Fine Brandy By Design And The First Cape Town Fine Brandy Fusion Festival 2013

Posted: 27 June 2013
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Although it has been running for 10 years, the Fine Brandy Fusion festival graced Cape Town for the first time this year. Complementing it is a selection of lifestyle and design initiatives and an educational campaign to put local brandy more firmly into the minds of South Africans.

Last month I was invited to attend an introduction to our local award-winning brandies and to attend the First Cape Town Fine Brandy Fusion Festival 2013. The Fine Brandy Fusion festival has been running in Johannesburg for 10 years so it was about time it expanded to Cape Town, especially considering that most of the local distilleries are a few hours - or less - away and easy to reach on a weekend trip.

The Fine Brandy Experience
The experience I was invited to was an interesting mix of lifestyle, cocktail, and food pairing moments designed to introduce a group of journalists to the world of brandy and complement the festival. All of what we saw and experienced on the experience and at the festival, plus much more - including profiles and interviews with local celebrity ambassadors and brandy experts, brandy trends, food and cocktail recipes, and a guide to brandy production and the brandy aroma wheel - can be found in the Fine Brandy Journal 2013, a copy of which you can request for free via the SA Brandy web site (I highly recommend that you do). A separate publication that we were given, a Fine Brandy By Design handbook, features tasting notes of the local award-winning brandies that collectively have been called the Fine Brandy collection and a tasting guide to evaluating brandy. Both are invaluable handbooks that I've added to my reference library.

Fine Brandy By Design: Collison's Cosmo

We met at Southern Sun The Cullinan hotel, where we were offered Collison's Cosmo cocktails (featuring Collison's White Gold, triple sec, cranberry juice, lime juice, and an orange twist), which are quite refreshing. Once the group was assembled we boarded a bus to explore part of the Urban Brandy Cocktail Route under the guidance of Elana Afrika and with some of the designers taking part in the Fine Brandy Bar Design Initiative. This initiative is a competition, in association with Design Indaba, to design a modular mobile bar for the Fine Brandy collection. The winner's design will be unveiled at Design Indaba 2014 and the winner will receive R50 000 and a VIP Design Indaba experience. The competition is open to established designers as well as wildcard entries from people wanting to break into the design field. (Find out more at the Fine Brandy web site.)

Fine Brandy By Design: Mano A Mano

Our first stop was Mano A Mano in Park Road, Gardens, where we tried the Oude Meester Franklin (Oude Meester Demant, bitters, ginger ale, and a twist of lemon peel) and the Klipdrift Gold Julep (Klipdrift Gold, mint syrup, and fresh mint leaves). Both were paired with food but, much like what's discussed in the Fine Brandy Journal 2013, the food is heavily meat oriented and vegetarians, if considered at all, are an afterthought. In this case, I was offered a version of a Caesar salad with avocado to go with the Oude Meester Franklin (and apparently vegetarian pizza slices are supposed to be paired with the Klipdrift Gold Julep, though none were forthcoming), while the other guests gorged themselves on Mozambican prawn curry and mini beef kebabs with béarnaise dipping sauce (paired with the Franklin and Julep, respectively).

Nevertheless, the Oude Meester Franklin was particularly enjoyable and I couldn't resist having another one when we got to the Fine Brandy Fusion festival later in the evening.

Fine Brandy By Design: Societi Bistro

Our next stop was a few blocks down the road at Societi Bistro in Orange Street so a quick walk got us to the restaurant in a few minutes. Here, in the cozy bar near the very welcome fireplace, we sampled both Klipdrift Gold and Van Ryn's 12 Year Old neat, paired with very tasty burnt-orange tartlets and bitter chocolate and candied ginger truffles, respectively. (The photo above is also a great demonstration of how not to hold a glass: don't cup it, as you'll warm the liquid - which should stay at room temperature - and this will release aromas prematurely, and don't swirl it as you will release volatile flavours.)

All too soon it was time once again to board the bus, which had miraculously managed to find parking right outside Societi Bistro even in rush hour traffic (I suspect that parking elves were in play), so that we could head to the Cape Town International Convention Centre to attend the brandy festival.

The First Cape Town Fine Brandy Fusion Festival
I'm used to the scale of the Whisky Live Festival so the more intimate brandy festival, also housed at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, took a little getting used to but I ended up running out of time for all the things I wanted to do so there was more than enough to keep patrons occupied. What I especially liked about the festival was the focus on local brandies because, unlike whisky, we distill quite a few brandies in this country, many of which have been amassing international accolades for years, so there's a lot to learn, directly from the experts, about the quality of our local product.

