Golden spirit

French Cognac is a popular purchase in South Africa – but so is brandy. CHEERS set out to taste a range of “local is lekker” brandies, from pocket friendly examples to those special bottlings which are sipped and savoured.

Locally distilled brandy is just a few years younger than the country itself. The first example was distilled on a sailing ship in Table Bay, De Pijl in 1672. Since the first 1100 litres of wine was converted into 126 litres of brandy, it’s been a popular staple ever since.

There’s a difference in most peoples’ minds about the sort of “everyday” brandies which are predominantly enjoyed with mixers like cola, ginger ale or even Appletiser – and the more “special occasion” spirits, the top shelf brandies which often boast an age statement.

What separates the two is not just age and maturation but also the method of distillation with the latter having been batch distilled in copper pots rather than in a continuous process in a column still. However, brandy expert Dr Winnie Bowman frequently reminds consumers about the excellent quality of the so-called “everyday” spirits. “The standard is very good and most will contain at least a portion of pot still brandy and been aged for a minimum of three years.”

After having tasted a representative range of both pot still and blended brandies, the panel concurred. Particularly at the top end – with the special age statement pot still brandies – it’s very easy to see why they are richly rewarded in international competitions. Smooth, refined, complex and yet beautifully flavourful, they cry out to be enjoyed on their own or with a block of ice or two. Just a beautiful golden spirit in a glass, contemplated quietly.

Tasting panel: Shayne Dowling, Craig Doré, Dee Griffin and Fiona McDonald



Gentle citrus and caramel aromas with rich sultana, raisin and toffee caramel in the mouth, along with a candied orange peel element. Smooth, textured palate which was impressive.


Malt toffee and spice with citrus on the nose – with the same flavours found on the palate. Bright and peppery with a good spirit warmth. Rounded and long. Nice grip which would be ideal in a cocktail or mixed drink.


There’s a light, powdery floral nuance to the rich citrus and caramel nose. Flavours include marmalade, butterscotch and honey along with dried orange peel. Vibrant and lively with a hit of pepper.


Green pears with dried cake mix, Shayne said about the nose on this. Maple syrup, raisin and oaky flavours were apparent on a smooth, honeyed palate.

100 Reserve 

Dark chocolate and cherry with a touch of marzipan was discerned. Light floral nuance on both the nose and palate. Dee appreciated the complexity and refinement as well as its silky mouthfeel.

special occasion


Allspice and Christmassy aromas and flavours appealed to Dee while Craig found light musky notes to add to the dried fruit. Add a creamy, butter toffee and rich warmth to the mix and it’s easy to see why this would charm legions.

Joseph Barry VS 

Big fudge, caramel and vanilla was what Shayne noted while Fiona appreciated a more subtle dried lavender nuance. The seduction of brûlée and spice elements made Craig find it alluring.

Joseph Barry VSOP

The bouquet of autumn leaves and varnish lead to a palate of sweet sultana and maple syrup with a big hit of spicy white pepper. Fiona found a light oak note apparent on the long, rich finish.

Joseph Barry XO 

Apricot fruit leather with subtle prune and raisin in the mouth was Craig’s assessment. Rich honey, vanilla and a trace of jasmine. Good refinement and length.

Tokara XO 

Crushed praline, humbug and maple syrup were apparent on the nose. Polished, silky smooth in texture with lemon blossom, citrus zest flavour and a dark cocoa undertone. Rich and intricate.

KWV 10

A full-bodied mouthful with raisin, citrus, spice and sweet candies, both on the nose and palate. Elegant, balanced, rich with caramel sweetness and a warm glow on the tail.

Van Ryn 10

Toffee and tea leaf aromas that led to a palate with ample creamy spice, citrus and sultana flavour. Broad, smooth and silky with dried peach and a gently fiery long tail.

KWV 12

Nuances of caramel-coated orange, brûlée, marzipan and green peppercorns were apparent on this 12-year-old spirit. Dee found dried cherry, Shayne a mixed spice blend while Fiona noted a light floral element.

KWV 15 

Everything is attractive, from its deep, tawny gold hue to the apricot, caramel and orchard fruit on the nose as well as in the mouth. Clove, cinnamon and Christmas cake spices mingle with rich fruit and dark toffee. Long and distinguished.

Joseph Barry Muscat

A distinctive brandy. The bouquet of ripe honeysuckle, jasmine and barleysugar leads to a palate with more of the same. Shayne noted a rose water or Turkish Delight flavour so characteristic of having been made from the Muscat grape. Smooth and rewarding.