The Boplaas name has become synonymous with excellence in wine, port and spirits too. Fundamental to its journey has been mastery over the process of maturation and ageing, which has been shaped over the 140 years at the Nels have farmed and created alluring wines and spirits at Boplaas.
The ageing process allows remarkable libations to develop depth, complexity, and a range of enticing flavours.
“Ageing whisky and brandy is a complex process,” says Daniel Nel, sixth generation distiller at Boplaas. “Factors that influence our aging and create spirits that express Calitzdorp, where we live, are climate conditions, maturation time and application of finishing barrels.”
- Understanding Aging:
Ageing whisky and brandy is a gradual transformation that occurs as the spirits interact with the wooden barrels they are aged in. The aging process allows them to mellow, gain character, and acquire unique flavour profiles. Key factors that influence aging include the type of wood used for barrels, the climate of the aging environment, and the duration of maturation.
- Choosing the Right Barrels:
The choice of barrels significantly impacts the aging process. Oak barrels, particularly those made from American or European oak, are commonly used for whisky and brandy aging due to their desirable flavour contributions., while European oak imparts spice, dried fruit, and tannins.
“At Boplaas, we use a combination of American oak (ex-bourbon and new barrels) for the Boplaas whisky,” Daniel says. “American oak lends vanilla, caramel, and sometimes coconut notes.
“For the brandy, we tend to use French oak, specifically old tawny Port barrels. The French oak imparts spice, dried fruit, and tannins. While the tawny gives the brandy aromas of toasted nuts and dried orange peel.”
- Storage Conditions:
Maintaining proper storage conditions is essential for the successful ageing of whisky and brandy. Factors such as temperature, humidity, and light exposure can greatly affect the maturation process.
“We use the Klein Karoo’s climate to our advantage; the low humidity and temperature fluctuation tends to mature the spirit faster. The low humidity causes the spirit to evaporate through the barrels at a rate of 6% per year. Even though we lose an extraordinary amount this way – generally called ‘the angel’s share’ – the result is a very concentrated and smooth tasting aged spirit,” Daniel says.
- Patience is a Virtue:
Time is a critical element in the aging process. As whisky and brandy mature in their barrels, they gradually interact with the wood, drawing out complex flavours and aromas. It’s important to note that there is no universal rule for aging spirits; the duration depends on the type of desired flavour you would like to develop and conditions that it’s ageing in.
“Longer is not always better and you can overage the spirit, especially in the Klein Karoo!”
- Flavour Development:
During aging, whisky and brandy undergo remarkable flavour transformations. The spirits extract compounds from the wood, such as lignin, tannins, and vanillin, resulting in a spectrum of flavours. Whisky can develop notes of caramel, toffee, dried fruits, spice, and even subtle smokiness, while brandy may exhibit characteristics of honey, nuts, chocolate, and spices. Each barrel tells a unique story, shaped by the aging process.
- Finishing and experimentation:
Boplaas produces a range of different beverages that includes everything from white wines, red wines, dessert wines and ports. Most of these have been in barrels for some period and can be used as a finishing barrel for the whisky.
“The finishing barrel is used to mature an aged whisky in for a short period of time to bring an extra flavour and complexity to the whisky,” says Daniel. “For instance, we use the tawny port barrel to finish our whiskies in. The tawny port was aged in barrels for between 12-16 years. As soon as the port comes out of the barrel, we put our five-year-old aged whisky in for one to three years, which allows the spirit to pick up the notes and flavours of the tawny.
“The tawny port barrel is our favourite for ageing, but the barrels we’ve used for ageing special releases include ruby port, vintage port, rum, muscadel, hanepoot, straw wine, Constantia noble late harvest, brandy and bourbon.”
Boplaas has honed its skills over six generations in the Klein Karoo. This experience and patience is what makes the Boplaas range of brandies and whiskies unique, winner of international awards and beloved by many connoisseurs and enthusiasts.