Brandy Snaps

Brandy, outside of the classic Cognac, Armagnac and calvados sectors, is a huge, diverse category comprising mainly national brands. Christian Davis provides the picture

Brandy, and especially South African Brandy, does not get the credit it deserves. South African brandy cannot be compared to any European brandies, says KWV marketing director for spirits & RTDs Peadar Hegarty, emphatically. And there lies the problem with brandy in general.

Brandy is very much about regional and national brands, unlike Cognac and Armagnac which are more brand oriented and more international. Cognac, in particular, stands for luxury, whereas brandy is more about regional tastes and traditions, not forgetting price.

According to Drinks International’s Millionaires survey, the largest brandy by volume is the Alliance Global Group’s Emperador from The Philippines. At the time of going to press, finding out anything up to date about Emperador was impossible due to the devastation caused by Hurricane Haiyan. 

Emperador was launched in the 1980s into a domestic market dominated by rum and gin. A strong economy and exports to Thailand and China resulted in sales tripling to 31 million cases between 2010 and 2012.

After Emperador comes United Spirits’ McDowell’s No 1 (10.9m cases). The McDowell’s No 1 brand began with the launch of McDowell’s No 1 Brandy in 1963-64, the company having been bought by United Breweries Group in 1951. McDowell’s first distillery was established in 1959 and it began bottling Bisquit brandy and Dorville French brandy from imported concentrates. 

The company commissioned India’s first distillation plant to produce extra neutral alcohol (ENA), with French collaboration, in 1961. 

McDowell’s launched McDowell’s No 1 Brandy, following the termination of the import contract for Bisquit Brandy. The brand created the template for the many ‘No 1’ brands that the company would launch later. More recently United, now run by Diageo, introduced McDowell’s VSOP, which has become a 3 million case brand.

Estelle Sauvage, export brands manager of Bardinet, which claims to be the largest French brandy producer, says the brandy market is a 200 million 9-litre cases sector with steady growth (51% in four years). But, she warns, this growth depends on the brandy’s origins. 

Regarding French brandy she says the category is doing well with, in 2012, 3.7 million cases and growth of 2.5% (2.8% between 2011 and 2012). So, it is growing but not so much as previously.

She says: “French brandy is not trendy any more because of the taste. Consumers prefer spirits which are easier to drink and, because of the consumption moment, after-dinner drinks are not as popular as before. Thus consumers are older and older. But in the Middle East [Indian labour force] and India, for example, consumption is growing.”

After the ‘flagship’ French brandies – Cognac, Armagnac and calvados et al – one looks to South Africa and Spain, specifically Jerez, as major brandy producers and consumers.

Distell’s business director, spirits, Dr Caroline Snyman, confirms: “The international brandy market is very regionalised, where specific styles are known, liked and entrenched. In South Africa, for example, the emphasis is on exuberant fruit on the nose and the palate, and very smooth, soft textures.”