Fine Brandy Fusion: The KWV stand

The festival was MCed by musician and television personality ProVerb and featured live entertainment, including Sterling EQ, Cape Town magician Matthew Gore (The Ginger Ninja), and a burlesque group, as well as the expected brandy tastings at the various stands; a Fine Brandy cocktail corner; a showcase of furniture and products designed by some of the high-profile local designers who are entering the Fine Brandy Bar Design Initiative; a showcase with tastings from boutique distilleries; lifestyle products; a sensory experience of the aroma wheel; a showcase of award-winning brandies; a demonstration of barrel making; brandy tasting masterclasses; and hands-on cocktail making classes courtesy of Collison's and featuring COSMO's 2013 Bartender Of The Year.

Fine Brandy Fusion: Willard Musaruwa's Baobab Tree Table

Some of the participants of the bar-design challenge are established designers who have personally been invited to take part in the competition. At Fine Brandy Fusion a display area showcased iconic pieces by a few of these designers, including the Baobab Tree Table by Willard Musarurwa.

Fine Brandy Fusion: Gavin Rajah and Piers Mansfield-Scaddan

Gavin Rajah, who is most known for his work in fashion, and Piers Mansfield-Scaddan and Nicola Polmans of Fly Pitcher are more of the designers involved in the mobile-bar initiative.

Fine Brandy Fusion: Tsai

Tsai of Tsai Design Studio is known for his collaborative community-centric architecture projects but he also designs furniture, such as the ZigZag Coffee Table.

Fine Brandy Fusion: Klipdrift

Klipdrift held tastings at its stand and also had a large infographic on display that explained the entire distillation and maturation processes that happen at the distillery, which is near the town of Robertson in the Western Cape. Klipdrift Gold is one of the premium brandies that forms part of the Fine Brandy initiative.

Fine Brandy Fusion: Marlene Bester

Marlene Bester is the master distiller and cellar master at Van Ryn's Distillery, which is part of the Distell group. At Fine Brandy Fusion she led private tasting master classes.

Fine Brandy Fusion: Aficionados

Aficionados is a boutique online store, headquartered in Cape Town, that imports premium spirits from all over the world. Paul la Cock, the founder and owner of Aficionados, showcased a selection of Jean Grosperrin cognacs at the festival.

Fine Brandy Fusion: Johnny Bezuidenhout, COSMO, and Collison's

Johnny Bezuidenhout from Café Caprice in Cape Town was the winner of the COSMO Hottest Bartender 2013 competition, which is sponsored by Collison's White Gold Brandy.

At the festival Johnny hosted classes in which he taught the participants how to make the Collison's Apple Crumble cocktail, which is (part of) what won him the Hottest Bartender title this year. It was paired with a pre-prepared canapé (once again lacking a vegetarian alternative) that could be enjoyed once the cocktail making was complete.

Fine Brandy Fusion: Crystal Direct

Crystal Direct imports crystal glasses and lifestyle accessories and it showcased some of the products in an eye-catching display that was very fetching.

Fine Brandy Fusion: The Aroma Wheel

The brandy aroma wheel is a reference system that maps aromas and flavours from food to those that you are most likely to discover while evaluating a brandy. To illustrate this at the festival, a section was set up with glasses filled with aromas that visitors could sniff and compare, each of which was labelled and illustrated according to its categories.

There are eight categories and numerous subcategories (some of which I've indicated in brackets): woody (vanilla), toasted (coffee), fruity (peach, dried peach), smooth (cinnamon), sweet (chocolate, caramel), muscat (muscat grape, raisin), spices (nutmeg, clove), herbaceous (grassy).

Fine Brandy Fusion: The Aroma Wheel

The display was a wonderful sensory experience and one of my favourite parts of Fine Brandy Fusion. The Fine Brandy Journal 2013 has an illustration of the wheel that you can use as a handy reference when you are trying new brandies.

Fine Brandy Fusion: Blaauwklippen

Since I'd had a few cocktails earlier in the evening and I was still getting my bearings in the world of brandy I didn't try too many brandies at the festival and opted instead to make that my focus next year (hopefully there will be a next year). However, I couldn't resist trying a few here and there and one of the stands I stopped at was Blaauwklippen's, in the boutique section, where I was offered a taste of both the Blaauwklippen Postilled 8 Years Brandy and the Blaauwklippen Postilled 10 Years Brandy.

I don't have tasting notes and wouldn't dare try to offer my own yet but I did prefer the 10-year-old brandy, even though I got the impression that the 8-year-old might be the better regarded of the two. They were both excellent though and a wonderful introduction to the quality of local small-scale brandy production.

You can learn a little bit more about Blaauwklippen and its brandies at the blog Brandy & Ginger.

