In very recent history, Brandy was seen to be suffering a fashion crisis. When people used to think about Brandy, they often imagined tuxedoed gentlemen smoking cigars in wood panelled libraries, or your grandmother using it to flame her annual Christmas pudding. But it’s no longer an old folks drink. Once confined to the back of your drinks cabinet, our cultural gaze around the globe is beginning to shift and brandy is making a come-back, big time!
A brand new story.
Brandy is a classic, and now it’s also cool. With cocktail culture now the height of hipster chic, the world is buzzing with renewed appreciation for classic spirits and mixologists are discovering an array of delicious ways to serve them. A whole new generation of drinkers are curious about artisanal, craft spirits. We all want an understanding of who made it and how. We’re on the hunt for quality. We want to discover new tastes and experiences with a story to tell and brandy couldn’t be more in line with this.
So just what is brandy, where does it come from and how did we get here?
Brandy is an aromatic, distilled spirit that is made from wine (fermented fruit juice) whether from grapes or another type of fruit, but brandies made from any fruits other than grapes are identified by their fruit name. The word ‘brandy’ on its own generally refers to a grape product. The term Brandy is derived from the Dutch word brandewijn, which literally means ‘burned wine’ and refers to the heat applied to the wine during distillation. The distilled wine is then aged in oak barrels where it develops a balance of smoothness, complexity and a luscious amber colour.
A bit of history.
Long before the 16th century, alcohol was a popular product of trade across Europe. It was widely used to produce a range of elixirs and potions. It was also common practice for sailors on board Merchant Navy ships to be given a daily serving of liquor, for reasons such as warding off scurvy and/or bolstering their courage during battle.
It’s believed that around this time, the Dutch started transporting wine from the Charente region of France back to Holland for distillation into an eau de vie (literally ‘the water of life’) but it was costly to import the wine in such large volumes. History tells us that an entrepreneurial Dutch trader, decided it would be more economical to remove water from the wine by distilling the wine locally, in Cognac, and then shipping it across to Holland.
Ageing brandy in barrels.
Brandy folklore is that sometime during the Napoleonic era, in the late 1700’s, some Dutch cargo ships were prevented from transporting or unloading their shipment and the liquor lay untouched in quayside warehouses for some time. Upon their discovery years later, it was realised the spirit was much more mellow and balanced and the concept of ageing brandy in barrels was born!
Australian brandy history.
Here in Australia ‘the winemakers spirit’ has been on a rollercoaster of celebration and prohibition. At the end of 1820, after a period of prohibition, distillation was legalised again by the Australian government but only for larger commercial producers. During the 19th century, brandy in Australia was predominantly produced by fortifying the sweet wines that were popular at the time. Until 1892, when the Joshua Brothers’ export brandy caused a stir in London – and a noble critic compared it to the finest of Hennessy Cognacs.
Brandy as medicine.
Apart from being enjoyed as a spirited little tipple, up until the 1960’s, brandy was also seen as a medicinal cure-all. It was advertised in medical and nursing journals as superior to all other spirits from a medicinal point of view. It was used to increase circulation. It was believed to have both stimulant and sedative effects and was used for anaesthesia, hypothermia and gastric issues and was recommended for indigestion or for patients who were too unwell to eat. But as we developed a better understanding of the pathology of alcohol and alternative treatments were found, the use of brandy as medicine gradually declined.
Craft spirits revival.
The Australian industry remained closed to smaller producers until 1992, when the first licence for a small craft distillery was granted to Bill Lark (now considered the father of Australia’s modern spirits industry) which paved the way for small, craft distilleries across the nation and the Australian craft spirits revival began.
A great brandy takes time.
The production of fine brandy takes time and patience and the selection of grapes is incredibly important. Factors like region, maturation, production methods and grape variety all play a role in determining the character of your favourite sip. We want fine spirits with quality, character and emotion. In Australia, eau de vie only becomes brandy once it has been through a double distillation and then aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 2 years.
Ochre fine brandy.
At Bass & Flinders on the Mornington Peninsula, our flagship brandy Ochre is named to reflect its rich golden colour and the essence of ‘Australian Spirit’ in a bottle. The grapes are sourced from a single vineyard and the smooth spirit is produced with only one grape variety, Australian Chardonnay, to reflect the characteristics and aromas unique to its terroir. Inspired by world renowned French brandies and produced using the Charentaise distillation method, double distillation of the wine takes place in a traditional copper still called an Alembic Pot Still, then aged in French Limousin oak barrels for at least 5 years, to achieve a world-class spirit.
And how do we drink it?
Fine brandy can be drunk as an aperitif, digestive, as a long drink or a cocktail. Drink it neat in a brandy snifter or balloon glass with a wide base and a narrower rim to retain the aromas. Gentle heat also enhances the flavours and aromas of a good brandy, so it’s recommended to gently warm up the glass in your hand.
First impressions are everything so take a good look at the colour, clarity and viscosity of the golden spirit in your glass. Secondly, bring the glass to your nose without swirling – this is called ‘rising’. Then rotate to aerate the brandy and speed up the aromatic compounds in the glass.
When you’re ready to taste, sip a small mouthful and suck in a small amount of air to coat your palate with all the flavours of the brandy and ignite your olfactory senses. An elegant brandy will be lighter and softer on your palate, and a more robust style will have a more mouth-filling, weightier feel. In the best brandies, the aroma is just as important and enjoyable as its flavour.
The best brandy cocktails.
Now don’t get distracted - let’s get back to those groovy hipsters mixing up the best classic cocktails in the coolest bars around town. The revival is in full swing, with classics such as the Sidecar, Sazerac, Old Fashioned and Alexander being shaken and stirred to the amusement and excitement of their eager clientele. The basic formula for most of these drinks is fairly simple; something sour with something sweet to support the characters of the brandy and a touch of something bitter.
Knowing how to drink different types of brandy can enhance your enjoyment of this warm, fragrant and delicious spirit, so be sure to read the label and drink accordingly. Sip at your leisure and leave your shot glasses at home!