To the heart of brandy-making

There’s so much more to brandy than simply mixing it with coke for that braai staple. South Africa produces some of the world’s best brandies, which regularly receive top honours at major international competitions.

We go on a brandy-making course to uncover the mysteries of this historic Cape spirit.

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Today the Introduction to South African Brandy Course by the Cape Wine Academy is held at Van Ryn’s Distellery. In the front lounge a 200-year-old potstill has a fire blazing at its heart. It’s an opulent setting, that evokes just the right amount of luxury and history for the distellery’s premium pot still brandies. 

The course begins with a lecture—a fascinating one. We learn that the first brandy was made in South Africa in 1672 aboard a Dutch ship, by its chef.  That South African brandy is about an expression of the fruit, rather than simply relying on oak flavours. That we’re collecting international awards as simply as if we were going cherry picking. Though our brandies weren’t always so revered; much of the earlier stuff was known as Cape Smoke. Acrid, horrible spirits.

Did you know with today’s brandies that no sulphur dioxide is permitted? So grapes are picked early to retain acidity—a natural preservative. And that all South African brandies have to contain at least 30 per cent of potstill spirit? 

We break for lunch followed by a tour. Gleaming copper potstills of all shapes and sizes make up the distellery's workforce.

The tour culiminates in a cooperage demonstration, where a uniquely skilled craftsmen shows us how he makes an oak barrel from scratch with his own handcrafted tools.

The days ends with a tasting of South African brandies - followed by an exam. Wish us luck! 

The course
The Cape Wine Academy has developed the Introduction to South African Brandy Course that is run four times a year in both Johannesburg and Cape Town at a cost of R350 per person.   

The half day workshop imparts a deeper understanding of the subtleties of flavour and aroma found within the different styles of this noble spirit. Production of brandy is strictly regulated in South Africa and our legislation allows for three different types of brandy; blended brandies, vintage brandies and potstill brandies, each with their own purpose and distinctive flavour profile.

There is both a practical and theory component in the course before participants are tested on their new found knowledge and certificates are awarded to all those who excel. After a brief introduction into the 300 year history and heritage of South African Brandy the really fun part of the course starts with a guided tasting led by Distell Brandy Ambassador Nick Holdcroft.

The Introduction to South African Brandy Course is run four times a year, in both Johannesburg and Cape Town at a cost of R350 per person.  The Cape Wine Academy will also host special courses for groups by request.