Leah van Deventer: let’s show the world what South African spirits are capable of!

Spirit news

Thu 25 Apr 2024

By Mila Gorchakova

In June 2024, the IWSC will be heading to South Africa for its third Global Judging in Stellenbosch. This year, in addition to South African wine, we are excited to also be judging the country’s spirits. Ahead of the competition, we caught up with our judge and the IWSC Spirits Ambassador in South Africa, Leah van Deventer, to hear about the recent trends in South African spirits and how the IWSC can help local producers put their drinks on the global stage.

While South African wines enjoy global fame, the country’s spirits often fly under the radar for international consumers. Yet, South Africa produces several unique spirits not made anywhere else in the world. Which South African spirits would you highlight as the most interesting ones?

With South Africa’s acclaimed wines, it should come as no surprise that the country makes excellent brandy too. Indeed, the coveted IWSC title of Best Worldwide Brandy Trophy has been awarded to a South African brandy 15 times in the past 20 years. It's generally the Cape Potstill category that shines here, with its minimum three years of ageing in oak barrels no larger than 340 litres in size.

There are two interesting unaged local brandy categories too, which are as fierce as 70% ABV: mampoer, made from fruits, and witblits (“white lighting”), made from grapes.

In terms of gin, the Cape Floral Kingdom, with its endemic botanicals, makes for an amazing variety of flavour profiles, unique to South Africa. Finally, the South African climate and terrain are also conducive to agave, and there’s a small but growing agave-spirit category.

What are the most recent consumer trends in South African spirits?

According to Statista, consumer preferences are currently shifting towards more premium and craft offerings, with South Africans seeking out unique flavour profiles and artisanal production methods. While we remain a nation of whisky lovers, by volume, cocktail consumption is also on the rise, which means a lot more experimentation with a wide array of spirit categories.

What do you think is the future of South African spirits on the global stage?

Globally, I expect South African brandies to continue to achieve recognition, and I hope this will ultimately lead to an increased export market, as despite their acclaim, it's still hard to find these products on global shelves. I think that as our agave-spirits category matures, we might start seeing more brands featured in international competitions as well, and getting picked up within high-end bartending circles.

How can IWSC's Spirits Judging in South Africa help raise the profile of South African spirits internationally?

With our isolated geographical location and our unfavourable exchange rate, it’s difficult for smaller brands to enter global competitions. Having an IWSC Global Judging here in South Africa makes entry much more accessible. It also shows that the global spirits industry is taking South Africa more seriously, which is an incredible boost of confidence for local producers. I’m certain we’ll be working harder than ever to show the world what we’re capable of, and making further strides in our export market.

Leah van Deventer is a world-renowned cocktails & spirits writer, educator and industry consultant, in both 2022 and 2023 having been voted among the 100 most influential figures in the global bar industry in Drinks International’s Bar World 100. In 2024, Leah joined the IWSC as our Spirits Judge and Spirits Ambassador in South Africa.

The IWSC Wine & Spirits Judging in South Africa will take place on 23-26 June 2024. Entry deadline is 24 May. Find out more and enter here.