Cognac. To many, it's the ultimate in brandy. Now, you may ask why? Does it taste better? is it the expense? The time to make it? The grapes? The history? I'd say it's all of those things, and more. But what is cognac? How's it made, and what makes it special?
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When I mention brandy, you probably have an image already in your head. An older gentleman, sitting quietly in a leather armchair, perhaps smoking a pipe while listening to Brahms, swirling a snifter of brandy around in his hand. We think of brandy as an Old World after-dinner drink. And I have to say, it serves that purpose beautifully. But if you limit it to that, you're missing out on a lot.
This weekend Bottom Shelf research director Emily and I are going to Original Portland to drink great beer and pretend not to notice how cold it is, because that's the deal you make with yourself when you go to Maine in January.
When we talk about uniquely American drinks, bourbon gets most of the love, but if you really want to drink like a pioneer, you should be sipping applejack. Located on a small Hudson Valley farm in Valatie, New York, Harvest Spirits makes an especially fine rendition of the stuff.
A couple dozen dinners ago I ran out of soy sauce mid-feed and consequently spent the next several days lying awake in bed trying to figure out just what kind of man I think I am.
It's true, slivovitz isn't always easy to love (though the same could be said for the suddenly hip Fernet Branca), and it's hardly a world-class spirit. As one Chowhounder eloquently put it, "it tastes like jet fuel to the uninitiated." But if you haven't tried slivovitz before, I want to make the case that you should. There's a niche in every bar that only punchy, fruity brandies like grappa or slivovitz can fill.
I am obsessed with Champagne cocktails. So when I hit upon a DIY ingredient that pairs well with sparkling wine, it's time for me to buy bubbly by the case. One Thanksgiving, I happened upon a delicious fizzy cocktail made with sparkling wine, fresh pear syrup, and gin, which launched a new sub-obsession—finding ways to combine pears and Champagne.
I don't like to go out on Saturday nights, because I'm intolerant of 24-year-old teenagers with square-toed shoes and screechy girlfriends, which is to say because I'm too old and miserable to enjoy the company of anyone who isn't. I wish I liked NYE, because it seems unsporting and cliché not to, but in my bitter dotage I find myself unable to get excited for the hassle and the crowds and the tiaras.
Brandy—a distillate of fruit wine—is a category of spirit that is distilled virtually everywhere on the planet. The source ingredient used in brandy can be any fruit that's grown: pear, plum, apple, grape, apricot, cherry, and more. Today, we'll focus on cocktails based on the brandies of just two fruits: grape and apple. As you'll see, though, these brandies are versatile enough to inspire drinks that are as delicious as they are varied. So tap a barrel of your favorite brandy, and let's get started.
Although it doesn't have the ancient pedigree that the Ethiopian coffee ceremony has, caffè corretto (or espresso corretto) also fulfills a significant cultural need shared not only by its Italian originators, but just about also anybody else with a lust for life: Hair of the dog.
Do you not drink a lot of brandy? Well, then, we'll get along great, because neither do I (yet)! In fact, I don't know a single committed brandy drinker outside of a contingent of hardcore Hennessy heads, but that's a whole different, upper-middle shelf matter. For my intents and purposes, brandy is the most underappreciated hard liquor on the market, and we here in apartment 604 have set about to change that.
Several years ago, when I first started exploring drink recipes from the early- and mid-20th century, one question kept recurring: exactly what was up back then with all the apricot brandy? It's not an unreasonable question.
With a few notable exceptions (including a battery of yuletide drinks), brandy isn't high in the rotation for many cocktail drinkers, a casualty of its relatively high price (for better brands—as with any spirit, there's a bottom shelf that for most purposes is best avoided) and a robust flavor that can be a challenge for those who don't usually venture far beyond a simple vodka martini. It wasn't always so.
With more people adopting the locavore lifestyle, it was only a matter of time before people would start drinking locally too. As Toby Cecchini writes in today's New York Times, the goal to eat-local (or more accurately, drink-local) is becoming increasingly easy to reach in the Northeast, as the number of small-scale distillers booms. But only in recent years has small-scale distilling become even a possibility in most states.
Cognac and, increasingly, Armagnac are the longtime regents of brandy. But as I wrote in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle, a handful of bartenders in the Bay Area and around the country are exploring the flavor potential of a once-stigmatized part of the liquor world: California brandy.
Even after almost a full year of soaking in cognac, the quince pieces were still firm and crisp, and after straining the liquid off the fruit and spice, I took a taste and was floored: this stuff is amazing.
Now that the nights are cooler and the leaves are starting to change, I'm looking at aged spirits with renewed enthusiasm, and one style of spirit in particular: Calvados.
Small-scale distilleries are on the upswing nationwide, as consumers take greater interest in locally sourced products and states reassess the tax revenue such operations can generate. And while many distilleries are truly independent startups, many talented brewers who have learned the business from making quality beer are either adding distilleries to existing operations, or working in tandem with like-minded distillers.