Jonathan Forester Posted March 26, 2009 Share Posted March 26, 2009 Brandy Visions - Jonathan M. Forester brings us five expert opinions on craft-distilled Brandies ALEXANDER DAY is a sought after consultant and award winning mixologist at, among others, Death & Co., NYC, where his creations grace their cocktails menus. JMF: Do you use any North American fruit spirits in your cocktails? AD: Every night. Be it a true fruit brandy or a liqueur, fruit spirits have such a wide spectrum of flavors that they can either define a drink as a base, or augment by acting as a modifier. Some of the more pungent examples – Clear Creek Pear Brandy comes to mind – have such intense aromatics that they can easily be used in the smallest of quantities, enhancing the profile of a base spirit by picking out, and fiddling with, common flavors. The granddaddy of all North American fruit spirits is unquestionably Applejack. The Lairds family has been dutifully supplying America (and the world) with their Jersey apple brandy since colonial times, and for me, it’s a go-to ingredient. Whereas the Blended Lairds bottling is, well, rather weak, the Bonded is high proof (100proof, as per custom), aggressive, and an aroma of apples and good ol’ American whiskey. No other spirit I know of has the ability to play so differently in cocktails, from something as straightforward as an Applejack Old Fashioned (try a little grade B maple syrup as the sweetener instead of regular sugar, and only an orange twist) or as something as light and refreshing as a Jack Rose. Those, of course, are examples of Applejack as a base spirit. More often that not, I use Applejack as a small, modifying component: from classics like the Diamondback (Rye whiskey, Yellow Chartreuse, Bonded Applejack) or the Pink Lady (Gin, Lemon Juice, real Grenadine, Bonded Applejack, egg white), to relatively modern creations like Michael McCilroy’s American Trilogy (Rye, Bonded Applejack, Angoostura and Orange Bitters, a little demerara sugar) or my own Sunset at Gowanus (Santa Teresa Rum, Lime Juice, Bonded Applejack, Yellow Chartreuse, grade B Maple Syrup). So, as a quicker answer: I use Lairds Bonded Applejack the most, followed by some of the Clear Creek’s products. Their pear brandy is great, as is their kirschwasser. JMF: How much does the general public know about them? AD: I’m pretty confident in saying that the general public knows almost nothing about North American fruit spirits. The general public’s awareness of a lot of alcohol nuance is, in all honestly, probably very limited. When you say brandy, the uninitiated is more than likely totally isolated from first hand experience, and then diving into fruit brandies, and specifically North American fruit brandies (or spirits), you’re going to see a lot of deer in your headlights. There’s nothing wrong with that, but whatever ignorance there is in the general public is because they are not educated, nor are these products a part of the larger cultural lexicon. Planting an Oregon eau de pomme in a big-budget film with a fetching protagonist would be silly in its transparent marketing, but there needs to be more exposure to these products and what they are and what they can do. I consider myself relatively knowledgeable about the spirits industry, but in answering these questions, I find that I can’t name more than a handful of North American craft distillers that produce fruit distillates. Is that because they’re not out there? I doubt it. More so, it’s that they haven’t gotten the word out. JMF: What is important about them? AD: The most important thing about North American fruit spirits is that they show a trend toward not only experimentation, but also an understanding that more versatility is needed in the market. We have our gins, whiskies, rums, brandies from France, but what we don’t have is more distinctive modifying agents for our drinks. Naturally, I approach this topic from the cocktail perspective. These products excite me to no end, because they lead craft distilling down a path to creating new products, not just remaking a traditional product from across a sea, in a different land. Sure, doing so shows the distinguishing features of where the fruit is grown, but understanding that the more distillers play around with different ideas; the more I can give new products to my customers. “If I was to make one comment on this subject (American fruit spirits) it would be that micro distillers need to focus on more unusual ingredients than fruit. Why is all this effort being put into making American versions of European classics? Mette in France is making asparagus and hop eaux de vie, Hans Reisetbauer is throwing carrots into the still , why aren't we ? Dave Arnold at FCI is throwing all kinds of crap into a roto-vap and coming up with some really original ideas… isn't that what America is all about?” -Eben Freeman, Tailor, NYC- TED HAIGH, known as “Dr. Cocktail”, author and mixologist, is one of the world’s top experts on vintage cocktails and spirits from the early 1800’s to present. JMF: What are your thoughts on artisanal fruit brandy and spirits made in North America? TH: I think the re-invigorated American brandy distilling trends are very valuable indeed. Though I am not particularly nationalistic about the spirits I enjoy, the research and willingness of domestic craft distillers to experiment, create new things, and revive old ones I find heartening... even exciting. JMF: How well are they selling? TH: I think the aged product do fairly well. Americans as a whole