What Exactly Are Craft Spirits?


With the recent explosion of premium Gin on the spirits scene, we take a look at what exactly it is, and what else you should be trying.

IT ALL STARTS WITH DISTILLATION

Despite their end differences, all craft spirits ultimately start at the same point. Some base liquid, that contains sugars, is fermented into alcohol, and then distilled – heated to the point where the alcohol leaves the solution before the water, is captured, condensed and returned to a liquid form, now at a higher alcohol strength than before. This distillation generally takes two forms, Batch (Pot) distillation or Continuous (Column) distillation.

In a Pot Still the alcohol is distilled slowly, and in smaller batches, to a form that still retains much of the flavour and aroma of the base alcohol itself. Normally around 70% alcohol, it is the richest, most full flavoured distillate of the two.

In a Column Still, the alcohol is continuously distilled to (in most cases) a neutral alcohol, of around 95%. It has very little aroma or taste, and is in effect pure alcohol.

It’s important to understand these differences, as we explore some popular craft spirits.

GIN

While a number of formal legal definitions exist for different types of Gin, it is widely understood that Gin is produced from any neutral alcohol (In South Africa, mostly Cane Spirit from Column Still distillation) that is macerated with a number of botanicals (the most prominent of which must be Juniper Berries), and then redistilled once more. Most craft Gins are redistilled by hand in small potstills, and common botanicals added include bitter orange peel, liquorice, cinnamon, coriander and nutmeg.

Other styles of Gin also exist, and are legally recognised, whereby flavouring is just added to neutral column still alcohol to create the Gin flavour. These are not generally seen as craft in the eyes of the Gin purist.

CAPE BRANDY

Cape Brandy is 100% pot-distilled wine, made from premium Cape grapes, and then aged in charred oak barrels for many years. Only pot distillation is used and the wine is distilled twice for ultimate purity.

Once aged for a minimum of 3 years, the spirit is mellowed, softened, darkened and enhanced with vanilla, spices and sweet notes from the caramalised sugars in wood barrel. Cape Brandy is reduced to bottle strength using only the addition of pure water, no preservatives or flavourants are added at any stage.

Cape Brandy stands apart as the premium craft brandy offering from South Africa, designed to be sipped neat, on the rocks or with Soda / Tonic water.

Blended Brandy is the most well known brandy in South Africa, and contains only 30% potstill brandy and 70% neutral wine spirit from column distillation. It is designed for a sweet mixer such as coke or ginger ale, and while still a quality product, is not considered craft in the eyes of Brandy purists.


read more on capebrandy.org