I’ve been behind the bar many a time when a customer has asked for The Rose or Charles H. Baker’s venerable Remember The Maine, which both call for cherry brandy, and expected a cocktail with a sweet cherry taste.
But the spirits in these drinks do not resemble sugary liqueurs in the least, and their distinctive and sharp notes often come as a surprise. In brandies, fruit itself is fermented and then distilled instead of being used solely for flavoring. These potent tipples, which are typically unaged, harken back to an old-world era of quaffable digestifs, whether enjoyed in the rustic countryside or served from decanters as an escape from urban chaos.
The range of these fruit-based spirits is both historic and plentiful, with many styles originating across Eastern Europe and the Balkans (think slivovitz, made from plums). However the best-known types to reach our shores are apple and pear eaux-de-vie from France — and there are remarkable American brandies, too. These include the traditional applejack as well as alcohol produced from grapes, raspberries, blackcurrants, and more.
The fruit’s variety and a particular season’s harvest provide individual characteristics and texture to the finished liquor as well as clear and dense aromas. Perhaps most important, of course, is the sugar content of the fruit. It is, after all, the sugars that will be fermented and turned into alcohol.
Authentic brandies were formerly considered too pricey for mixed drinks but are now on a bit of a cocktail comeback. At the Shanty, my bar at the New York Distilling Company, we have experimented with fruit brandies to gratifying results. The simple key is that a little goes a long way. Cheers!
Allen Katz is the director of mixology & spirits education for Southern Wine & Spirits of New York and co-founder of the New York Distilling Company. He is also a Liquor.com advisory board member.