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We have a winner!

After much deliberation and some amazing whisky stories that made me and my fellow judge laugh and go “aww”, we have a winner of the Whisky Live tickets and a bottle of Highland Park – Claudine du Toit!

I’m a romantic soul at heart and also want more women to get into whisky, so Claudine cinched it. Although I must give an honourable mention to Mark Stacey and AJ Nel, who are obviously both very passionate about their ‘water of life’.

Here’s Claudine’s story:

“My dad drank whiskey and whisky when I was growing up so I always knew what it was. I tried it with soda a few times, but I couldn’t get a taste for it and so, disregarded it as “an old man’s drink”. Years ago, a group of us decided to do a road trip through Scotland. There was one rule – you may only drink whisky or water. For the entire trip I swallowed the drink and didn’t say a thing, this was the land where it all began. We stopped at distilleries, we tasted the well known great names and had a jolly time. I followed up this trip by travelling to Dublin and tasting the Irish version, whiskey. I had to admit that it was growing on me, but I was still not convinced that this was truly the “water of life”. At this stage I decided that my dad couldn’t change me, Scottish highlands and Dublin pubs couldn’t convince me and whiskey would never be my drink of choice.

Then came along this young man who blew me away, knocked my socks off and turned my world around. We lived on a game reserve and he was a game ranger. As part of his attempt to get me to say yes to dating him, he promised me a romantic sunset game drive. I agreed and off we went. Bathed in a golden light, the bush glows as the sun is about to set and Mr Rugged Ranger stops the vehicle. I expected champagne to be popped then slowly sipped as the sun disappeared. Not this man! He has a tradition that would stand regardless of what Cosmopolitan magazine says – he reveals a bottle of whiskey. He brings out two glasses, adds three blocks of ice to each and then pours in a generous amount of golden liquid. Unplanned, but perfectly timed, we heard the lions begin to vocalize in the distance. “Slante” he said and we clinked our glasses, “to Africa, to life and always having a whiskey in your hand”. I smiled, took a sip and sat back to watch the sunset. That was the moment I knew that I would marry that rugged ranger. That was also the moment I realised just how good whiskey can be. Now, it’s become my drink of choice and it’s the way we celebrated when he popped the question this year. (Obviously, “rugged ranger” will join me for the whiskey night).”

Win tickets to Whisky Live & a bottle of Highland Park 12 Year Old

“The day you enjoy whisky for itself, your whole world changes.”

That’s what Gerry Tosh, Head of Brand Education for Highland Park, told me earlier today and I couldn’t agree more. I eased myself into whisky-drinking by mixing blended whiskies with ginger ale or appletiser, which is perfectly acceptable according to Gerry. Then, once you’ve gradually acquired the taste you can move onto the magic of single malts.

Gerry Tosh hard at work

Like most men, Gerry started drinking whisky to impress his girlfriend, but it ended up becoming his passion and career. He is a very down-to-earth Scotsman with no time for esoterics. “Whisky is simple. People make it complicated,” Gerry says in his Gaelic lilt.

That said, Highland Park has won numerous awards and is regarded as one of the top five single malts in the world. So it’s quite impressive that Gerry, who is only 35, has already been made a Keeper of the Quaich (the youngest male keeper), a society that educates and promotes the whisky industry. Interestingly, a woman is the youngest keeper, and Gerry says the number of female drinkers is growing globally, especially in Taiwan, Greece and France.

So what does it taste like?

Highland Park uses American Oak sherry casks which impart vanilla and butterscotch flavours. The distillery is on Orkney island, pretty much as far north as you can go in Scotland. Because the climate is so harsh there aren’t many trees, which means the peat used is less woody and therefore less smoky.

This is what makes Highland Park such an aromatic and well-balanced single malt whisky. But don’t take my word for it, rather enter my competition and try it for yourself.

All you need to do is email me (amandasevasti@gmail.com) your whisky story – when and why you fell in love with “the water of life” – and if I like it I’ll give you a set of double tickets to the Whisky Live Festival in Joburg tomorrow night and a bottle of Highland Park 12 Year Old.

You have until 10am tomorrow. The winner will be announced at noon. Wow me.