What started as a passion project became an obsession, and then, a business that has just been recognised as the Global Multiple Outlet Retailer of the Year at the 2023 Icons of Whisky, announced in London by premier publication of all things whisky, Whisky Magazine. And the winner is South African.
After two rounds of judging, Joburg’s own WhiskyBrother has bested retailers from across the world, including Scotland, America, Ireland, Japan and Europe.
Regarded as the “Oscars of Whisky”, the Icons of Whisky awards international industry leaders, producers, promoters and retailers.
It’s the second time WhiskyBrother has been recognised by the Icons of Whisky: in 2021, while they still had only one outlet, they were judged the Global Single Retail Outlet.
The recognition is more than a gold star for the retailer, which was born on the pages of social media. Just over a decade ago, Marc Pendlebury started pouring his energy and excitement about the “water of life” into a whisky blog and then a Twitter account, to develop his own knowledge and share his experiences with other whisky-lovers in South Africa.
“I’m not a doctor or professor of whisky. I’m just a humble whisky enthusiast. When I started my blog, it was just a way for me to connect with other drinkers, share what I was learning, and learn from others.”
And after a few years of doing that, it became quite apparent that there was a big whisky community in SA, who were trying to learn and share – and were frustrated by the lack of specialty whisky retailers.
In 2012, the “WhiskyBrother” went all-in, capitalising on his expertise, by becoming the co-owner of a specialist whisky retail outlet in Hyde Park.
“So I ran some numbers and did what I needed to do: sold my car, cashed in a policy, raised a bit of money and opened our first store.”
They have since added two outlets in Bryanston and Bedfordview, launched Jozi’s first dedicated whisky bar in Sandton where customers can taste over 1,500 exclusive whiskies, opened an online store that delivers nationwide (with the country’s largest selection of premium whiskies for purchase, including frequent limited editions and exclusive releases) and organise The Only Whisky Show, an annual whisky festival in Joburg and Cape Town.
Their exclusive whisky releases have always set them apart: Selected by WhiskyBrother directly from the casks, some of their whiskies are not available anywhere else in the world and offer local whisky lovers unique whiskies. On average, they release 20 single casks each year and are on track to reach their 100th release milestone in the next 12 months, Pendlebury said.
“Whisky is what we love – the amazing products, the people that produce and enjoy them, and the wonderful places and stories from those distilleries.
Whether you drink or prefer whisky or whiskey, it is for everyone – from connoisseurs to novices, and WhiskyBrother was never intended to be exclusive, he said.
“We’re agnostic about whisky; we love all whisky. We have over 400 whiskies available, which includes all the name brands and we can offer alternatives to those big name brands. It’s not about necessarily spending more money. It’s about introducing customers to something else.”
Visit WhiskyBrother online or at one of their retail stores.