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The Confusing Brandy Landscape

Much negativity exists towards brandy in South Africa, and most of it is entirely unjustified. We explain the complex brandy landscape and show you what you've been missing out on...

In order to be officially classified as brandy, the potstill component of a brandy must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years.

Brandy production regulations in South Africa are some of the strictest that exist in the world. But these regulations have also created much confusion in the eye of the public, and many misplaced stereotypes are rife. We explain the brandy landcape, and show you what you’ve been missing out on for so long…

3 different categories of brandy can be made in South Africa: Cape Brandy (100% Potstill), Vintage and Blended (or Standard) Brandy. In order to understand these three classifications, it is necessary to have a deeper look at the distillation process, and examine the primary difference between column and potstill distillation

Potstill Distillation
Base wine is added to a still, made 100% of sheet cooper metal, and shaped in such a way that the evaporated spirit is forced up into the neck of the still through convection, where it is cooled, condensed and captured again at the end of spiral pipes.

The first and last thirds of the distillate are discarded, and the middle third is distilled again in a copper potstill. During this second distillation, the spirit is then again separated into thirds, and only the middle third of this crystal clear liquid is captured for final brandy usage.

Potstill distillate is the richest, and most full flavoured alcohol, a literal concentration of the wine. Its slow distillation and subtle copper contact ensure only the best extraction of flavours from the wine.

Column Still Distillation
Base wine enters a stainless steel vessel with many tiers of evaporation and condensation chambers. Once the distillate moves up one level in the column, it is distilled again, and the process repeats itself until in the last chamber of the column, the wine has been transformed essentially into pure ethyl alcohol, at approximately 95% abv.

This clear alcohol, is similar in flavour to vodka, a clean, crisp clear pure alcohol, and has a few different applications in brandy production.

Three styles of Brandy in South Africa

From the above distillation methods, 3 categories or styles of brandy are legally produced in South Africa, and the misunderstanding of these, and confusion between them has led to some very unfortunate stigmas for brandy.

The basic rule applied to potstill brandy is that 100% of the final blend that hits the bottle must have been distilled in a copper potstill and aged for a minimum of 3 years. It is best consumed neat, in a brandy glass, or with a few cubes of ice

Vintage Brandy must contain at least 30% potstill brandy that has been matured for at least 8 years. It must contain a minimum of 60% column distillate that has been matured in oak the same length of time as the potstill component.  A maximum of 10% unmatured wine spirit can be added to this style of brandy if desired. Also best consumed with ice, or mixed with sparkling water, soda water or tonic.

Blended Brandy is made from a minimum of 30% potstill brandy, matured for at least 3 years, and a maximum of 70% unmatured column distilate.

Due to the neutral flavour of the unmatured wine spirit, these tend to be a lot lighter flavoured than potstill or vintage brandy. With a stronger alcohol profile, this style of brandy lends itself perfectly to mixers, fruit juices and cocktails. It is unfortunately this style of brandy, often consumed very strong with large volumes of Coca-Cola that has given brandy its bad reputation.

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