Potstill Brandy: 100% copper pot distilled, aged in small oak casks of less than 340 litres for a minimum of 3 years and bottled at minimum alcohol strength of 38% ABV. These are the world-beating brandies that are in a class of their own. Locally made and yet regarded as the equivalent of French Cognac, what really sets South African potstill brandies apart is that they are governed by even stricter production regulations than their cognac cousins. Required to be aged in French oak casks for longer, the cask size is also required to be smaller – embuing the brandy with richer, more complex and arguably smoother notes from both the wood and time afforded it. These premium brandies are best enjoyed either neat, with ice or with a little water.
Blended Brandy: This category comprises the vast majority of SA Brandy (more than 99% to be precise). Made up of 30% potstill and 70% unmatured (non-aged) grape spirit, the result is often a relatively compromised product, especially when judged against the standard that Whisky and Bourbon set as a minimum requirement. It also means that, generally speaking, the age statements appearing on 3- and 5-year-old brandies are a tad misleading, with the brandished age only coming from 30% of the content of the bottle.
Vintage Brandy: A category stuck in no man’s land, vintage brandies are a blend of potstill brandy and matured wine spirit. This allows the distillers and blenders to at least draw on the maturation of grape spirit (column-distilled) to attain more complexity and smoothness. The minimum alcohol content is also 38% ABV.
Unsurprisingly, it’s in the area of Potstill Brandy that the industry is starting to excel, both in the excellent work done by the big hitters like Distell, KWV and Oude Molen, as well as a surge of up-and-coming independents and estates like Backsberg, Blaauklippen, Tokara, Die Mas, Boschendal, Upland and others.