South African Local brandies: Toast of the town at Veritas Awards

South Africa makes some of the world’s finest potstill brandies, yet for the past decade, local consumers had been increasingly raising their glasses to whisky – until now.

In 2006, whisky overtook brandy as South Africa’s favourite spirit, but the decline in volume and market share for this homegrown spirit made from grapes has finally turned a corner, and brandy’s popularity is on the rise again. Nielson Statistics revealed an increase in volume of 4.7% for brandy and Cognac between 2016 and 2017 in the off-consumption market.             

“The South African spirits market has been turned on its head. Over the last decade, whisky was the star performer and taking volumes from the brandy market. This changed between 2014 and 2015 with whisky losing volumes and brandy volumes starting to stabilise,” according to SA Wine Industry Information and Systems researcher Elias Holtzkampf.

Distell, the country’s largest brandy producer, saw positive growth with total volume increase more than five percent in the same period. In the previous financial year, sales of premium brand Van Ryn’s grew by 22% while Viceroy Five Year Old grew by 70%, showing growth on both ends of the market.

“Retail prices of popular mainstream spirits including imported big-brand whiskies have become increasingly expensive as the foreign exchange rate takes a beating. Aside from the excellent value for money that brandy offers, South Africa’s finest potstill brandies are on a par with the best cognacs from France, and production of our blended brandies enjoy some of the strictest quality control regulations in the world. It’s no surprise that we are seeing brandy return to form,” said Distell Spirits Ambassador Nick Holdcroft.

“The first South African Brandy was produced in 1672 and we have spent the last 300 plus years perfecting the art of brandy distillation and maturation. Nowadays, South African brandies are held in the highest regard all around the world, given their stellar performances at competitions like the International Wine and Spirit Competition where South Africa has won the trophy for Best Worldwide Brandy for four consecutive years.”

Brandy’s arrested decline in consumption is welcome news for South Africa’s agricultural sector. It takes five litres of wine to produce one litre of brandy and South Africa’s wine harvest in 2016 totaled 1098 million litres; of that 384 million litres was used for brandy production. A thriving brandy market is important for many wine farmers who count on it to provide sustainability and cash flow.

The popularity of brandy among new markets continues to grow, especially within female and black urban consumers. This trend is driving innovation within the hospitality industry, with the launch of Cape Town’s first brandy-centric cocktail bar, Cause and Effect, scheduled to open in trendy Park Road in November.

“I like to believe brandy’s revival is not being driven on price point alone, but more on South Africa’s growing appreciation for the exceptional quality of our locally produced, world-class product. We need to harness this momentum to attract consumers to experiment with brandy in different occasions and investigate some of South Africa’s premium brandies such as Klipdrift Gold and Van Ryn’s,” said Holdcroft.