In more alcohol related news, I recently became a brandy drinker. And by that I mean: “Someone who regularly partakes in the act of drinking the fine liquor of brandy and enjoys it immensely.” You see, up until last weekend, the only experience I had ever had with brandy was by association. I’d kind of had sips of brandy and coke from other people’s and decided I didn’t like it.
But since moving to Cape Town and attending a 12-week wine course with Cathy Marston
, my palate has really evolved and my knowledge of alcohol has really grown. Which I know makes me sound very pretentious but I’m not even sorry.
Up until last weekend I had only ever tasted pretty cheap, pretty awful brandy, at pretty awful parties. Brandy that can really only be ingested when diluted with coke. My trip to Van Ryn’s Distillery in Stellenbosch however, introduced me to the magic of sipping on a really fine brandy, while relaxing in a plush armchair in front of a fire like the boss, or as a delicious cocktail mixer with some lemonade and mint. And you don’t need to introduce me twice.
I was invited by the folks over at Fine Brandy by Design
to join a group of ladybloggers at the beautiful Van Ryn’s home just outside of Stellenbosch. I’ve driven past the property loads of times and I’m so happy that this time I finally went inside. Van Ryn’s is one of the oldest distilleries in the country and is really beautiful.
There’s nothing like a brandy cocktail and oysters at 11am on Saturday to get you in the mood for some tasting. We were shown around the distillery, which still uses gorgeous old copper potstills to distill their liquor and still makes their own wooden barrels the old fashioned way. We were given a demonstration of the process and I actually became a little bit emotional watching the whole “how it’s made” process, which seems positively medieval in this age of Instagram and really showcases the art of human skill.
After this, it was time for the main event. I’m basically a qualified brandy scientist now. We sat down to a table of measuring jugs, brandy wands (not sure what they’re really called by they look sciency) and eight small bottles of brandy each. We tentatively sipped our way through each bottle, nosing the brandy and getting to know the flavor profile of each of them. I learnt that not any one of those brandy’s would ever be bottled and sold as is, because they are each just the building blocks of what will become a very complex brandy house.
It was remarkable how one bottle contained frangrances of honeysuckle and flavours of granny smith apple while another smelled of spice and tasted of cigars. What was even more remarkable was how those flavours worked together to create a multi-layered flavour spectrum when we blended them together.
By the time we’d waded through all eight brandies I was feeling pretty confident in my brandy mastery and soon I was using my brandy wand to mix together a blend that would be, and I quote from my notes: “Floral on the nose with a full body, smooth mouthfeel and a lingering vanilla palate.” You can tell I had been drinking when I wrote that. Buy I was convinced that my final product was spot on. Van Ryn’s Master Distiller, Brink seemed to agree I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud.
I sipped and sipped at my little blend before finally bottling and naming it. I called mine inspiré par les chatons, which is French for Inspired by Kittens. Everyone laughed at the name but I’ll have the last laugh once I’ve drunken my little bottle of it. I’ll probably laugh a lot. And feel very bad the next day.
We were then treated to an amazing four course lunch, prepared by Chef Laurent of Bizerca Bistro
. Every course was different tartare, paired with a brandy on the rocks and infused with the same blend. I felt so super cool sipping at my brandy and eating my raw meat that I’m thinking of making that my thing. On my tombstone it will read “She loved a good brandy and a bit of raw meat.” But I’m still deciding.
Anyway, it was such an awesome experience and I really do think that anyone, especially girls and especially girls who are interested in wine should visit the Van Ryn’s property and start exploring brandy as a sipping drink and a cocktail mix. Van Ryn’s offers the following options:
Brandy tours: Mon – Fri 10:00, 11:30 & 15:00, Sat & Public holidays 10:00, 11:30 & 13:00, Sun – no cellar tours
Tastings – opening hours: Mon – Fri 9:00 to 16:30, Sat 9:30 to 15:30 and Sun 11:00 to 16:00
Pairings: Brandy, coffee & chocolate pairing and a Florentine tasting
Contact them on 021 881 3875 to book.