Brandy-making in South Africa goes back three hundred years, but its story certainly isn’t stuck in the history books. A good and enjoyable way to learn about this cultural icon, and discover why it consistently wins global competitions, is available at several, top-class brandy experiences.
Numerous brandy-makers have visitor centres, but some go a step further by offering amongst others, interactions with distillers, food pairing occasions, tours to distilleries and even the opportunity to blend and bottle your own.
These brandy experiences are not exclusively the domain of distilleries, but of a wider network of brandy-enthusiasts too. The round-up below features some unusual activities across the South African brandy-making heartland, from Upington to Elgin.
Cause & Effect, Cape Town
For a broad introduction to the diversity of brandy-makers and the versatility of brandy itself, start with Cause & Effect. The owners describe the upscale venue as an “experiential cocktail kitchen and Cape Brandy bar” that’s inspired by Cape Town’s fynbos, oceans, vineyards and mountain. It’s “a study in creativity …mostly in liquid form,” says co-owner and veteran mixologist Kurt Schlechter. The enterprise re-located last year from the CBD to the historic Rocket Shed at the V&A Waterfront. On the list of brandy cocktails to try are the Table Mountain, a mix of Joseph Barry VS with Green House bitters, rooibos, mint, citrus and sparkling water; and, the Saratoga 99 - house brandy blended with whiskey, maraschino rosso, vermouth and Santy bitters.
Open: Mon-Fri 10:00-01:00; Sat/Sun 10:00-01:00
Contact details: www.causeandeffect.co.za and 021 422 0266
Bezalel Wine & Brandy Estate, Upington
If you’re driving, the trip from anywhere to the Northern Cape hub of Upington is likely to leave you thirsty. Situated on the banks of the Orange River, the region is also one of the biggest producers of the South African wine industry. This has also been home to four generations of Bezuidenhouts, who have farmed the flood plains of the river valley since the 1940s. In addition to the tasting room at their Bezalel distillery, a couple of experiences can be had too, but booking is essential.
Its Full Tasting package – at R100pp - provides a tour of the distillery and maturation cellar, while the private tasting option gives you a personal introduction by distiller Martiens Bezuidenhout and is available for groups of 10 or more.
Open: Mon-Fri 08:30-17:30; Sat 09:00-15:00
Contact details: www.bezalel.co.za and 054 491 1325
When industry-wide limitations on distilling in South Africa came to an end, the practice that had been in the existence on Backsberg 150 years previously was reinstated in 1991 under then-owner and pioneer, Sydney Back. The first blend it released won the title of Best Brandy in the World at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London in 1995. This grand tradition is displayed on the farm through, amongst others, a brandy tasting of the Backsberg 10 and 15YO, alongside a pair of fortified wines. The beautiful potstill that was imported from Cognac, France is used and is accessible to visitors too.
The tasting featuring the brandies costs R60pp.
Open (tasting room):
- Mon– Fri 08:30-17:00;
- Sat 09:30-16:30;
- Sun 10:30-16:30
Contact: www.backsberg.co.za and 021 8755141
KWV House of Fire, Paarl
The KWV House of Fire is a showcase of the brandy-making process located in the historic premises where the company first began distilling. KWV was established in 1918 and started up the distillery in 1926. Its 32 potstills fell silent in the early 1990s when production was moved to larger facilities in Worcester, but they are now part of a permanent exhibition.
The House of Fire is open for tours, but also a brandy blending experience with a KWV master distiller. The company is home to some of the country’s most awarded brandies. The experience includes a presentation and canapés, followed by the opportunity for visitors to bottle their own special blend of brandy and to add a personalised label.
Tours of the House of Fire are available at R120pp, Mon-Fri at 11:30 and 14:30. Bookings are essential for the blending experience, which costs R1 500pp.
