brandies. Very short after that I went to study chemistry and biochemistry and I did my PhD in chemistry. And after starting to work at the local petrochemical industry close to my home, I put up a lab behind my house to start to make my own beer and whiskey. And I started to play around with different grains, different roasted malts.

different yeasts and taught myself all the various dimensions that goes into the design of whiskey. And at one stage I made a very nice whiskey which my friend encouraged me to actually commercialize. And that's where I started looking into does it make sense to commercialize a whiskey from South Africa? And we realized that the whiskey being made in South Africa is very Scotch orientated, which is the...

the main whiskey that most of the Africans have been exposed to. So I decided to do something with this product that I made and build a brand, the Haldane Whiskey brand around it, and to try and find identity which is different to the other distilleries out there. And so our focus, as you mentioned, is on African style products, but also on innovation in whiskey. So to play within the boundaries of whiskey design and say, what can we do that's really innovative? And how do we bring innovation in Africa together in whiskey?

Drew Hannush (07:16.845)
So one of the things that I read up on your website was about the use of proprietary yeasts. So how much did you kind of dive into discovering a yeast strain and developing that for yourself?

Pieter van Helden (07:24.196)

Pieter van Helden (07:34.756)
So when we decided to start the whisky business, the first thing I did while we were still getting the funding, designing the still and all that, is to implement a very active laboratory product development program. And we brewed and distilled quite frequently and tasted various malts, but also various strains of yeast. And I explored quite deeply into the craft brewery strains of yeast.

the Belgian strains, even looked at some mead yeasts and you know trying to find something different out there which at the same time is very efficient but also produces very nice flavor profiles at high temperature. And of course if you stress test many strains of yeast they produce quite a lot of interesting molecules but when you distill them over they are not that great. So developing myself a little database of different yeasts and I

not exactly sure where I got this specific strain of yeast originally but when we made this I realized that this is really the kind of profile I want a very nice set of tropical fruit flavors but at the same time also a very refined set of earthy flavors you know what do you call that tobacco and leather touches at the bottom and depending on which malt you fermented with

You can either focus on one or the other or deliver both to the final product. And this yeast really is the one that I started focusing in on. And to be able to do that, we have a yeast laboratory at one of the universities in South Africa. And I send them a sample and they keep my strain of yeast now in the sample bank and grow my yeast on demand for our production.

So this is not a commercially available yeast. It's not something which you can just try and mimic. It's really a yeast that we've refined and then banked from our laboratory work.

Drew Hannush (09:38.925)
This is something I find fascinating because when I travel across the US, a lot of the distillers, especially in Kentucky, will talk about yeast strains. And that's a very important part of bringing flavor to a whiskey. But if you go through Scotland, a lot of them are just using a distiller's yeast. And they're not really that concerned with the yeast. It's the other things that are going into the spirit.

of what you have tasted out of your new make, how much impact do you think that yeast has on the overall flavor of your whiskey?

Pieter van Helden (10:12.708)
From the new make, I can say that we've designed it, of course, to highlight the flavors of the malts that we use because we use a combination of our South African pale malt and then also some, we augment that with percentage points of roasted malts. But you have to make the yeast work together with those flavors. And if you think about whiskey, there are a lot of design variables in designing a whiskey. The grains, the combination of a grain bowl, the yeast.

How you ferment it, you know, low temperature, high temperature. And if you look at all of that, the yeast plays a very important part. Now you can use a very neutral distillers yeast and then your malts or your peat or your cask will be the main focus. However, what we try to do is to say, how can we design aspects into our spirit before it goes into maturation, which reflects the malt, which reflects the yeast, which reflects distillation process.

and highlight all of that. And so yeast is a very important aspect of our flavor design and on the new make you can really pick that up. On our young whisky range, which I'll tell you about but later, it really focuses on the tropical fruit and specific types of tropical fruit flavors that's produced and in our aged whiskies, the fruity flavors will diminish over time and the earthy flavors will stand up from the yeast production and integrate well with the wood.


Drew Hannush (11:42.829)
Do you find when you're designing a whiskey like this that you are maybe kind of in control of the direction it goes or do you, in other words, you're kind of giving people a first taste into what South Africa, if everything came from that one country, giving them that first opportunity to taste South Africa, do you find yourself playing a little bit to try to create a profile or does the profile just kind of happen?

Pieter van Helden (12:11.652)
I believe whiskey production and the things I like typically is on this beautiful interface between science and art. Science means you can actually measure it, control it and the art is where you make decisions in a high dimensional space which you have an idea where you want to go but it also evolves over time. So the things you can control is the choice of malts, the choice of your yeast, the way you distill it, the way you cut your whiskey which is really important as well.

and then also the choice of your woods. But there is some beautiful art that happens because there is always slight variations in the process. They are, you know, the fermentation is not 100 % temperature controlled. It's in the range of 27 to 35 degrees Celsius and every batch will have a slight variation on its production. And then also your casks can vary quite widely.

So the approach we took was instead of trying to make a product which acts extremely similar every single time, we're trying to focus more on the single -cast expression, where you have a theme and then variations around the theme. And that keeps on bringing diversity and beauty around the same products, around the same design criteria. So you have the base, which is the scientific design from the lab work, and then the arts that plays into that as well.

Drew Hannush (13:19.373)

Drew Hannush (13:39.693)
One of the things that you probably pick up more, well, you definitely pick up more in the wine industry, the brandy industry or vintages. And, you know, that's something that whiskey hasn't really embraced all that much. In fact, I think of a distillery like Val Blare, they tried to do that, but the whiskey audience wasn't quite ready for it. But the idea that if we're going to concentrate on terroir for a whiskey that,

really that grain that you're bringing in season to season, that's going to create variability in your flavor as well, isn't it?

Pieter van Helden (14:16.228)
Absolutely and I think you know depending on how you decide how you produce it and age it that can be either very apparent or very subtle. I mean the variation in wood is probably much bigger than the variation in terroir and depending of using you know ex -Burban cast or new wood we use quite a lot of new wood in our whiskey following a more American style non -temperature controlled aging so your wood extraction and your

oxidized wood flavors are really the prominent players in the flavor profile. And those vary between casks. You can have a flat cask which almost contributes to nothing and you have a cask which is so active you almost have to say, we have to stop this from this maturation early, it's going to over extract. So you have these different things. So I think vintage type of whiskey, although you can't say vintage is not a yearly kind of thing only, it's also a batch to batch kind of thing if you start to go single cask, where you say, okay, you know,

Drew Hannush (15:12.973)

Pieter van Helden (15:15.716)
We distilled this in the summertime, we distilled this in the winter. We had a very cold winter, very dry winter. Like our Highfeld area where we stay, it's actually on top of a plateau. The whole Greater Johannesburg area is on top of a plateau. We've got very dry winters. So you lose lots of moisture from the cask. And actually not a lot of alcohol. So your alcohol actually goes up in the cask instead of down. And so you have these variations which come in. If you have a very hot summer,

Drew Hannush (15:39.693)

Pieter van Helden (15:44.26)
you'll have a larger angel's share, more concentration of your whisky. So there's all these things which we, the way we age in our distillery, mature in our distillery, is not as controlled, which gives a bit of beauty and variation and part of that expression of art. So I think of it more as like a batch to batch variation and you can start collecting based on the batch numbers which we always have on our bottles.

to say, okay, you know, you have the 2020 batch which was distilled during lockdown and strenuous conditions. You have the 2021 year, the 2022, and as you go through, you know, the different years, the different batches in the year, now was it, was it the three years, was it the three and a half years because, you know, we want to release it when the whiskey is ready, not just based on some kind of age statement, which is standard. So testing the cask, say, you know, two releases at three years or five years and looking at it more of a...

of a more specialist kind of whiskey expression.

Drew Hannush (16:44.653)
Well, I think your use of different types of wood creates an interesting variable for you when you're just getting started in trying to age whiskeys using these different types of wood. And I was up in Ireland and I went to the Bushmills distillery in Northern Ireland. And it was interesting because one of the whiskeys they had was aged in African Acacia wood. And it brought such fascinating flavors to me. And I just thought...

If you are somebody who's been distilling in that area for a long period of time and you're used to particular things, you can kind of finish in a cask like that and kind of get a, you know, play with it a bit and maybe not overemphasize. But are you basically, when you're using these different types of wood, cherry wood, hickory wood are some of the ones that I saw, camel thorn, which you'll have to describe that one to me, that, you know,

Pieter van Helden (17:38.948)

Drew Hannush (17:42.797)
Does it seem like, first of all, can you put the liquid in them without them leaking? And then the second question is, how long do you hold on to those? Are you finding the different types of wood are giving you much faster maturation than others?

Pieter van Helden (17:59.268)
Yeah, so quite a number of questions you have in there and they're all very interesting. Firstly, if I can start with that is that, yes, we do use different types of wood. Part of the identity of our distillery is not just African style, but also innovation. And as part of the lab work of developing a range of products, we looked into how you can work with different types of wood instead of oak. As...

Drew Hannush (18:03.553)

Pieter van Helden (18:27.94)
So oak is very important. Our casks are made of oak for our main single malt whiskey. We use two different types of oak in the same cask. So I designed the cask myself. It's not just an ex -Burban barrel or something like that. We really put some thought into what flavors, what combinations of flavors do we want to have in the whiskey and how do we get that from the wood. So the cask we use for our single malt whiskey, it's made from French oak sides and American oak heads.

So you get best of both worlds, you get like the brandy like flavors, the dried stone fruits, the cloves and the French oak spiciness together with those vanillas and caramels from the new American oak in one barrel in one maturation at the same time, which gives you more than just the sum of the parts. So that's how we do our single malt whiskey, which is our main product. However, for our African bonfire whiskey, there we do use Acacia wood in the maturation. And...

What we do is not just pure acacia wood from the get -go Acacia wood can be... It's actually a whole range of different types of wood So the camel thorn is a type of acacia And we have quite a diversity of them here in South Africa All the way from a very white wood called the sweet thorn All the way to the camel thorn which has a very deep red core in the wood with a white outside of the wood So you have two colors of wood

Drew Hannush (19:45.069)
Mm -hmm.

Pieter van Helden (19:56.868)
two different flavors in there and it's very often used for our brise or as you would know barbecue because it gives a very aromatic smoke. So when you actually char and toast the camelthorn wood it releases that bush felt aromas and spiciness. So what we do is for our African bonfire whiskey which is our flagship African style whiskey we not only use the African wood in the maturation process and

Drew Hannush (20:02.989)

Pieter van Helden (20:24.612)
together with French oak. So we want a French oak base and then the Camelthorn wood in there as well. So you get best of both worlds in the maturation, a nice solid base and then these African flavors on top. But we also use indigenous African grain in that product. So in Africa, the original African grains are grains like millet, teff and sorghum. And so sorghum is indigenous grain from this area. It's grown...

and farms around the distillery. So we use a malted red sorghum, which gives a very silky soft spirit. And then we age it in this French oak and camel thorn maturation.

Drew Hannush (21:08.397)
So sorghum to me would seem to add another flavor profile to it as well. But my familiarity with sorghum in the United States is that it's almost a sugar substitute. It's very sweet. And so moonshiners might use it for making what they call sugar shine, which is half corn, half sorghum, or half sugar if they want to do it that way. Is it the same? What is the character of sorghum?

down there.

Pieter van Helden (21:38.532)
So sorghum, sorghum is actually, there's quite a variety in sorghum. So you get your red sorghum, you get like a feed sorghum, you get orange sorghum, white sorghum. Some of the sorghum grown in the US is actually used like, almost used like sugar cane to get a sugar substitute from the cane itself. We use the grain, the sorghum grain, which is grown specifically to make sorghum beers. So in many African countries,

Sorghum beer has been used for a long time. And the indigenous African people used Sorghum to brew a ceremonial beer called Mkomboti. And that inspired me to go down that route. So we don't brew that sour type of beer. We brew a more typical malt wash from that together with some barley, a malted barley to...

just help with the conversion a bit. And so it's really the grain that we focus on there and not the cane sugar extractions. And so it's typical, it's a Stoller whiskey in that sense, which has that character, the soft, silky character that you get from the red sorghum together with a touch of the malted barley in there as well. So it's a mixed grain bowl, but the predominant feature is the majority is indigenous African grain with some South African...

malted barley as well.

Drew Hannush (23:08.301)
I sense, because you do do tours there, that you probably jump heavily into the science of it, do you? Is that kind of your focus?

Pieter van Helden (23:11.78)

Pieter van Helden (23:18.5)
Yeah, so our distillery tours typically happens over weekends. You can book it at the distillery and I take the lead on most of them at this stage still. Where I take people through the process all the way from the grain. I let them smell the different grains, the roasted malt, the sorghum. I let them see it, feel it, show them how we mill it, how it gets, you know, go through the mash tun to the wash. Talk a lot about the fermentation process as you spoke earlier about the yeast and the big role that plays in...

not just converting but also producing flavor, producing acids which converts to more fruity flavors in the still. All those aspects then we go to the still and talk about all the characteristics of the still I designed to specifically focus on these whiskeys using all the roasted malts in there and then take them to the warehouse and show them the casks. Talk about you know our philosophy of maturation.

and how it is inspired by the non -temperature controlled warehouses and the local climate and the rapidity that gives to maturation. I mean, after you can, if you look at the color of our spirit after three years in a cask, it's really deep amber colored just because of the intensity of the high felt aging that we have here. And after that, typically, we can sit down and taste through the whole range of our spirits.

the way from the new make through the young expressions to the cask age whiskeys and then typically end off with something unique like a single malt based gin that we also make on the side for those who come along who typically are not into the whisky but go there with their partners they typically like something like a liqueur or gin on the side as well.

