Words by: Simon Difford
Brandy is distilled from fermented fruit (not grain). The name brandy comes from northern Europe, where ‘brand’ means to burn, and is a reference to the heat used in distillation. Most brandies are distilled from fermented grape juice (i.e. wine). However, they can also be distilled from other fruits - notably plums, apples and cherries. Most wine-making areas also produce brandy.
Some of the better known 'fruit brandies' are not strictly brandies at all. The sweet plum, peach, cherry and apricot brandies, for example, are made by steeping fruit in grape spirit and then sweetening. This means that they are technically liqueurs. Only if fruit is distilled during the production process can a fruit 'brandy' be formally categorised as a brandy.
Like other spirits, brandy is thought to have been originally drunk for its medicinal properties - and the folk belief in brandy as a cure-all is still around in the UK, where it is administered for shock or exposure in defiance of current medical thinking. The evidence suggests that stills were in use in Jerez as early as 900AD (thanks to the rule of the Arab Moors, who knew how to distil), while brandy was being made from wine and drunk socially in both Spain and Italy as early as the 13th century.
France, thought by many to be the home of brandy, thanks to cognac and armagnac, did not start distilling it until more than 100 years later. It is believed that the start of brandy production in France was partly due to Catherine de Medici of Italy, who married the King of France, bringing her taste for brandy to the French court.
To make brandy, the raw ingredients are fermented and the resulting 'wine' distilled. Most brandies apart from cognac and some Italian brandies tend to be distilled in continuous stills. These can be single-column stills, such as those used to make Armagnac, or multi-column stills offering speed and efficiency.
Fruit brandies are rarely aged, but a good grape brandy needs time to mature and develop its full flavour potential. Brandy emerges from the still colourless; years of ageing in wooden casks give the spirit a golden colour and mellow flavour (caramel is often added to further deepen the colour). Consistency in a brand's flavour is achieved by blending different batches together.
Carte Blanche à Baptiste Loiseau is a limited edition fine champagne cognac named after Baptiste Loiseau, Rémy Martin’s Cellar Master who was appointed in 2014 at the age of 34. He personally selected this Carte Blanche N°1 from eau-de-vie, more than 20 years old, laid down by his predecessors. Leather, tobacco, nutmeg and cinnamon spice, old oak wardrobe, black tea leaves, delicate floral lilac and violet, vanilla, dark chocolate mocha coffee and caramel.
Matured in medium roast, first fill, 225 litre Allier French oak casks, this grappa is made from a blend Cabernet, Refosco, Merlot, Friulano and Moscato grape marc. Brown bread, toasty oak, toasted almond and pistachio with chocolate, apricot jam and delicate lavender.
Traditionally made by a fifth generation owned house, Normandin Mercier Vieille Fine Cognac is made using cognacs from Petite and Grande Champagne regions. Toasted almond, leather, plum and stewed fruit with light clove, nutmeg and black pepper.
A traditionally styled dry, nutty and woody XO cognac from a family owned and run house with cognacs up to 40 years old in the blend. Dried and candied fruit, hazelnut and almond, honey, vanilla and mild cinnamon spice.
Distilled in 1992 by Somerset distiller, Julian Temperley using 1991 vintage Seyval Blanc wine from the Lamberhurst Estate in Kent. This was aged for 23 years in French oak casks. Just 2,000 bottles were made, each individually numbered and presented in a gift box. Stewed and dried fruit, cigar leaf, light cinnamon spice, dark honey, faint pencil shaving-like woodiness and liquorice.
A Croatian plum brandy (slivovitz) developed with Frankfurt bartender Branimir Hrkac, a descendant of Croatian immigrants. Pungent, ripe plums and aromatic peach and cherry with white pepper, hairspray and white wine vinegar.
Part of Massenez’s VRP range, an abbreviation of “Vieille Réserve Personnelle Sélectionnée” (personally selected), this yellow plum eau-de-vie was developed by Eugene Massenez in 1913. Each bottle is made with theh equivalent of 14 kilograms of Williams Pears. Pungent ripe fresh pear skin and flesh with very faint white pepper.
Part of Massenez’s VRP range, an abbreviation of “Vieille Réserve Personnelle Sélectionnée” (personally selected), this yellow plum eau-de-vie was developed by Eugene Massenez in 1913. Aromatic fresh feijoa fruit and ripe plum with faint, acetone and white pepper.
Part of Massenez’s VRP range, an abbreviation of “Vieille Réserve Personnelle Sélectionnée” (personally selected), this wild raspberry eau-de-vie was developed by Eugene Massenez in 1913. Subtle raspberry jam and fresh raspberry with faint linseed oiled soft leather.
Packaged in a distinctive and colourful ceramic decanter inspired by ancient Greek designs from the island of Rhodes, Metaxa Grande Fine is blended from spirits aged between 8 and 15 years in French Limousin oak casks. Aromatic black tea leaves, apricot, toasty wood, vanilla, tropical fruit, rose blossom and orange zest.
A blend of eaux-de-vie from five of Cognac’s six production areas: Bon Bois, Fin Bois, Borderies, Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne. The eaux-de-vie are aged in French oak casks before being blended by Marnier’s Cellar Master at the Château de Bourg-Charente, in the heart of the Cognac region. Hazelnut, fruitcake and vanilla with apricot, peach, honeysuckle and toasty macaroon.