Shop + Learn: Brandy
The term brandy refers to any spirit distilled from fermented fruit juice.
Unaged grape spirits can provide a real sense of both the character of the fruit and the distiller's skill at capturing it. Peruvian Pisco represents the pinnacle of this category. Like wine, a true sense of terroir emerges from the best bottlings. Barrel aging a grape spirit, an unlawful practice in Perú but more common in the rest of the world, produces brandies that tend to be rich and juicy, with deep, nuanced vanilla and spice flavors from the oak. Armagnac represents the most artisanal approach to the broader category of aged brandies.
Produced since the 16th century, Peruvian Pisco must adhere strict production guidelines to meet denomination of origin requirements: including being produced from among only 8 grape varietals, pot distilled once to proof between 38-48% ABV without any additives (not even proofing water), and rested for a minimum of three months without ever aging in wood. In popular culture, Pisco is almost inseparable from the most iconic Pisco cocktail on the planet: the Pisco Sour. In this cocktail, the sharp, floral spirit mingles with citrus for a pleasing flavor - an indicator that Pisco can work beautifully as a flavorful and aromatic base for shaken citrusy cocktails. It has proven to be quite versatile, also working well in stirred cocktails. In many drinks, we use Pisco much as we'd use a blanco tequila, but whereas tequila confers a noticeable vegetal character, Pisco adds a floral aroma.
Armagnac & Cognac
Armagnac is a close cousin to Cognac, as both have been produced in southwest France in much the same way for hundreds of years. Like Pisco, a grape-based wine is distilled in specialized alembic stills, but here it takes the additional step to be aged in oak barrels. Where Cognac is typically rich and fruity, Armagnac often has a much spicier character. We often think of it like this: bourbon is to rye whiskey as Cognac is to Armagnac. Both categories follow age-based grading from VS to VSOP then XO. Because of the large brands that dominate the Cognac category, we often find the available Armagnac to be both more often produced using artisanal methods and to have better value for the cost. It is also more common to find dated vintage productions, including a few exquisite selections we have here at DrinkFellows from Château de Millet.
Worldwide, brandies made from grapes are by far the most common, led by Cognac and Armagnac from France and Pisco from Perú. But brandy is a catchall term for spirits distilled from fruits. Literally translated as "water of life," the French term eau-de-vie refers to clear, colorless brandies made with fruits other than grapes. In these spirits, the concentration of flavor and aroma, like in Pisco, is guided by a highly refined distilling process. Eau-de-vie are successful when they capture the flavor of the fruit, which makes exploring the world's different eau-de-vie exciting: while it's impossible to simultaneously sample slices of pear from Alsace, Oregon, and California at the same time, you can sip distillates of all three side by side. Instant flavor travel... it's magical. We most often employ eau-de-vie in cocktails by either using 1/2 to 3/4 oz as part of a split base, or by using 1/4 oz in a low-ABV cocktail that lacks body to add a highly flavorful punch - almost acting like a concentrated flavor extract.
Fellow Classics: Pisco Sour
As Death & Co extensively explained in Cocktail Codex, every recipe is a riff on a classic. Here, we offer guidance on these templates as a great starting point for any original creation.
Fellow tips: A pasture raised egg white will vastly out-perform conventional, even if using only half the egg-white. We call for lemon + lime split to mimic the flavor of the Peruvian lime, which is not typically available in the United States, but is most akin to a key lime. The simple syrup should be a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water.