Fine Brandy Fusion: Cooper

One of Van Ryn's coopers spent the evening demonstrating to the crowds how barrels are made. It was wonderful to watch him at work and see some of the techniques in action that have been used around the world for centuries.

Fine Brandy Fusion: Bisquit

Bisquit 1819 XO Gold is a limited edition of Bisquit XO numbering 1819 gold decanters to honour the year in which the house was founded. The cognacs are distilled in Cognac in France, of course, in a château that was built at the end of the 19th century.

The Brandy Routes
As you will have read above, we explored part of the Urban Brandy Cocktail Route in Cape Town before the Fine Brandy Fusion festival. The clubs, bars, and restaurants along this brandy route are all concentrated in Gardens, De Waterkant, the Foreshore, and the V&A Waterfront and offer the specially developed Fine Brandy cocktails and the selection of award winning Fine Brandies. Many of the establishments are in walking distance of one another and taxi services are easy to find so you can have a fun night out without worrying about getting home safely.

For those interested in exploring our brandy distilleries, there are two routes. The first, the Western Cape Route, is centred in the heart of the winelands around the R44 and R45 between the N1 and N2 with notable hubs being Wellington, Paarl, Stellenbosch, and Franschhoek (with the Oude Molen distillery in Grabouw). All of these points are suitable for day-trip visits from Cape Town.

As its name suggests, the distilleries on the second route, the R62 Route, can all be found along the R62 starting from Robertson and heading west past Oudtshoorn. All of these points are suitable for a weekend-away trip.

Maps of all three routes are available on the SA Brandy web site and there is also a mobile version for phones and tablets.

Fine Brandy Fusion: Richelieu

Final Thoughts
To promote brandy in this country there seem to be two organisations at play - SA Brandy Foundation and Fine Brandy By Design - and, confusingly, each has its own PR team and social media initiatives (something I only found out days after the brandy festival), which don't seem to work together on any level. It occasionally wasn't clear to me what organisation was responsible for what, which, for the public, isn't necessarily an issue as long as the "brandy" message gets out there properly but for journalists wanting to report accurately (that would be me), it complicates everything. I think I was brought into this via the Fine Brandy By Design side but, either way, I'm quite grateful as it was very interesting. I love whisky and I have reported on the Cape Town Whisky Live Festival for the past four years so I was in a very good position to compare experiences.

The brandy people have done a really good job, except in one area, and they are going to be a huge threat to the whisky people, especially now that the Cape Town Whisky Live Festival - its largest marketing vehicle - has been cancelled because for some reason the whisky people don't see it as a tool to use to address the market stagnation that they claim is the reason they no longer want to support the festival.

The one area in which the brandy people fell short was in marketing of the actual festival in Cape Town this year. Nobody knew about it and therefore it wasn't as well attended as it should have been. (They also picked a terrible week in which the World Economic Forum on Africa was also at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, and that event always causes total chaos.) As this was the festival's first year in the city, however, there's lots of time between now and next year's event to work on this and get the message out in time.

Fine Brandy Fusion: KWV Twenty Year Old Potstill Brandy

We have a large selection of impressive, award-winning brandies being distilled right on our doorstep and, this year, the people in charge of promoting brandy in this country really stepped up and put together something that's creative and interesting and which has the potential to last longer in the minds of the public than the warm fuzzies from a day at a festival.

Through the festival, the initiatives, the handbooks, the web sites, and the brandy routes the public has been invited to participate and enjoy by learning: how to appreciate brandy; what cocktails to make (which breaks any cliquey/precious stereotype that may have lingered about what one may and may not do so as not to be a Philistine), which gives people permission to have fun with the drinks on their own terms; what to pair brandy with to extend that sensory experience further; where to go to meet the professionals and tour distilleries; where to go to have a fun night out with friends (in Cape Town, anyway); how brandy and design intersect; and how brandy can be a lifestyle one can fit into an existing lifestyle.

This is a complete package that puts brandy into people's lives and removes the fear of the unknown. Although the execution needs to be tightened up I think the whole initiative has been well thought out and finds a way to extend the concept of "brandy" throughout the year, rather than letting it stagnate until the next festival rolls around. I personally learnt a lot and - more importantly - want to learn more.

Plus, I just can't avoid daydreaming about the Oude Meester Franklin (but I'm going to need it paired with a better vegetarian dish).

Fine Brandy Fusion: A cooper's tools

Mandy J Watson was a media guest of Fine Brandy By Design and Fine Brandy Fusion. Fine Brandy Fusion was held in May in Cape Town and is running at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg until tomorrow.

Tags: #arts_and_culture, #cape_town

On The Internet
SA Brandy Foundation: Official Site | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube
Brandy Routes: Official Site | Mobi Site
Fine Brandy By Design: Official Site | Facebook | Twitter

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