On Thursday evening my friend Bettie Coetzee-Lambrecht and I attended Fine Brandy Fusion at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, having been invited by Manley Communications. Fine Brandy Fusion is a fine showcase for the local brandy industry, the Bisquit cognac with South African links being our highlight.
At the registration desk we received a goody bag, and a booklet of coupons, to allow us to taste brandy cocktails and taste some of the 50 fine brandies neat. Immediately on entering we passed a smallish restaurant, catered by the Convention Centre kitchen. The food quality of the Convention Centre has been poor at every exhibition attended in the past, but picked up when its new Chef Warwick Thomas arrived a year ago, reaching a new low at World Travel Market Africa last month. I was immediately sceptical, but the food options which were displayed in a refrigerated unit looked better (just from the plating) than I have ever seen there before. We received two food coupons each, which Bettie used for linefish and I ordered tasty calamari rings, Bettie saying that it would be important to line our tummies for the brandy tasting to come. We both ordered a cheese platter as well. The service was excellent and professional, and the prices very reasonable at about R50 each. We felt severely under-dressed when a fashionista wearing fur and her partner shared our table!
I had not been to the first Fine Brandy Fusion in Cape Town last year, so did not know what to expect, nor were we given a leaflet to explain which stands were where, and what the program of workshops were. As I registered the Manley Communications hostess discussed a Mixology session with another guest, but which was booked up for 19h00 already, the 21h00 still having availability. The lovely fellow guest immediately offered me his space for 19h00, and I wish to thank him via this blogpost, not having written down his name. We stopped at the SA Brandy Foundation stand, and Bettie quickly did her homework, asking about the best brandy on show. She was told it was Bisquit cognac, and went off to find some.
It was close to 19h00, and I grabbed a seat to see Mixologist Kurt Schlechter, who runs a Cocktail School in Johannesburg and will represent South Africa at the World Bartending Championships. Kurt is known for his fire and ice tricks (there were none on Thursday). He was smartly dressed, reflecting the colours of his sponsor brand Amarena Fabbri, suppliers of sweet and sour cherries in syrup, which was visible on his stand. There was space for Bettie and her glass of Biquit too. I sat next to James, a friend of Kurt who owns Chancers’ Bar in Thurles in Ireland, with such a broad Irish dialect that he had to repeat most of what he said. Friendly James and his new wife were honeymooning in South Africa, and had decided to stay in Cape Town too so that they could see Kurt in action at Fine Fusion Brandy. Premium drinks company Diageo had brought Kurt to Ireland for a whisky promotion and demonstration, one of them being held at James’ bar. Kurt told us that the world’s first cocktails were made 210 years ago
Kurt made two cocktails, the first being a technically difficult one, based on Molecular Gastronomy developed by former number one 50 World’s Best Restaurants elBulli owner and Chef Ferran Adrià. Using kiwi juice and mandarin juice with some special liquids (sodium alginate and chlorides), at which point he lost us with the technicalities, Kurt created tiny green and orange ‘caviar’ gel balls, which he added to a glass of MCC (brand unspecified, but looked like Graham Beck Brut, Kurt being careful to not reveal the brand). Kurt also made a quick cocktail using a chocolate Easter egg , of which he cut off the top, putting the closed base of the egg into an egg cup. He added KWV 12 year old brandy into the chocolate cup, added cream from a spray can, and topped it off with some of his green gel balls. I was a volunteer taster of the delicious trio of ingredients, but unfortunately most of the brandy had leaked through into the egg cup due to a slight crack in the chocolate egg seam. It was at this point that my cellphone battery power expired, Fine Brandy Fusion being the fourth event I attended on that day, with minimal ability to recharge the phone. We had great fun at the Molecular Mixology session.
Bettie and I went to the Bisquit stand, and it was explained to us that Bisquit is a cognac made in its entirety in France, but belongs to Distell. There are four price levels, the Gold costing about R5000 and is matured for up to 50 years; the VS 3 – 7 year old at R299; the 6 – 13 year old VSOP at R499; and the 7 – 15 year old XO Excellence at R1500, prices quoted by Cybercellar at the show.
We stopped by at the KWV stand, and saw it say that it is the best brandy in the world. The staff on the stand told us that their 15 year old brandy won this accolade every year since 2010, and that their 10 year old won best in the world in 2012, at the International Spirits Challenge, their advertisement states.
Some of the other highlights of Fine Brandy Fusion include tasting The Elsenburg 13 Year Old Potstill Brandy, its first public tasting; Biscuit cognac’s Loïc Rakotomalala leading master classes; and a cooper demonstrated barrel-making.
The South African Brandy Foundation was established 30 years ago, to ensure high quality standards as well as the legal integrity of South African brandies. Our country has won the accolade of Best Brandy in the World at the International Wines and Spirits Competition in London eleven times in the past 14 years. Fine Brandy Fusion was a fine brandy promotional event first launched in Johannesburg seven years ago.
The SA Brandy Foundation has created an Urban Brandy Cocktail Route (which in Cape Town includes 65 on Main, 15 on Orange, Dash, Frères Bistro, Mano A Mano, Meloncino, One&Only Cape Town, Oyo, Re:public Lounge, Sky Bar, and Tjing Tjing – there is one in Johannesburg too), two brandy routes (the R62 Brandy Route which includes Klipdrift, Kingna, Barrydale Cellars, Ladismith Cellars, Boplaas, Grundheim, Oudtshoorn Cellars, and Mons Ruber; and the Western Cape Brandy Route, which includes Backsberg, Blaauwklippen, Jorgensen’s Distillery, KWV, Nederburg, Tokara, and Van Ryn’s), and more recently, food and brandy pairings. Mixologist Johan Blaauw created the Capital Cocktail in honour of Cape Town’s role as World Design Capital 2014, whilst he worked at the One&Only Cape Town, before joining Orphanage Cocktail Emporium, and was available to taste. The SA Brandy Foundation, directed by Christelle Reader-Jahn, has named Cape Town the World Brandy Capital this year.
We had a wonderful evening, entertained by Mixologist Kurt, meeting his very friendly Irish friend James, tasting the exceptional Bisquit cognac and other brandies, and getting to know much more about the fine brandies at Fine Brandy Fusion.
Disclusure: We received a goody bag when we arrived, which contained a Fine Brandy Journal with useful information about brandy; a 375 ml bottle of Oude Meester Demant potstilled brandy; Tortina milk chocolate biscuits; and Toffifee nougat chocolates.
Fine Brandy Fusion, Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg. 5 and 6 June, 17h30 – 21h30. www.brandyfusion.co.za Twitter: @BrandyFusion
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage