Brandy Report (8/12): South African Brandy

09 March, 2015

“I believe the future of South African brandy lies not in South Africa but in export markets and thus would require a rebranding of the brandy offering as whole,” says Van Wyk. “Similar to champagne and cognac, pot still brandy needs to insist on an appellation claim – which many local commentators feel should be Cape Brandy or Cape Pot Still Brandy. The pot still variant of the local brandy category needs to be romanticised too – similar to single malt. Needless to say, it’s not an overnight endeavour,” says Van Wyk.

KWV’s Hegarty sees hard work ahead. “The reality is that we as South African brandy producers have done a lousy job of telling a great story. If you refer to South African brandy internationally then, if anything, there is a negative impression.”

South African brandy has higher costs than many other brandies – minimum maturation is three years, for one. But it can still undercut cognac, the entry level of which starts at £20/$25. Hegarty thinks value for money is the category’s marketable asset abroad. “[We need to] tell the value story – what other category can offer the equivalent of a 10-year-old pure pot still product for US$16?”

Bartenders are surely the best route to credibility. If South African brandy is as good as the producers say and the awards suggest, the only challenge is to get it into the hands of opinion leaders. 

The South African Brandy Foundation has made inroads at home but more should be done in the bar capitals of the world. In the World’s 50 Best Brands Report survey South African brandy didn’t get a sniff of the top 10 best sellers of its category. Speaking to the bartenders confirms this. Danil Nevsky of Amsterdam’s Tales & Spirits tells DI: “Unfortunately we can’t find any to taste.”

While there are those in developed markets seeking to unearth the next new spirit, right now South Africa is in a different phase of its drinking development. It’s not fatalistic to say that mainstream consumers might need to reject their distilling heritage before they can rediscover it.  

A collective export push makes sense. It will take investment and time, but with the rand at a low rate of exchange, there is no better moment to float the message of quality, inexpensive brandy overseas.

The Brandy Report comes in 12 parts. Folllow the links here Category introduction by Hamish Smith (1/12), Brandy in the Philipinnes by Hamish Smith (2/12)Cognac by Nicholas Faith (3/12)Premium brandies by Richard Woodard (4/12)Armagnac by Ian Buxton (5/12)French brandy by Hamish Smith (6/12)Spanish brandies by Dominic Roskrow (7/8)

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