Guided Tour and Tasting at Van Ryns Distillery

The timeless exterior of Van Ryns Distillery

I was fortunate this last weekend to be hosted by Van Ryn’s at the beautiful and best kept secret Distillery just off the R310 on the way into Stellenbosch. While easy to miss as you speed past onto greener wineland pastures, for anyone interested in brandy, or even just interested in a unique and special experience, Van Ryn’s is a must.

As you enter the grounds of the distillery, the sense of age and exclusivity is instantly discernible. Even more so when you go wander through into the distillery itself, the entrance and waiting rooms apparently untouched since they were built back in 1905 using rocks gathered from the Eester Rivier. An impressive and noble looking restored working potstill is the main feature of the waiting room, and even more aged wonders of the alchemical nature of brandy production lie through the cellar doors.

The old potstill on display at Van Ryn's

The tour starts off in the distillery area, where numerous gleaming copper potstills still turn base wine into brandy every year, as well as a couple of grand old stainless steel column stills for pure wine spirit production. The only upgrade that’s been done to these fantastic machines over the years is to convert the heat source from fire to steam, a modification that gives much greater heat control, and ultimate improved control over the distillation. (Check out Making Brandy for more information on the actual production process)

After the Distillery, the tour moves on to the cooperage, and a demo from one of the remaining few hand coopers in the country. This is a real highlight on the tour, exposing people to how much skill used to go into making an oak barrel from scratch, each made with the coopers own hand crafted tools, and 8 hours of hard labour. These days it is a pity that computer technology has taken away the need for coopers to create barrels from scratch, but there is still a huge demand for this skill in repairing and restoring old oak barrels for further brandy production use.

Van Ryn's Maturation Cellar

The last stop on the tour is in the maturation cellar itself, where nature slowly performs its magic on the spirit house withing the oaked barrel walls. Up to 3% of barrel contents are lost to evaporation each year in the maturation cellars, and you can certainly smell this angels share, hanging thick in the air all around you. Rows upon rows of barrels lie stacked 3 or 4 high in the cellar, quite an awesome sight as they wait for time to pick them for blending and bottling.

And then its on to the best bit. Once fully up to speed with the production process at Van Ryn’s you get to sample the goods with a brandy tasting and suitable pairing of your choice. This day out with the family, we decided to go for a 2/2 split between a brandy,coffee and chocolate pairing and a brandy and Florentine paring

Van Ryns Brandy and Chocolate Pairing

For the chocolate option, the Van Ryn’s 12 year old Distillers reserve is served with cappuccino milk chocolate, the Van Ryns 15 fine cask reserve with dark cinnamon orange chocolate and the Van Ryns 20 year old Collectors Reserve with Plain dark bitter chocolate. Each one is a winning paring, each chocolate complimenting the unique characteristics of the brandies perfectly.

The Brandy and Florentine pairing matches the same brandies with stunning home made Florentine biscuits, but also includes the Van Ryns 10 year vintage brandy. The 10 year brandy pairs up with a peach and apricot Florentine on white chocolate, the 12 year old with a toasted nutty Florentine on dark chocolate, the 15 with almond citrus on white, and the 20 with cherry, sultana and dark chocolate. Each Florentine again bringing out the individual scents and flavours of the superbly aged brandies.

Van Ryns Brandy and Florentine Pairing

Thanks Van Ryn’s, a super experience, and great early fathers day gift for my Dad! For those who haven’t been to Van Ryn’s yet – you absolutely must go.

Even if you don’t drink Brandy, it is worth a  visit. But be warned, it could quite easily change your mind!

Telephone: 021 881 3875

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