Liquid gold: discovering the Klein Karoo’s brandy distilleries

Along the Klein Karoo’s Route 62, the art of potstill brandy still flourishes. Meet the distillers keeping the tradition alive.

KINGNA

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The small distillery of Kingna is tucked in a quiet valley a short drive from Montagu. It has a gorgeous stoep with mountain views where you can enjoy your tasting, and guest cottages where you can stay the night, should you over-indulge.

Ruan Hunlun, Brandy Master:

How long have you been distilling potstill brandy for? We started in 2007.What do you love most about potstill brandy? My love for potstill brandy deepens every year.  The anticipation – after five years of ageing, you only get to smell and taste your final product.  It is a waiting game that asks for patience and endurance to wait out the five years and get the surprise in the barrel. What’s your signature brandy? I am very pleased with my Eight Year Old. The reviews and demands that I received so far confirmed that eight years of patience have paid off. What are its defining characteristics? On the nose, there is citrus complemented with oaky and spicy aromas followed through with vanilla and a smooth buttery finish. The taste has a vanilla explosion with a hint of oak, rum and raisins on the mid-palate leaving a smoky cigar after-taste with loads of body and sweet spice. What sets it apart from the rest? From the word start in making of this lot, it was my intention to produce an outstanding Eight Year Old potstill, with special care from the growing of the grapes to the design of the label and box, and the selection of the bottle and glass closure specially ordered from Italy.

BARRYDALE CELLAR

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Just to your right as you come into the pretty dorpie of Barrydale, this cellar has a wide range of fine brandies and wine to try.

Ferdi Smit, Brandy Master:

How long have you been distilling potstill brandy for?  24 years. What do you love most about potstill brandy?  It’s the uniqueness of the process, from selecting the best grapes on surrounding farms to make rabat, the first and second distillation, after which the product goes into barrels for aging, the blending and bottling. Then the enjoyment of tasting what you created. What’s your signature brandy? Joseph Barry XO Handcrafted Cape Brandy. What are its defining characteristics? The nose opens with an almost pungent attack where a whole range of ripe fruit aromas pour out. Well-integrated and complex mouth with good balance. Some hints of fruitcake lead into floral, dry finish. What sets it apart from the rest? The fact that the grapes comes from the Klein Karoo area and also the style in which it was made.  

GRUNDHEIM

Roll into this charmingly ramshackle spot just outside of Oudsthoorn and you’ll be treated to fine brandies, and a host of party-starters, such as Buchu Witblits and Happy Cow liqueurs.

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Dys Grundlingh, brandy master:

How long have you been distilling potstill brandy for? The Grundlinghs have been distilling for six generations on the farm and I’ve been distilling for about 20 years. What do you love most about potstill brandy? The uniqueness of every barrel. What’s your signature brandy? Grundheim Nine Year Potstill Brandy. What are its defining characteristics? Aromas and flavours of nuts, vanilje, pepper and soft floral notes are backed up by an enticing woody character. What sets it apart from the rest? Steeped in tradition – the roots of Grundheim’s classic old-world style. Distilled in an ancient bulbous copper potstill over an open flame, it reflects the refined art of brandy-making.

MONS RUBER ESTATE

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A trip down the quiet gravel road to this backwater gem of a distillery is well worth it. The tasting room in the old farmhouse doubles up as a museum – and no wonder: the place is caked in history, with the Royal Family visiting on their tour of South Africa in 1947.

Rade Meyer, Brandy Master:

How long has potstill brandy been distilled here for? As part of the general winemaking activities, since the 1930s but for sale to the public, since about 1993. What do you love most about potstill brandy? It is a sophisticated, complex product with an aura of luxury, contentment, relaxation all rolled into one. It delivers (too briefly, alas!) glimpses of civilisation, refinement and joy. What’s your signature brandy? We are still experimenting, but I have an affinity for the aromatic grape varieties as exemplified by our current Estate Potstill Muscat d’ Alexandrie 2003. What are its defining characteristics? It has a light brown colour, with honey, caramel and vanilla, and sweetish, soft, smooth taste. What sets it apart from the rest? One of the few aged brandies (if not the only one in SA) made from Muscat d’Alexandrie grapes. It is very accessible, drinkable and has a wide popular appeal. Its design is a meticulous structure in which the skill and three generational knowledge of blending the cuts, ageing in small, custom made French oak barrels delivering a mix of wood, the sourcing of the water, the unique 1936 still, the wood fired distillation, the 8 year old ageing and the careful final processing, all play a defining role. The base wine was produced from grapes in an officially designated estate which ensures that it is the product of a unique combination of climate and high quality soil, not susceptible to duplication elsewhere.

WHERE TO STAY

Want a base from which to explore the area’s distilleries? We recommend the Robertson Small Hotel – a boutique offering in a quiet street in Robertson that pairs gracious Victorian-style architecture with elegantly contemporary interiors.

An edited version of this article first appeared in the May 2016 issue of Business Day WANTED

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