Craft Gin has been a massive hit with South African (and international) consumers in the past few years, with thousands of distilleries popping up and new brands and flavours launched almost weekly.
This resurgence in spirits is a great opportunity for producers of aged variants like pot still brandy and whisky to showcase their quality and craft in a booming market.
Other than the patience and passion of the distiller, the following factors play a key role in the production of excellent aged spirits:
- Quality raw materials and fermentation
The first and most important step involves the selection of quality raw ingredients (At Boplaas, this is comprises Colombar grapes for brandy and South African white maize for whisky). In the process of distillation, fermented wine or beer is concentrated by the removal of water. Not only is the alcohol concentrated, but the flavours too. In other words, the good as well as the bad is intensified and potentially carried through to your final product. It is therefore essential that only the finest ingredients be used, under the most hygienic conditions.
Concentrating flavours by distillation is the easiest part of a distiller’s task. At Boplaas, we like to go low and slow when the application of heat is required. A consistent heat source allows the distiller to have better control over the distillation. Also, its only by a gradual increase in temperature that accurate cuts can be made to select the best parts of the spirit. It takes much longer and patience is key here, even though the spirit’s journey to perfection has only begun and the long wait is yet to come.
- Barrel Ageing
We use a combination of French and 200-litre American oak barrels for the ageing of our whisky and brandy. The spirit interacts with the wood over time to form complex new flavours that differ from barrel to barrel. All the barrels we use are older and were previously used in the ageing of some of the South Africa’s top ruby, vintage and tawny ports. This is crucial in our process as the wood from the barrel is seasoned with the beautiful flavours of these port wines and then imparts this character to the whisky and brandy.
Our whisky is aged for a minimum of five years, and six years for the Tawny Port Cask Finish.
- Angels’s share
The so-called “angel’s share” is the part of the ageing spirit that evaporates through the porous wood of the barrel, escaping into the heavens. Distillers like to think of this “loss” as the requirement shared with the angels in exchange for a smoother and more concentrated drink. In the Klein Karoo, where we’re located, the angels are especially thirsty. Due to the extreme climate, some 6-8% of the spirit evaporates per year compared to the average of around 2% in the Scottish Highlands.
Barrels have individual character, which explains the wide variation of flavour they impart to the spirit. Once the spirit is optimally matured, the barrels are selected, and their contents blended to expertly merge them into a single fine expression. It’s no surprise then, that the job of blending takes great skill and often generations to perfect. It is regarded as an art itself.
Boplaas is a six-generation, Nel Family distillery and winery that has crafted exceptional aged spirit since 1880. The first order for our fine pot still brandy was sent in casks to Cape Town harbour by ox-wagon for delivery to London. After the repeal of distilling licenses in the early 1920’s, Boplaas’s copper potstill lay dormant for almost 70 years until it was fired up again in 1989. Five years later, in 1994, we released the country’s very first estate pot still brandy. It is a source of pride for us that this very Boplaas 5 Year Old Pot Still Brandy was served at Nelson Mandela’s presidential inauguration banquet.
Daniel Nel Boplaas Distiller