Contact: www.kwv.co.za and 021 807 3007
Oude Molen, Elgin
The Oude Molen Distillery Experience is a two-hour interactive occasion that introduces Cape Brandy. Visitors taste their way through the production process – from the base wine to the eau de vie, culminating in a chocolate-paired tasting of the Oude Molen Cape Brandy range.
Booking is essential, at least two days prior to your visit.
Cost: R150 per person.
Tutored tastings of the Oude Molen Cape Brandy range, paired with Lindt chocolates, are also offered at R70pp. Booking is essential.
Available: Tues – Sat, at 11:00 and 14:00.
Contact: www.oudemolen.co.za and 021 859 2517
Van Ryn’s, Stellenbosch
Another of South Africa’s global brandy champions, Van Ryn’s welcomes visitors to its beautiful distillery in the farming region of Vlottenberg. The public area sets an applicably luxurious tone with leather couches and muted lighting. This is the meeting place for its range of tours and experiences.
The Cape Smoke Tasting is priced at R55pp and an extra R20pp for a tour of the distillery. Brandies tasted are Van Ryn’s 10YO Vintage, and 12 and 15YO potstill brandies. The Brandy and Chocolate Tasting is R90pp, plus R25pp for the tour. Similarly, the Decadent Delight Tasting pairs 12, 15 and 20YO potstill brandies with said treats, for the same price.
Van Ryn’s also offers a Non-Alcoholic Tasting at R60pp, plus R15pp for the tour, and swops brandies for fruit juice with either chocolates or “decadent delights”.
Booking is required for groups larger than five people. Distillery tours take place Mon-Fri 10:00, 11:30 and 15:00; and, Sat and public holidays 10:00, 11:30 and 13:00
Contact: www.vanryns.co.za and 021 881 3875
Nuy Winery, Worcester
The Nuy Winery was founded in the 1960s. In 2015, it opened its new visitor centre, called Nuy on the Hill. Its brandy is included in the tasting line-up alongside four wines. The Legacy Copper Potstilled Brandy is paired with a home-made biscuit chocolate fudge.
Called the Wine Pairing Delight, the tasting costs R70pp.
Contact: www.nuywinery.co.za and 023 347 0272
Other brandy experiences
Various restaurants actively promote South African brandy to patrons eager to sample quality and truly South African spirit.
Many of the brandy homes themselves make worthwhile visits:
- The Boschendal winery has an XO potstill brandy in its portfolio;
- Tokara in Stellenbosch produces a 5YO potstill;
- Blaauwklippen is the home of Blaauklippen 10YO
- Windfall, near Robertson, produces The Hunter
- Avontuur, near Somerset West, makes a 10YO potstill brandy
- Die Mas in the Northern Cape town of Kakamas, with its Kalahari Truffle Potstill Brandy as flagship;
- Kaapzicht near Cape Town, with the Kaapzicht 15YO;
- Groot Constantia, the birthplace of SA’s wine industry, has its VSOP;
- Mimosa in Montagu has an 8YO Cape Brandy;
- Upland in Wellington has a range topped by the Leonardo XO;
- Windmeul Cellar near Paarl is home of Windmeul VSOP;
- Dalla Cia Wine & Spirit Company in Stellenbosch, home of H&G Fine Potstill Brandy;
- L’Ormarins, near Franschhoek, which produces the Anthonij Rupert Sagnac, a 6YO brandy distilled in a traditional Armagnac alambic still;
- Grundheim, whose flagship is the Grundheim 12YO Potstill;
- Mons Ruber near Oudtshoorn, which makes a Karoo brandy;
- Boplaas in Calitzdorp, maker of a variety of award-winning potstill brandies
- Barrydale Cellar is home to Joseph Barry brandies
- Ladismith Cellar, of Ladismith 8YO – they can both be tasted at Oude Molen, their sister distillery in Elgin.
All of the experiences listed above are limited to over 18s and all advocate responsible consumption. It is also recommended that you call ahead to confirm your visit.