I make bold to say that our best wine brandy can compete with the very best foreign types – even the famous cognacs from the Charente region in France – and do not have to stand back for them at all.
A lot of nonsense is spoken about ‘old brandy’. ... It is not practical to keep brandy in the vat too long, for it evaporates, and a small vat of brandy will be bone-dry after ten years. It is therefore clear that no brandy can stay in a vat for a hundred years; and it is equally clear that a ‘Napoleon-brandy’ from 1815, that has been kept in a bottle, will today be no better than it was then. We have brandy today that is considerably better than that of earlier times.
The truth is that very old brandy is just about undrinkable, because it is so saturated with ethereal salt and volatile acids that it will burn your mouth and lips. A small quantity of such a very old brandy is used to blend a good, younger one – it gives the younger liquid more body and a pleasant bouquet, aftertaste and oiliness. Such additives should, however, be used with the utmost care, for the ‘blending’ of brandy is a matter for the connoisseur. It is therefore done exclusively by the experts attached to the large firms.
For the normal afficionado, a good wine brandy of about ten to twelve years is just as good and tasty as a much more expensive one blended with an age-old liquid, be it imported or local. We now have many such good brandies on the market, and you can get them from any wine merchant. Try the different kinds. Pour a few drops of each into a dry wine glass – it is by no means necessary to use a large ‘brandy glass’ – and sample each, first with your nose and tongue. Warm the glass between your hands to cause the volatile acids to evaporate. Do not pay too much attention to the colour, unless it is too dark – the colour will in most cases have been enhanced by adding burnt sugar or something like that, which will not influence the taste very much. Too light a colour may make you suspect that the brandy has not matured for long enough in oaken vats, but your tongue and palate will be a better guide than your eye. Now taste the warmed liquid; ‘feel’ it on your tongue, and let it warm further – so that the back of the palate can taste the flavour. Try to judge the extent to which the taste is even, oily and without bite, but still has a pleasant tingle. Then swallow and savour the aftertaste. Take a small sip of water, and try another sample in the same way; and decide according to your own taste which brandy you prefer.
Now squirt a few drops of soda water in one of the glasses, and try again. See which of the different samples passes the ‘mixture test’. A first-class brandy will immediately impart its good qualities to the mixture; its flavour will be, as it were, germinated by the carbon hydroxide; its tingling taste will be strengthened to a certain extent. On the other hand, you will, if you have a sensitive palate, immediately spot the lesser kind – that which still has some volatile acids that a good brandy should have given up to the wood of the vat. A subtle change in the aftertaste indicates the presence of the secondary wine spirit – a touch of ‘bitterness’ might then even be noticed. Now compare your observations during the ‘mixture test’ with those made when tasting the pure liquid, and make your choice.
The brandy you like most is the one that will best agree with you. Don’t be impressed by labels or advertisements – make your choice according to your own taste. And then treat your choice with love and understanding. Enjoy it in moderation, preferably after a good lunch or supper, with or after coffee if you like it in its naked purity. Otherwise, again in moderation, with clean spring water, or, if you prefer, soda water. And on a cold winter’s evening, when the wind is howling outside and you are sure that your lambs are safely protected in the kraal, with warm water, a piece of cinnamon, a lump of sugar and a flake of lemon peel, as a warm drink.
10 September 1943