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

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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

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