Is not just for drunk uncles
SA makes some of the best brandies in the world, scooping international prizes year after year. Unfortunately, a few bad connotations still sully the tipple’s reputation. Grethe Koen thinks this should change
Brandy. It’s one of those things that has an indelible association with drunk uncles or Afrikaners with big bellies at the rugby. Despite the spirit being key in some lobola negotiations, it still has a dodgy image. This is a pity because South Africa’s pot still brandies are the best in the world. Not only are they as good as, or even better than, most popular whiskeys, they’re affordable too.
I recently had the pleasure of being invited to a brandy and chocolate pairing by Distell, where I met Cape wine master and international wine and brandy judge Winnie Bowman. I learnt all about our country’s most underrated spirit. “Our brandies are just a cut above the rest,” says Bowman, who admits with a laugh that she has been drinking brandy religiously for the past 15 years.
“Quality brandy is pure, so it doesn’t give you a headache. It’s smooth and doesn’t burn the mouth. It’s just a beautiful drink.”
There are two types of brandy: the blended kind you mix with Coke or soda water (think young Klipdrift and Richelieu); and the pot still kind, which you certainly don’t drink with a mixer and savour as you would a fine whiskey or cognac.
Though our blended brandies are by no means bad, South Africa’s pot still brandies have been dominating international brandy competitions for the past 15 years. Of the top 14 brandies awarded during the International Wine and Spirit Competition this year, seven of them were South African. Our Van Ryn 12 Year was unanimously voted the top brandy at the competition, the fourth time in 11 years.
The other competition of esteem is the International Spirits Challenge. Not only did our Klipdrift Gold win in 2012, it was voted distiller of the year – the first brandy to do so.
So what makes us so good at making brandy? “We’ve got wonderful weather, which means you can taste the sunshine in our grapes. Our grapes are just pristine and clean,” says Bowman. “We also have passionate master distillers who are excellent at what they do.”
How does one become an expert brandy drinker? “Buy yourself a young pot still [we recommend Oude Meester Demant, which retails for only R150] and try it with a block of ice after dinner with coffee or dessert,” says Bowman. “If you like it, you can start experimenting.”
Also, try out a brandy festival. Fine Brandy Fusion in Sandton is an annual June event that is growing rapidly. You can also go for a brandy and chocolate pairing at Van Ryn, or a distillery tour at KWV.
With popular celebrities such as Idris Elba (pictured) now heading Oude Meester’s ad campaign, brandy might slowly but surely creep into our drinking cabinets. But this won’t happen if South Africans don’t start embracing their excellent local products.
It seems we have this idea that anything “from overseas” is elite and better than what we have, when that simply isn’t true. Here, on our doorstep, is a world-class spirit waiting to be embraced.
ROYAL PAIR Brandy and chocolate are a match made in heaven PRICE IS RIGHT Klipdrift Gold is one of the top brandies in the world, and retails for only R279.95