Saturday, September 14, 2013

Swingin’ Brandy Cocktails

Fruit is among nature’s purest, most virtuous wonders—especially when distilled. For those unaccustomed to drinking fruit spirits, just remember that if you can mash it, you can distill it, which makes for a rich variety of cocktail ingredients. These are all fruity in aroma but dry on the palate, and they are all identified as eau de vie or brandy, though we tend to use the former term for the unaged types and the latter for the brown stuff. To further complicate things, brandy by itself usually means aged grape brandy, like cognac, and the apple brandies and so on are forced to explain themselves every time they enter a room. And then you’re supposed to understand that none of these should be confused with the sort of liqueur with brandy in the name, like apricot brandy or blackberry or whatever, as brandy in that case merely means brandy-based. (Sometimes they tell you the brandy used for the base. Often they don’t.) Those drinks have sugar in them and are not the same sort of thing at all. Still with me? Would a drink help?


Mr. Rosewater
  • 2 oz cognac
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz grenadine
  • 1/8 tsp rosewater
  • 1 1/2 oz soda
Shake all except soda with ice cubes. Strain into a double old fashioned. Add soda and fresh ice cubes.

Now there’s a brandy drink with a familiar brandy. I could’ve used a California one of the same general type but it wouldn’t be cognac. Only brandy from the wine-growing region around Cognac is called cognac, so you know what you’re getting. French brandy, like all agricultural products from France, is departmental, and a handy thing that it is, too.

The other big aged grape spirit in those parts but from the southwest is armagnac. (If French sounds make you nervous, the gn is just like the one in cognac. That both brandy regions should have the same ending is kind of cute.) It’s a similar sort of spirit but from a different department and with a character of its own. Like cognac, armagnac is easy drinking, delicious and good in Sidecar cocktails. In the recipe below, I’ve combined it with a totally different type of brandy, a pear eau de vie. This spirit is known as Poire William or Poire Williams, after the Williams pear, a Bartlett. There’s a very nice liqueur by the same name but it’s not brandy. (We’ll ignore the question of whether it might be a brandy-based pear liqueur.) Also note that the Cointreau in my recipe is a brandy-based orange liqueur, but we never ever call it orange brandy. Sometimes it’s better not to ask and just keep drinking.


Armagnac-Poire Sidecar
  • 1 1/2 oz armagnac
  • 1/2 oz Poire Williams eau de vie
  • 3/4 oz Cointreau
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
Shake with ice cubes and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Eau de vie tends to come in pricey half-bottles, but it delivers a fairly concentrated blast of fruit aroma and can be used sparingly in mixed drinks. The fruit spirits combine very nicely for symphonic effects like you get with multiple rums in Tiki. Some fruit brandies are snappy like applejack; others are lush and round like cognac. You can pair them for the best of both brandies.

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