Gone are the days when brandy was the tipple of choice of old men dressed in smoking jackets clustered around fireplaces. Brandy is fast emerging as the drink of choice of the young and trendy as this year’s ‘Fine Brandy Fusion’ event proved.
An hour into one of the three nights over which the event spanned saw the Sandton Convention Centre, this year’s host venue, packed with the ‘upwardly mobile’ who moved from stand to stand in ahem, high spirits.
According to the SA Brandy Foundation which backs this annual event, more than 80 percent of brandy drinkers are aged below 50. The highest numbers of consumers are aged between 35 and 49, followed closely by those aged 25 to 35 and 18 to 24. The foundation explains that “there is no appreciable difference in the size of the age groups. This tells us that brandy holds a very broad appeal.” Interestingly brandy is also reportedly growing in popularity amongst women.
South Africa’s brandy history began in the 1650’s when it was first made in the Cape by European settlers. According to the foundation, South African brandy has undergone two ‘watershed’ developments. The first occurred at the beginning of the 1900’s when a French émigré named Rene Santhagens shared the secret of fine French brandy – cognac - with local distillers. The second watershed happened in the 1990’s when stifling control over grape growing and private distillation by a single statutory body ended with the fall of apartheid.
Since then, South African brandy has enjoyed an enviable revival, is being used as the basis for a colourful and dynamic range of trendy cocktails and drinks and has even won the coveted title of ‘Worldwide Best Brandy’ at the International Wine and Spirit Competition ten times over the past 13 years. No mean feat given that over 7000 spirits and wines from 80 countries are submitted and judged ‘blind’ by panels of international experts at this event.
If, like me, you are new to the world of brandy, there are a few facts you need to become acquainted with. There are three different types of brandies: pot still, vintage and blended. Pot still brandies are the most exclusive with most being 100 percent ‘pure’. Pot still brandies are invariably gold in colour and are best enjoyed neat, in a brandy balloon glass with a few blocks of ice or a dash of spring water.
Only a handful of vintage brandies are made in South Africa. These can be distinguished by their strong wood matured character imparted by a blend of pot still brandy and wine spirit, both of which are matured in oak barrels and vats for at least eight years.
Blended brandies feature a higher alcohol content than pot still and vintage brandies because they are meant to be enjoyed with a mixer like water, fruit juice or cola.
It’s also important to familiarise yourself with the various brandy tasting ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ and be able to recognise the various aromas associated with brandy. A ‘tunnel’ featuring large snifters imbued with the various brandy scents was incorporated into this year’s Fusion event. Typical brandy aromas range from the herbaceous such as grass and eucalyptus to fresh or dried stone fruits, flowers, vanilla, cedar wood, toast, chocolate and butter.
A number of high end lifestyle brands including Montblanc were showcased alongside the various brandy products at this year’s event. Tasty food pairing classes, aerial artist displays and brandy master classes also took place throughout the evening. Those who felt they had overindulged could do the responsible thing and utilise the services of cabs which had taken up position outside the event.
If the accolades, attendance, diversity of drinks and statistics are anything to by, it would seem that brandy, specifically local brands, have a bright future ahead of them. Cheers to that!