Drew Hannush (25:05.813)
It's tough when you're in a gin -loving region to not include a little gin in just in case to please the rest of the crowd that might not be into it.

Pieter van Helden (25:17.348)
Well, since our identity is about innovation, we also try to innovate in our gin. So we take a cut of our single malt whiskey. So you still have some of that nice malty warmth and base for the gin. Most of the gin in South Africa is made either from a grape spirit or sugarcane based product in the Natal region. So we, one of the few distilleries, we focus on a malt based gin. And then we take a slightly different approach to your typical London dry gin.

Drew Hannush (25:30.989)
Mm -hmm.

Pieter van Helden (25:47.78)
We have quite a lot of different herbs and some local ingredients. Some herbs we grow ourselves next to the distillery. And then also a flower, a fainbos flower, which grows on the mountains around the distillery, which we actually use in there to give a slightly different take on gin. Much more inspired by my Dutch heritage side on the juniefer, the Dutch juniefer, which is designed to be drunk as is, not just with a mixer. So it's a sipping gin. And we also age some of it in our...

some whiskey barrels as well. So that's a new product. We've recently gone through the first experimental phase on that and decided we will do some Kask H gin as well.

Drew Hannush (26:28.237)
So if somebody's coming down to the area, what are some things that they might do as well as coming to the distillery? I understand you have a UNESCO World Heritage Site nearby.

Pieter van Helden (26:40.004)
Well, it's not just nearby, we are actually located inside the World Heritage Site. So it's the Freidefurt Dome Meteorite Impact Crater, which is the world's oldest and biggest meteorite impact crater. So the whole town of Parais, the whole farm that we are located on, is actually encapsulated within this impact crater. And so on the northern side of the impact crater, the mountains that's a remnant there, it's a circular set of mountains which...

Drew Hannush (26:44.557)

Pieter van Helden (27:08.356)
arose from this meteorite impact. And so the the Vaal River, which is one of the big rivers in South Africa flows through this area, quite close to the distillery. So there's quite a lot that you can do there. You can of course, the mountainous area there is very beautiful. You can go fishing, hiking, cycling there in your mountain biking. There's whitewater rafting you can do, horse riding. And Parais itself has a couple of golf courses. So you can make a whole weekend outing and then, you know, come.

the distillery, do a tour and have a tasting there and then also enjoy a whiskey inspired menu from our restaurant at the distillery.

Drew Hannush (27:48.301)
Very nice. Do you do food pairings over there?

Pieter van Helden (27:51.46)
Yes, we do do some food pairings. We typically have two ways you can do that. You can either do it as part of a paired tasting where we focus in on how to pair food specifically with different types of whiskeys. What do you do with a how do you pair something with a spicy whisky, something with a more creamy whisky if you're rich or a more subtle whisky. So we have quite a lot of different flavors in our range from the New Make all the way to our African Bonfire. And then we show people how to pair different things with it, you know, all the way from

tropical fruits through to your nuts and nut forward foods and then also all the way to dark chocolate at the end. But you can also at the restaurant have a whiskey sauce steak together with some of our whiskies which is designed to fit together. So we also have then gin inspired chicken breast and all these type of interesting innovative kind of foods on our menu. So the idea is to really highlight.

what you can do beyond just drinking it on its own because just as with wine it's a flavor experience. We always focus on the whiskey journey not just the journey from your mouth through the palate to the aftertaste but also if you pair it with something how you experience the whole meal as a journey and that's some of the experiences you can have at our distillery.

Drew Hannush (28:58.189)
Mm -hmm.

Drew Hannush (29:13.101)
Well, Peter, you've done a fantastic job of painting a picture for us and getting me excited about actually planning a trip to South Africa at some point to come down and check all this out because it's an area I haven't explored yet. And it'd be a lot of fun to mix some whiskey sipping and get a taste of the land as well. And I really appreciate what you're doing. Thanks for being on the show.

Pieter van Helden (29:39.972)
It's my pleasure and I hope to see you in South Africa soon to enjoy our wonderful climate, wonderful people and a wonderful whiskey.

Drew Hannush (29:48.749)

Pieter van Helden (29:50.404)
Thank you.

Drew Hannush (29:53.581)
All right, hang on just a second here.

Closing Details

I hope you enjoyed this virtual flight to South Africa. If I piqued your interest in tasting and experiencing Helden’s spirits, and you’re wanting to keep track of this and other great distilleries you hear about on the show, make sure to head to whiskey-lore.com/flightswhiskey-lore.com/flights, find the distillery you want to bookmark and add it to your wish list. You’ll also find maps to other distilleries around the globe along with website and social media links, experience descriptions and more. 

