Brandy’s presence in South African history reaches back some 330 years and connoisseurs throughout the world agree that some of the finest brandies emanate from South Africa. The first South African brandy was distilled on 19 May 1672 by an unnamed chef on the Dutch ship De Pijl. This was the start of an industry which has built an excellent reputation for a wonderful product.
There are two brandy routes which can be explored at leisure – the Western Cape and the R62 brandy route. Not too long ago the South Africa Brandy Foundation invited me to join them on an adventure to discover exactly what the latter had to offer.
Our journey took us through Suurbraak and the Tradouw Pass, one of thirteen passes that master road engineer Sir Thomas Bain built in the Southern Cape during the 1800. The pass is quite something and deserves a travel for its beauty alone. The scenic route led us to our first stop – Barrydale Cellars – South Africa’s largest independent producer of pot still brandy.
Barrydale Cellar began to distil its well known brandy in 1941 and ever since, their product range has increased dramatically. They are well known for the Joseph Barry brandy as well as their Barry & Nephews Muscat Cape Potstill brandy. Cellar master Ferdi Smit and his team distill 4 million liters of wine that they receive from grape growers in the region, annually. The alcohol levels of the wine are strictly controlled and range between 8 and 11%. The grapes are picked slightly greener and no sulphites are added, as opposed to normal wine.
Out of the 3 brandies we tasted the Joseph Barry Cape Pot Still Brandy Ten Year old stole the show. This brandy was crowned Best Brandy in the World at London’s International Wine & Spirit Competition in 2009. It’s available from the cellar at R410 a bottle, which is an absolute steal.
After an enjoyable country lunch in the small town of Barrydale we took to the road again. We arrived in the Ostrich capital of the world just in time to enjoy a brandy tasting at Oudtshoorn Cellar. The Oudtshoorn Wijnhuis stock not only their own brandies, but also a selection from its sister cellars Barrydale and Ladismith, and the brandies of various other producers in the region.
The selection of brandies made for an interesting tasting experience and a couple of firsts, such as the Kango Ginger and Kango Buchu Brandy. My favourite from the lot was the Ladismith 8 Year Old Brandy, which comes in a super attractive bottle and retails at R420.
We departed from Oudtshoorn Wijnhuis with a couple of locally produced and proudly Oudtshoorn products as well as an Ostrich egg, which I still need a recipe for. Anyone?
After an eventful and fun-filled day we pulled in at Surval Boutique Olive Farm, located only a few kilometers outside Oudtshoorn. The estate overlooks the Schoemanshoek Valley and the picturesque Swartberg Mountains, which is an UNESCO World Heritage site.
Apart from the 16 luxurious rooms the boutique farm also offers fine food at their restaurant appropriately named Su Casa, meaning ”your home”.
After a peaceful night’s sleep we were back on the road and on our way to Mons Ruber, a small boutique cellar situated on the picturesque road between Oudtshoorn and De Rust. I’ve never come across anything quite like this rustic little place and its people.
Mons Ruber offers a variety of Port, Buchu Brandy, Witblits and their famous copper kettle stilled brandy. The museum-like tasting room displays delicate feather items, dating back to yesteryear, as well as news clippings and photos of the royal visit back in 1947.
To say that this place is bursting with character will be an understatement and if you ever find yourself in this region, a visit is a must. The brandy and spirits on offer are of top quality and the prices dirt cheap.
The final leg of our trip took us to the tiny Klein Karoo hamlet of Calitzdorp, the home of Boplaas brandy.
The Nel Family is part of a rich legacy that reaches back to more than 150 years. Apart from their top-notch brandies, Boplaas is also well-known for their award winning ports and Portuguese cultivar wines. Their range consist out of a 5, 8, 10 and 20 year old brandies of such quality, it makes brandy lovers weep for joy.
The Route 62 Brandy Route must be on the bucket-list of all those who enjoy the finer tastes in life. During our journey we encounter some of the friendliest people, tasted some of the world’s best brandies and enjoyed scenic backdrops unlike any other. It’s an experience and a half, and one that I’ll definitely do over and over again.