Getting into the spirit of brandy

2011-09-21 09:04

It has long been the embarrassing member of the spirits family, shunned by the young and stylish because of its poor-cousin image. In an effort to bring sexy back to brandy, Mokgadi Seabi sat down with some aficionados for a tasting with a difference

What do you know about brandy? For some reason, most people tend to know more about the wine and whisky making process than they do about both beverages’ close cousin; brandy.

This is the drink identified with the old uncles at family celebration, the beverage passed around in its tot cap accompanied by umqombothi and the liquid used as a gift at ceremonies such as lobola negotiations and circumcision celebrations.

Because of that, brandy has gained a reputation as an “an old man’s drink” as opposed to the others like whisky and wine which are affectionately referred to as the “gentleman’s drink” and “nectar of the gods”.

But, says Helmuth Kisting, a brandy ambassador for Distell, brandy is one of the country’s most profitable and award-winning exports.

When he talks about it, you’d be forgiven for assuming he’s talking about a cherished pet. And don’t even dare mention the words “brandy” and “coke” in the same sentence.

“For me, brandy evokes good memories of sitting with my dad after a long week and sharing a glass or two,” he says.
Not so for Socrates Hlapolosa who’s a self-confessed “whisky and beer guy”.

“I don’t know why I never saw brandy as an option; I guess it’s the myths that you grow up with and they stick. For instance, my friends have told me that it gives you a hangover. Interestingly, I’ve never seen any of them drink brandy,” says the Joburg-based software developer.

And indeed, it seemed to be the general consensus in the private room of the highbrow Grillhouse restaurant in Rosebank, Joburg, where we – along with DStv – have invited some people to a brandy tasting.

The guest list was made up of young professionals and some brandy experts. Not an octogenarian in sight.
Kisting takes the guests on a journey of brandy making, enthusiastically extolling the virtues of the drink, how it’s made and its variants.

“Brandy has never been my thing. And really, it’s not even fashionable to drink brandy,” says accountant-in-training Sibongile Gumede.

But when she tries an Oude Meester Demant-based cocktail, she is pleasantly surprised. “I like that it looks red and can be drunk as a cosmo on a chilled day. I didn’t expect it to taste so delicious,” she says.

The next brandy Kisting introduces is the Flight of the Fish Eagle, mixed with lemon and Pongrácz Cap Classique to bring out the wine characters of the brandy.

This brandy was paired with a main consisting of sole and mashed potatoes.

Red meat lovers who chose the beef fillet as their main had an opportunity to sample the award-winning Van Ryn’s 15-year-old.

The rich texture of the brandy, with its warm spices of nutmeg and cinnamon, should have made it a perfect pairing for the red meat but ultimately proved too strong on the palate.

“All you need to do is add a bit of water to release the characters and your brandy will taste better with the food,” advises Kisting.

When the 15-year-old Klipdrift Gold was brought around, it was accompanied by vanilla ice-cream.

By this time, it seemed that the tasters were less interested in the dessert. It was more about the brandy and this time, it was served clean.

The best was saved for last in the form of the pot-still matured Van Ryn’s 20-year-old. “This is one of our finest brandies which should never be mixed with anything. If you really want to appreciate it, have it clean,” says Kisting.

So it seems in whisky speak, the pot-still matured brandy would be what is called a single-malt instead of the blended variety.

Says Hlapolosa: “I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I suppose it’s all matter of the palette and what suits you. I can now make an informed decision, not based on price but on which one tastes better for me.

“For example, I would choose the Klipdrift Gold and Oude Meester Demant because they are more subtle on my tongue than the 20-year-old Van Ryn’s.”

At the end of the night, most tasters were more willing to explore brandy.

“I’m definitely going start drinking some brandy, especially if it comes in a nice packaging like the Collison’s White Gold brandy or prepared in a sexy way like they did with the Demant,” says Gumede.

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