“Branne-branne-branne-brannewyn het nie brieke nie”, a simple Afrikaans song symbolizing the South Africans outlook on brandy. We are so conditioned to the culture of brandy, mixed with coke, that red stained cheeks are no surprise to such a ‘sophisticated’ drinking nation, ultimately neglecting the intricate science behind the brandy we so readily buy off our convenience store shelf.
As a fourth-year student of BSc Viticulture and Oenology, I have not come in contact with the distillation of wine as much, but rather the making of wine itself. During one of our courses this semester, we were fortunate enough to receive lectures form Distell. These professional scientist and marketing managers from Distell, completely reformulated my narrow-mind outlook on brandy and excitement towards the brandy industry and an appreciative approach towards brandy as we do not know it. Amongst other things we learned the science behind it, we learned about the alcohol recovery, the difference between column still and pot still brandy and most excitingly the blending of brandy.
In one of our practicals were lucky enough to make up our own brandy blend. We were divided in to groups and we had to make a traditional pot still brandy. As I am not an experience brandy drinker this was a new and exciting challenge. Not knowing how to go about the blending, as scientists, we started off with calculations. In order to make a proper pot still brandy, you need an end alcohol concentration of 38%. In order to achieve this, the alcohol percentages for the brandy blending components needs to be known. This is then calculated in order to determine the amount of water that needs to be added in order to dilute the strong alcohol.
We received the best of Distell’s brandy, which included a 3-year-old, a 5-year-old, a 10-year-old distilled hanepoot and a 12-year-old. Each of these components had different aromas and mouthfeels. We started by smelling all of the different components and our group ended up with a blend that consisted of a 3-year-old, 5-year-old and 10-year-old.
At the end of the practical we were all thrilled and inspired. We just blended our own brandy and we could each take a bottle home to show our friends. I claimed to have ‘made my own brandy’, I felt very impressed with myself.
Looking back on this experience and the divine science behind distilling and blending brandy, I can confidently say that ‘brannewyn’ might not have brakes after all. It is such an amazing drink with hundreds of years’ worth of stories to tell. It is a multicultural, multi-lingual drink that is still to peek in South Africa.
Me, as a young female, with a deep appreciation for grape growers, farmers and the science of alcohol had an epiphany: brandy is a stylish drink. We should embrace the years of “klippies and cola” and never stop innovating and upgrading our perspective.
I would like to thank Distell for the knowledge and the insight your bought to us as aspiring wine makers. It was truly an enriching course and I am now forced to say that the stereotypical South African outlook needs to give brandy a brake.