have never gotten their heads around eaux de vie. Of the two, I’d say unaged fruit brandies are a niche market within a niche market. The cost to produce other fruit brandies than grape leads, of course, to higher shelf prices...that is one reason they remain a bit obscure here. Personally, I’m a total sucker for them. JMF: What do you think are the best ones available? TH: I can’t say. I’m tasting new and wonderful ones all the time, and have been for some time. I’m all for a widening embarrassment of riches. JMF: How much does the general public know about them? TH: As I noted, I believe there is both recognition and acceptance of the aged brandies, and the domestic producers of eaux de vie need to set up a manufacturers’ association to educate Americans and promote the delights, utility, and uses for their fruit brandies and, in general, aid in their marketing. “I believe the production of these spirits is wildly important. When a distillery opens up it is very important to bottle as quickly as possible, because alas, money must be made in order to stay in business. While the standard is to create vodkas, I think the pioneers playing with fruit brandy are a wonderful alternative. I have tried a number of them, and each one shows great character. As far as I am concerned Steve McCarthy (Clear Creek Distillery) out of Oregon is the pioneer in this field, and my go to guy. I also think Lance Winters (St. George Spirits) is at the top. The average consumer does not know much about these and it will take a lot of effort, but the exciting part is that the quality is already there, so that is the most important thing.” –Ethan Kelly, Brandy Library, NYC- DANIEL EUN, award winning mixologist at PDT, one of the world’s best cocktail bars located in NYC. JMF: Do you use any North American fruit spirits in your cocktails? DE: I have a cocktail on the PDT menu right now that uses Pear Eau-di-Vie. THE GILCHRIST 1.25 oz. Compass Box Asyla Scotch Whisky ¾ oz. Clear Creek Pear Brandy ¾ oz. freshly squeezed grapefruit juice ½ oz. Averna Amaro Liqueur 2 dashes grapefruit bitters Lemon twist (for garnish) Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass, then add a handful of ice. Shake and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon. (Serves 1) Our menu has, and has had several drinks utilizing North American Fruit spirits. Off the top of my head is: The Rose (Dry Vermouth, Cherry Eau-di-Vie, Raspberry Preserves) and Falling Leaves (Riesling, Pear Eau-di-Vie, Honey Syurp, Orange Curacao, Pechaud's Bitters) JMF: How many have you tried? DE: I've tried a fair number of them, both American and European. JMF: What are your thoughts on artisanal fruit brandy and spirits made in North America? DE: Personally, I love them. You get the essence of the fruit--or the "spirit" if you will--in a vessel that forces you to sit down, sip, and appreciate what's going on in your mouth and on your palate. JMF: How well are they selling? DE: The cocktails themselves sell well, but as a spirit category, I believe there is much more a demand for these products in Europe than in America. JMF: What do you think are the best ones available? DE: I've always stood by the ones by Hans Reisetbauer (though he's based in Austria), Hauz Alpenz (Eric Seed's brand) and Clear Creek's products. JMF: How much does the general public know about them? DE: I feel the general public doesn't really know what goes into the production of these products and why they're special when compared to, say, a flavored vodka. It does take some time to get people to realize that when you say, for example, Kirschwasser is Cherry Eau-di-Vie, that the spirit is distilled from actual cherries, and not a neutral grain spirit that has been infused with cherry flavor (naturally or artificially). JMF: Who are the top experts on them? DE: I would say the people behind the brands that I mentioned earlier...and perhaps a man named JM Forester JMF: What is important about them? DE: Like any spirit category, they have their place behind a bar; and in the case of Fruit Spirits, they can be used three ways: sipped on its own as a digestif, as a base of a cocktail, and as a modifier. Culturally, I think they have much more of a significance in Europe where they are enjoyed on their own, as is the case with the more "obscure" spirits/liquors (i.e. Aquavit, Amaros, Genever, Mescal) but they are an emerging category behind American bars as well as consumers become more and more educated. JOE CORLEY is the head distiller at Germain-Robin Distillery. JMF: What are your thoughts on artisanal fruit brandy and spirits made in North America? JC: I really just know the four I mention on question 3 below... but I have had a chance to try many fine spirits being made across the country and I think most should be given "A" for effort and there are a lot of contenders for very good to great quality spirits, but there are a lot of ho-hum ones as well. One cannot make high quality spirits without the time element for brandies and whiskies. Ok, we were all astonished (at the whiskey tasting at the 2008 ADI Conference) by the "Scotch" quality from Amrut in India for their 3 year old, that is an unusual circumstance of environmental and other factors. I wonder if all of the spirit was just 3 years of age (laws for percentages?) But that is not speaking about the USA producers, the people making great (other than grape) fruit eau-de-vies or brandies use real fruit macerations and top quality ingredients-it shows in the end product. Take for instance