This is undoubtedly the single most significant stage of brandy making. Once the last spirit has been released from the potstill, we have a clear white and infused alcohol with concentrated aromas and flavours of the original base wine. Through the alcohol’s maturation in oak barrels for an unspecified period of time (years), it’s granted its own and final character. The alcohol’s golden hue, along with its complex aromas and flavours that may well never have existed in the original base wine, are passed on.
Brandy regulations in South Africa require that the spirit spends a minimum of three years in the oak barrels during the maturation process for it to be granted classification as ‘brandy’. The barrels that are used in this process are toasted inside under an open flame that allows the character and flavour to transfer to the ageing spirit inside them.
Inside the oak barrels is where the magic happens. When it has been blended, the barrels transfer and mould a concentrated clear white alcohol into a flavoursome, rich, and deep coloured brandy, until it’s finally bottled.
Blending for bottling
When the brandy has matured, it’s time for the master distiller to choose various brandies from various barrels and figure out their personal characteristics. Depending on which final brandy style they’ve decided to produce, each is meticulously and repeatedly blended until the perfect balance of flavour and nose has been reached. This ensures that what’s been promised through on the nose is fulfilled on the palate.
If you’ve formed an impression from reading this that distilling brandy is easy, I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. Once it’s been blended and finally bottled, there’s no need for more maturation. Of course, another process takes place, and that’s one where all elements are becoming familiar with one other and settling into their final place in the spirit. The brandy is finally diluted with distilled water to find the final desired alcohol strength. With most brandy, that would be 38 per cent per volume.
With columnstill distillation, distillation theory is used slightly differently to form a neutral wine spirit from base wine. The resultant spirit is 96 per cent alcohol when removed from the still. It’s also completely free from odour and colour. It’s used in producing certain types of South African brandy.
Brandy conjures up certain images, certainly when it comes to status. It’s easy to picture a politician, for example, with a glass of brandy in their hand, conversing about global events, or businesspeople sat in leather chairs signing contracts.
Brandy, however, is also super trendy, especially when we’re talking about its most popular forms i.e. armagnac and cognac. South African brandy, however, with its potstill double distillation process, and made in the same way as cognac, is highly respected worldwide. Last year (2017) saw South African company KWV win the Worldwide Trophy for Brandy at the International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC).