Even in today's cocktail-oriented world, where excellent ingredients and careful preparation are lauded. Spirits are enjoying in a surge in popularity and respect they have not seen since the days before Prohibition. But “good” brandy still has a stuffy and indifferent reputation.
I say no more! Forget the picture of an older gentleman in a robe, snoozing in his armchair in front of a crackling fire while spinning a massive snifter of amber liquid in his palm and sipping from it now and then. Brandy is capable of much more. Brandy, like whiskey and gin, comes in a variety of flavors, each with its distinct characteristics. It might be loud and brilliant, soft and comforting, high-proof or low-key. It may be blended with other ingredients or consumed straight, and it's equally at home in a cocktail as it is on its own. In a nutshell, it's a diverse, tasty liquor deserving of praise and a prominent spot in your liquor cabinet.
The distilled alcohol derived from any fruit-based mash is known as brandy. Grapes are used to make a large portion of the world's brandy, and the name "brandy" comes from the Middle Dutch "Brantwijn," or "Burned [i.e., distilled] Wine." There are two varieties of wine-based brandies: ordinary and "pomace," the latter of which is distilled from the skins and peels of grapes as well as the juice. The end product has a distinct, earthier flavor as a result of this. Italian grappa and South American pisco are examples of this category. Fruits such as apples, pears, cherries, and other fruits can also be used to produce brandies. These fruit brandies are known as Eaux-de-vie, which means "waters of life" in French.
Many wine-based brandies are matured in oak barrels for a length of time, just like whiskey. The amber hue and aromas of spice, caramel, and dried fruit come from this. The maturing process, like whiskies, raises the price. Fortunately, there are also several excellent low-cost brandies available.
Price, Location, and History
While brandy is a general term for this category of alcohol, there are several distinct varieties worth mentioning. Cognac and Armagnac, both from France, are possibly the two most well-known varieties of brandy in the world. These two brandies can only be made from certain grape varietals in their respective locations. Fine cognacs may cost hundreds of euros per bottle, and that's before we get into vintages produced before the 1860s. Yes, if you have ten grand or more to spend on a single bottle of liquor, you may still buy brandy from before that era.
For a long time, American brandy, like American wine, had a terrible rep. It was well past the point where it had truly become excellent. No longer: people are aware that wonderful wines can be found in California, Oregon, and other places in the United States... And, like their French friends, some of those wines are distilled and matured in wood barrels. The flavor profile of American brandy is typically comparable to that of cognac, albeit there is a greater range of options because the Americans are allowed to employ a wider variety of grapes.
American brandies frequently employ the VS, VSOP, and XO labels to indicate the age and quality of the brandy within, albeit, unlike Cognac and Armagnac, these designations are not legally enforced. I prefer VSOP or better because American brandies aren't usually as sophisticated as their French counterparts. The good news is that American brandy is frequently less expensive than Cognac or Armagnac. It's quite hard to get any other oak-aged liquor at these costs, whether it's whiskey, brandy, or something else entirely. You can find some excellent American brandies for under $15 a bottle!
Like Spanish wine (both regular and fortified), Spanish brandy is sometimes neglected. Brandy de Jerez is not talked about nearly as much as French or American brandies. That's a shame because the history of Spanish brandy production is long and produces some distinctive products, many of which have delicate notes of nuts and dried fruit. You have probably heard of Jerez, the Spanish region known for the term sherry, a fortified wine comparable to port. Brandy de Jerez is made with many of the same fruits and processes as sherry, particularly the solera method, which involves repeatedly blending older liquids with fresh batches to create the final product. Spanish brandy is generally cheaper than French or American brandy because it is not as well known.
Pisco is a transparent and occasionally pale yellow South American pomace brandy brewed in Chile and Peru. Because of the many different grape varieties that can be used to make it, and the fact that the two nations that produce it use quite different methods, pisco has a wide range of flavors, although most have a fresh grape aroma at the forefront. Peruvian pisco is matured in chemically inert vessels (glass, metal, etc.) for as short as three months and hence lacks the flavors associated with oak aging. It must not contain any additives. It is bottled directly from the distillery, with no dilution. Peruvian Pisco has a base that resembles a robust, grape-scented vodka. However, some production processes are intentionally designed to preserve more flavors from the fermenting grape mash, giving the alcohol a distinct flavor profile. South American brandy is the cheapest on the list. This is because the alcohol is not aged as long as traditional French or American brandy, nor does it have the appropriate provenance.
What is the difference between cheap & expensive brandy?
As time passes on the rack, more and more brandies that are still maturing in barrels go unsold. As a result, vintage spirits are typically more expensive than new spirits, and this isn't restricted to just brandy.
As a brandy ages it naturally reduces the amount of congeners like acetone and acetaldehyde and take on additional flavors of the barrel it is being aged inside of. This creates a smoother and more full taste profile of the brandy that is sought after in higher end brandies.
Quality and reduction in unwanted congeners can also be obtained through aftermarket filtration systems that can reduce the amount of acetones and acetaldehydes. These systems can decrease the bite, burn, and increase the quality and smoothness without having to pay for the wildly exorbitant prices that some higher end brandy distillers charge!
Like whisky, provenance, and history play a significant role in the price. Simply put most people will recognize Cognac VSOP over Pisco or Brandy De Jerez due to its rich history and the aging process. However don’t be mistaken to think that only expensive Brandy is good, you can find many cheap bottles that have complex flavor profiles and are simply delicious.
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