If 50 is the new 30, is Brandy really over the hill?
Bourbon is hot. Really hot. There is a new Gin landing on the market each and every month. Vodka is flavored with everything from cilantro to wedding cake to bubble gum. The names of large French houses dominate in Cognac, and although this small maritime region is considered to be the pinnacle of brandy production around the world, this ain’t your grandpa’s spirit.
The spirit we know as brandy has many different personalities. When broken down to its base form, it is distilled from wine, the fermented juice of multiple other fruits or even made from the pomace or “dregs” leftover after making wine. Legends abound, but it is most likely that the term “brandy” is actually an evolution of brandewijn, the Dutch word for “burnt wine”, which refers to the heating process used to distill wine and thus concentrate the alcohol content and flavor. Brandy is made all over the world, and every grape or fruit-growing region across the globe also produces a spirit from its harvest.
The French have a well-founded belief that when it comes to food, wine, and culture, they do it best. Although this is debatable, some of the best wine in the world does come from the hexagon and Gaul also boasts two of the most famous brandy producing regions in the world: Cognac and Armagnac which are divided into sub-regions (6 in Cognac, 3 in Armagnac) based on soil types. Like wine growers, these distillers take their spirits very seriously.
Other regions across the globe produce grape brandies of serious quality: Peru and Chile have their heavily-aromatic Pisco, California makes a variety of styles and the Spanish regions of Penedès & Jerez produce styles similar to Cognac, the latter heavily influenced by Sherry. Italy and other regions in France are famous for Grappa and Marc, brandies made from the pomace or leftover skins, seeds and stems from making wine. In contrast to many other styles these spirits are usually quite grassy and generally colorless or very light in color. Fruit brandies can also be of exceptional quality, the most famous examples are Calvados made from apples in France, Slivovitz produced from plums in eastern Europe and other eau-de-vies are made from cherry (kirsch), raspberry (framboise), apricot, strawberry and pear.
So is that image of an aristocrat sitting in his library, wearing a smoking jacket and having a dram of brandy still stuck in your head? How about the cheesy soap opera star who pours himself a drink while plotting the murder of his step-brother’s 2nd mistress? No longer. In the context of the cocktail revolution, no spirit is more appropriate than brandy, found in countless traditional recipes.
The English Poet Samuel Johnson is quoted: “Claret is the liquor for boys; Port, for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink Brandy.” In honor of the hoards of spirits professionals, bartenders and cocktail geeks who have recently returned from Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans…Cheers to you!
Brandies to try:
Cognac: Pierre Ferrand, A de Fussigny, Delamain, Hine, Landy, Kelt
French Brandy on a budget: Raynal
Armagnac: Cles des Ducs
Slivovits: R Jelinek
Pear & Kirsch: Black Star Farms
California: E&J, Christian Brothers, Korbel, Paul Masson
Grappa: Alexander, Bertagnolli
Spanish: Torres 10 Year