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An Education On Brandy At Van Ryn’s Distillery In Stellenbosch.

January 27, 2017

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).

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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.

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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).

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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).

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*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

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