Brandy is a rather broad category. We have chosen to give extra focus to three famous Brandies: Armagnac, Calvados, and Cognac. However, there are many great Brandy categories and we will certainly give sac one it’s just attention.
In simple terms Brandy is a Spirit made from te distillation of Wine or other fruit based fermented drink (Calvados is made from distilling an apple and pear cider). The alcohol strengths vary and some Brandies are aged in wood while others remain as clear as they were as they left the still.
Popular Brandies that will be discussed at BevX include: American (predominately California) Brandy, Eaux-de-Vie, Grappa, Pisco, Brandy de Jerez (Spain), Cyprus Brandy, and others.
Grappa is Italy’s very fragrant Spirit whose base material is the crushed grapes or pomace (known as Vinaccia in Italian) left over from the production of wine. Grappa is not unique in the spirit world having similarly made Spirits produced in France known as Marc, Spain has Aguardiente, and in Portugal it is called Bagaceira. Until recent years, primarily the late 1980s, Grappa was made with little care and was viewed as a drink for the poor and usually added to espresso or drunk with fruit syrups.
Before the 1980s Grappa was scarcely known outside of Italy. Seemingly overnight Trattorias and Ristorantes in London, New York, and Chicago were offering Grappa. Stranger still these Italian influenced restaurants offered a collection of Grappa in ornate, hand-blown glass bottles and prices-per-shot rivaling what the diner had just paid for his Bistecca Fiorentina. Nothing energizes the hipsters like charging loads of cash for something unknown by many of their contemporaries. In a flash Grappa went from peasant to chic.
Three decades past Grappa’s fad-like introduction, the mysterious Spirit has been largely forgotten save a steadfast group of supporters. Grappa production, on the other hand, has become even more fastidious and the number of labels available and their prevailing quality is greater than ever. The time for a Grappa revival has never been better as the ornate packaging has greatly disappeared and now consumers are asked to simply to pay for the wonderful Spirit within.
Eaux-de-vie, or aqua vitae. However you say it, or whatever language you choose, it comes out the same; “water of life.” As a spirits category EDV is much neglected particularly in America were it is most often relegated to culinary tasks. This is very sad indeed. In a large sense EDV can be defined as a distillate of any fruit. Before they are aged in wood casks, the world’s most famous brandies, Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados are crystal clear and could be classified as EDV. A small handful of producers in these regions do bottle clear, unaged spirits to showcase the purity of fruit found in their aged products albeit masked by wood and the effects of maturation. The most common fruits used to produce are: Poire-Williams (pear), Framboise (raspberry), Kirsch (cherry), Mure (blackberry), and Fraise (strawberry). Many see the fruit names on the bottles and mistakenly believe that these spirits are sweet; EDV is NOT sweet and is in fact quite dry.
Good EDV doesn’t come cheap, nor should it. A bottle of Vodka can be made for much less than a buck’s worth of raw ingredients. EDV, on the other hand, packs 20 to 30 pounds of fruit in to each bottle. The distillate emphasizes purity without the luxury of wood, sugar, and other flavors to conceal its flaws. Most EDV is produced in France and Switzerland. Some good examples are now being made in the US and my personal favorite is made at a little distillery in Belgium called Distillerie de Biercee).
EDV is best served chilled and is a great accompaniment to fruit and/or cream deserts. Custard based tarts studded with fresh fruit are an extremely good match. Avoid adding mixers with the exception of seltzer, as mixers will mask the subtle flavors. At that point you may as well be using Vodka.