Brandy boo!

Click below to listen to Anna Trapido in conversation with Phemelo Motene while reading the notes...

At the recent 2017 World Drinks Awards in London Oude Meester Demant claimed the ultimate award of World’s Best Brandy. This is the second consecutive year that a South African brandy has held the highest honour - Klipdrift Premium won World’s Best Brandy in 2016. In addition to this best in the world award gold medals also went to Richelieu International, Klipdrift Premium and Oude Meester 18 Years Old Sovereign.

It is no surprise that it won – it looks, smells and tastes superb. The blind tasting judging panel comprised of highly respected and experienced authorities from the drinks and hospitality industry adjudicated hundreds of international submissions, scoring merit on nose, palate, finish, balance, character and quality.

The Oude Meester Demant was judged to have “luminous amber clarity, a nose rich in chocolate and nutmeg with apricot and pineapple on the palette.”

It is no surprise that SA makes such fantastic brandy – we have an ideal climate and a history of brandy production stretching back over 300 hundred (for all kinds of South Africans – Especially in the Cape). Brandy has been part of Cape culture since it was first produced on the Dutch ship Pijl, anchored in Table Bay harbour in 1672. By the early 18th century it was a well-established colonial bartering currency with Khoi people. The Khoi were trading brandy into the Xhosa-speaking communities of the interior by the early 18th century.

It is so entrenched in our culture that many of us use the word brandy as a generic term for all distilled alcoholic drinks. • Xhosa-speaking people often refer to Ibrandy emhlophe (which is actually not brandy but rather white spirits such as gin or occasionally vodka) • Ibrandy ebomvu (real ‘red’ brandy).

Our brandy has an intriguing double life. It exists as a secular, posh drink in the international arena but it also has spiritual and symbolic significance at home. Nowhere more so than in the rural Eastern Cape where the ceremonial engagement with ancestors almost invariably begins with an offering of brandy. A small amount of brandy is poured onto the earth in a process referred to in isiXhosa as ’ukunqula’ (which literally translates as ‘to pray to the ancestors’). It is about opening a channel of communication.

Such communion facilitates a range of rites of passage. • From birth rituals (such as ‘imbeleko’ at which a new born baby is introduced to its ancestors) • ‘Ukhululo’ (whereby a year after the death of her husband, a widow is entitled to take off her black mourning clothes) • Remembrance ‘umgidi’ ceremonies, brandy facilitates access to the venerated hereafter. • When Izibazana (the mothers of initiates) and their sisters (i.e. aunts of the initiates) dance carrying brandy against their breasts to welcome sons home as men, they affirm the changing status of all involved and acknowledge the efforts required to reach such a point.

If you are wishing to engage in any of these rituals it is good to know that ancestors prefer Commando – 10 horses. And they like those bottles that have the raffia lattice (brandy intambo).

When those representing prospective bride groom bring brandy to future fathers in law they are participating in a layered lobola-related display of ceremonial courtesy. Each bottle has a different name and a different role in the process: • The first bottle (‘Imvulamlomo’) allows the dialogue to begin. • The second is described as ‘Uswazilwenkomo’ and refers to the whip traditionally used to steer cattle into an enclosure - suggesting that progress towards a marital engagement settlement is underway. • How many subsequent stages are required differs by region and family with some negotiations requiring up to seven bottles.

While such practices are most common in rural Eastern Cape communities many are also found in urban areas all around South Africa. • I have a friend who’s child was wetting the bed and he was in grade 1 so she spoke to her mother in law who said it’s because you didn’t perform imbeleko. They bought the brandy and they did the ritual and he stopped wetting the bed. • I know another person who poured a little brandy onto each of the tyres of her new car to keep it safe. • I have seen people putting a bit of brandy on the threshold of a new house.

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