Last week, Nic & I were treated to a veeeeeerrrry special outing – an exclusive brandy tasting with Marlene Bester, the Master Distiller at Van Ryn’s Distillery in Stellenbosch. I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to one of Van Ryn’s brandy pairing dinners at the Saxon last year & knew this would be a great opportunity to up my brandy knowledge (Marlene is an encyclopedia of knowledge on the subject).
Nothing quite beats a warm, sunny day in the Cape – a drive through to Stellenbosch makes it even better. We were met with warm smiles at the Distillery & an even warmer & friendlier greeting by Marlene. Van Ryn’s roots stretch all the way back to 1845, with the distillery established in 1905. The tour started in the distiller rooms – gorgeous working vessels where the start of the brandy making magic really begins. As I already mentioned, Marlene holds a wealth of knowledge on the subject & I would really suggest a tour – you know how wine lovers get really excited about the topic of varietals? Brandy drinkers (even a novice brandy drinker like me) found myself getting excited over the stories Marlene had to share.
From the distillery we moved on to the maturation cellar, also known as the “Angels Share” room due to the pungent scent of maturing brandy. It was rather glorious – fruity, rich, spicy – all in one. The liquid gold sits in aged wooden barrels for various periods of time – it’s all dependent on the maturation length of the final product. Van Ryn’s Collection Reserve is divided into 10, 12, 15 & 20 year old reserves – each batch receiving a specially crafted flavour process (this is where Marlene’s skills as a Master Distiller really come into play).
Emerging from the “Angels Share” room we headed into the most beautiful tasting room – exposed brick walls from the original architecture are contrast to modern chandeliers, while aged barrels of Van Ryn’s limited edition brandies sit on display through a glass wall – it was truly special. We were treated to a brandy & chocolate pairing of the 12, 15 & 20 year old selection. The chocolates were specially crafted by a local chocolatier, with local flavours such a rooibos being introduced into the mix to pick up on the flavours circulating & developing in the brandy itself. The 12 year old held real fruity notes, while the 15 year old had really spicy flavours – think cinnamon, nutmeg, even hints of ground ginger. The 20 year old was my favourite -smooth as any brandy could possibly be, with rich notes of dark, dried fruit – prunes, raisins – absolutely delicious. I could definitely get used to sipping on Van Ryn’s 20 year old in the colder months (or any other month).
*Side note: Words from the master distiller herself, Marlene suggests adding a block of ice (purified water only) into the drink.*
Overall impression? I left Van Ryn’s feeling more confident on the subject of brandy. I left Van Ryn’s with an appreciation for the drink & the work that goes into making a single batch of that perfumed liquid. Would I suggest you go to Van Ryn’s for a tour? Yes, absolutely yes. Marlene was a fabulous host who piqued my interest in the subject & made me want to learn more. So, if you find yourself with a weekend that requires filling, book a tour & make a brandy day of it!
*We were invited by Van Ryn’s Distillery to experience the brandy tour. The tour is conducted by several of Van Ryn’s staff members, not specifically by the Master Distiller. All thoughts & images are my own*.
Van Ryn Road
Stellenbosch, Cape Town
021 881 3874
Happy Brandy Sipping x