Now, stay tuned because I’ll have some closing travel tips if you plan on visiting Heldens, but first, it’s time for This Week in Whiskey Lore.

This Week in Whiskey Lore

For the first time, since its founding, the name Beam will no longer be used in the name of the parent company that owns the Jim Beam brand and its distilleries. The firm announced on April 30th that Beam Suntory is being rebranded Suntory Global Spirits. 

The Beam Suntory name goes back to the merger of Suntory Holdings and Beam Inc in 2014. The change reveals the company's determination to embrace all of its brands equally. 

Both companies have storied histories and both started as family businesses. Suntory's founding goes back to 1899 and Beam going back even further, claiming a 1795, when family patriarch Jacob Beam arrived in Kentucky from Maryland.

Turning the clock back 100 years, on May15th, 1924, history finds George Remus, king of the Bootleggers, taking a break from his stay in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, and testifying before the Wheeler-Brookhard U.S. Senate committee.

The Senators were grilling Remus about his dealings with a friend of President Warren G. Harding’s Attorney General Harry Daugherty. It seems, Remus had paid one Jesse Smith upwards of $250,000 to help get medicinal whisky withdrawal permits for his seven distilleries, including the Fleischmann and Edgewater distilleries in Cincinnati, the Squibb distillery in Indiana, and in Kentucky the Old Lexington, Pogue, Rugby, Clifton Springs and Greendale Distilleries. 

Lawmakers were taken aback when Remus pulled no punches and admitted the withdrawn whisky would not be used for medicinal purposes. He went on to call the medicinal section of the Volstead Act a "farce" saying "I don't think there's one globule of liquor ever prescribed by physicians which actually is used for medicinal purposes."

Remus would return to prison after the hearing, serving out his full sentence. He was released 18 months later on November 2, 1925.

- Washington Times-Herald Fri, May 16, 1924 ·Page 1

The Wrap Up

As we prepare to leave the Helden Distillery, heading back to the airport at Johannasburg, I wanted to give you some side trips to consider, if you’re planning to visit Helden. 

Of course, there are plenty of outdoor activities and for the daring, you might try your hand at skydiving, or for a more grounded experience, consider taking one of the area’s eco-Tours that explores the dome. Or if you’re heading back to Johannesburg, there are of course Safari companies and tours of Johannesburg and Soweto, where you can hear rich stories about life in South Africa.

Closing and Three Things

As we close out our trip to Helden’s and South Africa, let me give you my three reasons why I have this distillery on my Whiskey Lore Wish List. 

  • It starts with my curiosity for tasting the flavors of different regions around the world. With the use of South African grains and storage in South African woods, this is truly the best place to get the flavor of the Rainbow Nation. 
  • My second reason is the focus of pairing with foods. Having a restaurant attached not only creates a chance to taste the flavor of South Africa’s spirits, it also opens me to trying foods made with spirits. Signature dishes include The Helden Steak cooked in a whisky sauce, Whisky flamed Espetada, and a Tarragon Chicken Breast cooked with Helden Gin, Grapefruit. 
  • And I find that distilleries that focus on science tend to make some really unique and fascinating spirits. In Kentucky, think Wilderness Trail or in Scotland, think Bruichladdich.

I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. It’s time to reach for the clouds and make our way from Johannasburg to Beirut. And a week from now, we’ll be touching down in Edinburgh, Scotland to see some of that country’s emerging craft distillers. Make sure to subscribe to the Whiskey Lore podcast, so don’t miss any of the great Whiskey Flights to come. Until we meet again, cheers and Slainte mhath. 

For transcripts and travel information including maps, distillery planning information and more, head to whiskey-lore.com/flights

About Helden Distillery

Located an hour and a half southwest of Johannesburg on the site of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Parys, Helden Distillery offers a unique tasting experience that captures the flavors of South Africa. Founded by Dr. Pieter van Helden, the distillery uses local grains, unique African woods for aging, and a proprietary yeast strain developed by Pieter himself to craft distinctive whiskies.

Visitors can enjoy an informative tour and tasting session, learning about the innovative techniques behind Helden's spirits. The on-site Helden Restaurant is a must-visit, featuring dishes made with their whisky and gin. A food paring will add another layer to your experience.

Listen to the podcast for a deeper dive into Helden Distillery.

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Note: This distillery information is provided “as is” and is intended for initial research only. Be aware, offerings change without notice and distilleries periodically shut down or suspend services. Always use the distillery’s websites to get the most detailed and up-to-date information. Your due diligence will ensure the smoothest experience possible.