St. George Spirits vodkas-they have real fruit, real additives (such as the Kaffir lime leaves) that gives them an intensity and character that only honest, do-the-work, spare no expense, slow, small-batch operation affords. JMF: How well are they selling? JC: St George and Clear Creek seem to be doing alright, although I don't have their sales figures....I assume everyone is down during these hard times, even though people gotta drink...just not the top stuff. It'll come back as we get back a steady economy and people can drink higher-end products. JMF: What do you think are the best ones available? JC: St. George Spirits, Clear Creek Distillery, Germain-Robin Distillery, Domaine Charbay. JMF: How much does the general public know about them? JC: Clear spirits seem to be what the vast majority are remembering right now, perhaps fresh in mind- we at Germain-Robin are still finding a lot of folks who have not heard of us after 25 years. We have some of the world's best brandies, not just by our word but by critics and writers galore- The Robb Report gave our XO the "Best Liquor In The World" two years running. Still, we slowly sell about 2500 cases/year to people who know what quality is and enjoy artisanal products done right. That should be a bumper sticker "Artisanal=Done Right" JMF: Who are the top experts on them? JC: Paul Pacult's The Spirit Journal, The Malt Advocate come to mind... also, lots of knowledgeable blog sites with writers like yourself doing great reporting (The Spirit World for instance). Talking and reviewing what's out there as honestly as they can. “I'll toss out a quick two cents about apple brandies. If I were to make a general statement about how North American apple brandies differ from French Calvados, I'd say that the NA ones are fruitier and less heady. In general they are 'cleaner' and, I think, more approachable than their traditional French counterparts. St. George's, Clear Creek's, several different Michigan ones I've tried. As a cidermaker, I suspect it comes down to fermentation practice, rather than cultivar or distillation. I grow the same apples - the biggest difference between French and American apples is in polyphenolic content, which stays in the pot. But the acetates and diacetyl that are distinct in Calvados are also present in a lot of cidre - at least compared to American cider. Slow, cool fermentations with native orchard yeast.” -Charles McGonegal, Aeppeltreow Winery, Wisconsin- JIM MEEHAN is a world-renowned, award-winning Mixologist & spirits expert. Bar manager at PDT NYC, he also edits "Food & Wine Cocktails 2007 & 2008" and the latest and best version of the best selling Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide. JMF: Do you use any North American fruit spirits in your cocktails? JM: Yes, I've used Clear Creek Eau de Vies in at least one cocktail on every menu for the last year. We always have an Apple Brandy drink (or 3) on our menu from October till March. We carry Germain-Robin Brandy, but Cognac is our go-to brandy. If I opened a PDT in California, I would mix with G-R. JMF: How many have you tried? JM: I haven't counted, but for me, Eau-de-Vie is the most complex and beguiling sprit. I'm not a distiller, but I imagine it's the most difficult spirit to make. In all honesty, Hans Reisetbauer is the benchmark I measure all other fruit brandies: and I haven't tried an eau de vie that comes close to matching the flavors captured in his spirits. JMF: What are your thoughts on artisanal fruit brandy and spirits made in North America? JM: It all comes down to the fruit. American fruit has been genetically modified to favor looks over taste. It can sit in the grocery store for two weeks and still look tempting to a customer. You buy it, take it home and eat it, and it has no flavor. It's not like this everywhere. The best fruit brandies I've tasted (in Hungary (palinka) and from Hans in Austria) are distilled from wild fruit. If there's any wild fruit left in this country, someone needs to set up a still next to it. JMF: How well are they selling? JM: Terribly. I've practically made it a personal goal to get Americans to appreciate the taste of brandy: from Kirschwasser to Cognac. At this point, they just don't get it. JMF: What do you think are the best ones available? JM: Germain-Robin Alembic Brandies and Clear Creek Eau de Vie's stand head and shoulder above the crowd for me. JMF: How much does the general public know about them? JM: In California and Oregon, a good deal. At this point, the micro-distillery movement is a regional trend subject to supply and demand and resources available to market the products. A well made brandy also costs more than other spirits, so there are economic barriers involved. JMF: Who are the top experts on them? JM: I don't even know. going back to my last sentence: there is no money spent on marketing, advertising or education in this area of the world. The Cognac houses do a lot of work educating their customers, and that is where most knowledge about brandy comes from. JMF: What is important about them? JM: Applejack may be America's first spirit and that's important to remember and preserve. The lack of wild fruit available to distill world class eau de vie says a lot about the state of the environment and certainly encourages a closer look at the politics of planting. If eau-de-vie is the most challenging spirit to distill, then who has enough pride to compete? Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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