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Being a student of Viticulture and Oenology, one soon learns that there will be many fish out of water experiences. One such example was this past week when our final year class was tasked by Van Ryn’s Distillery to create a pot still brandy blend that could easily be marketed and enjoyed.  In short, the winemakers to be had to assume the role of brandy blenders. Although many might suggest that the two roles are quite similar, I would beg to differ. My experience with brandy prior to this task involved mixing it with copious amounts of coke and ginger ale. Yes, I am a student and unfortunately this is what we do.

We were given six different blending components, all matured for different lengths of time, ranging from a young three year old to a complex and rich 12 year old.  The role that oak plays in providing aroma, colour and palate during maturation is incredibly significant.  My blending group, dubbed the “Female Four”, decided to blend a style of brandy that we would enjoy. Something light, fresh and floral, with a hint of sweetness.  Our first attempt, however, did not reflect any of those characteristics.  We created a blend with a vibrant nose, but bland palate and then one with a flat nose and lively palate. We quickly learnt that the best approach to creating a blend that was both present in the nose and palate involved adjusting the original recipe more than once. The process is similar, if not more, to winemaking, as it allows for a great amount of creativity. One cannot get too carried away when in the blending process as the creation of a blend with the desired alcohol of 38%v/v requires many meticulous calculations.

Our third attempt proved to be the winner!  It was evident that each component had something unique to offer.  The lighter five year pot still brandy was used as the base of the blend while the 10 year old component provided the savoury caramel character. The 12 year old provided the floral character and the 5% Hanepoot gave a light fruitiness. We branded her “Daisy”, a name that symbolised the elegance and timeless beauty of a woman. She could be enjoyed on the rocks or with a dash of water. We did not add any additives such as sugar or caramel, because we believed the blend we created could stand on its own. Daisy is a golden hue of floral and caramel delight. She could easily be tossed into the mix for the preparation of Tipsy Tart on a Sunday afternoon.

Although the fantastic Female Four did not win the prize for the best blend, we enjoyed playing the role of brandy blender for the afternoon and discovered a new appreciation for brandy production and blending.

With the completion of yet another unconventional and quite enjoyable task, my peers and I are three weeks away from our final examinations. We are also currently exploring the science and art behind other alcoholic beverages.  Soon after, we will take the leap into industry or delve into research. For now I look forward to enjoying Daisy on the rocks after my final examinations.

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