The History of South African Brandy October 30, 2023
Blue distillate - and how to correct it June 06, 2023
The History of South African Brandy
In the early 16th century, the Dutch East India Company had established the Cape of Good Hope as refreshment station for traders travelling between the Dutch Republic and Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies. The supply station was intended to provision ships making the estimated yearlong voyages.
Alcohol had two very distinct uses on lengthy sea journeys, three if you were to ask a sailor, and was therefore in very high demand. First, it was used as a disinfectant, added to water to kill unwanted organisms. Secondly, it could be used to preserve wine. Acetobacter arguably enjoyed the hot and humid hold more than the ship’s crew and frequently turned wine into vinegar, until it was discovered that the bacteria couldn’t live in wine with an alcoholic strength of 20% or greater.
In 1672 an assistant cook aboard the Dutch ship ‘de Pijl’ anchored at Table Bay discovered the potential of local grapes and transformed 1164 Liters of Cape wine into 126 Liters of “brandewijn”, referred to as “burned wine” which later became known as “brandy”. Not only did the traders rejoice because of the delicious taste of the spirit, it also meant they would be able to ship more wine in the limited cargo space.
Today, South African brandy is recognized as the finest in the world, having been awarded the title of ‘Worldwide Best Brandy’ at the International Wine and Spirits Competition 16 times in the last 20 years, more than any other country. There are a few regulatory factors needed for a brandy to be recognized as ‘South African’. The brandy must be produced from wine made from domestic grapes, and must be distilled, matured, and bottled in South Africa.
There are three types of brandy produced in South Africa. Pot still brandy (Cape brandy), which is produced from a base wine that has been double distilled in a copper pot still, aged for a minimum of three years in French or American oak casks not exceeding 340 Liters and have at least 38% ABV. Blended brandy, which is a combination of unaged neutral grape spirit created in a column still produced at an alcohol strength of 96.4% and 30% pot still brandy, diluted to be bottled at a minimum ABV of 43%. Vintage brandy, which consists of 30% pot still brandy and a minimum of 60% column distillate grape spirit, both of which have been aged at least 8 years.
South African brandy is a flexible spirit that can be enjoyed in a myriad of ways be it neat, on the rocks, in a cocktail or mixed with good ol’ Coca Cola. In the famous words of Samuel Johnson, “Claret is the liquor for boys; port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy.” And to add to this: “he who wants to be a super-hero must distil brandy”.