Think of brandy and you might associate the spirit with something you might find in the liquor cabinet of your great aunt. But it wasn’t that long ago that we associated single malt whisky with old gentlemen in tweed jackets.
Brandy is a distilled spirit made from grapes and much like Cognac and Armagnac, is one often enjoyed at the end of a fine meal as a digestif. But there was once a time when brandy was prevalent in many cocktail recipes.
Prior to the 1860s, brandy was everywhere and almost 70% of the cocktails in Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide book were brandy-based. The Vieux Carré was made with brandy. The Sazerac was originally made with Cognac before it was replaced with rye whiskey. The Harvard cocktail was essentially a Manhattan made with Cognac/Brandy. Then there was the Brandy Crusta, the Fog Cutter Tiki Cocktail and the Japanese Cocktail with Cognac, orgeat and bitters. Even the Mint Julep started with brandy.
The demise of brandy especially in cocktails was due to many factors. As soon as phylloxera wiped out the vineyards, it removed the day to day availability of the spirit and prices took a hike. Other reasons included political and economic factors such as two world wars, and as brandy tried to make a comeback, the spirit became expensive.
The 1940s saw the rise of tequila in cocktail bars and the popular Sidecar was replaced by the Margarita. In the 1950s and 1960s, rum and vodka came on the scene, tiki bars popped around America and vodka was popular for its odourless qualities on the breath.
Will we see brandy making a comeback as a prime cocktail ingredient? You can certainly find brandy and cognac cocktails in Sydney bars such as The Swinging Cat and Ramblin’ Rascals Tavern yet there are certainly challenges ahead for a spirit once thought to be outdated. And just like entry-level priced single malt whisky is making its way in cocktail lists, perhaps price will drive the trend.
Next… Brandy Cocktail Recipe
Photo Credit: St Agnes Brandy. Used with permission.