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Brandy is created by distilling fruit wine. After the fruit has been fermented into a wine, the wine is then distilled to produce a strong, clear spirit with the essence of fruit it was made from. Traditionally Brandy was distilled in pot stills; today column stills are often used, as they can be used for continuous distillation. Brandy obtained from a column still has a higher alcohol concentration but is less aromatic than brandy distilled from a pot still. The style of still depends on the style of brandy produced. Cognac (a popular French Brandy) is produced in pot stills while many American brandies use fractional distillation in column stills. It is thought that wine was first distilled as a preservation method and as a way to make it easier for merchants to transport.
After distillation, the clear brandy is placed into oak barrels to mature. Brandies with a natural golden or brown color most likely have been aged in oak casks. Some brandies mostly from Spain, are aged in a system where the spirit is transferred to a different barrel each year. After a period of aging, which depends on the style, class and legal requirements, the mature brandy is mixed with distilled water to reduce alcohol concentration and bottled.
I will be the first to admit- I am not an expert on the nuances of brandy. I spend most of my drinking-time, drinking whiskey. Though, I’ve tried quite a few commercial examples of brandy including Calvados. If you are a brandy connoisseur then you already know that Calvados is an apple brandy from the French region of Lower Normandy. Calvados is distilled from apple cider which is made from over 200 varieties of locally grown apples. The fruit is harvested and pressed into a cider which is then fermented into a dry cider. Once it is fermented it is distilled and aged for 2 years in oak casks, it can be sold as calvados. The longer it is aged, the smoother the drink becomes.
If you have not tried brandy I suggest you start with one of these great cocktails: Brandy Sour, the Brandy Alexander, the Sidecar, the Brandy Daisy, or the Brandy Old Fashioned.
How To Make Brandy
In order to make homemade brandy you first must choose the fruit you want to use for the wine. Pears, apples, grapes, peaches and plums are all great fruits which can be processed into wine. If the wine is being made from berries, sugar will need to be added as berries are lower in sugar than other types of fruit. Making brandy at home is a great way to capture the flavors and fragrances of summer and fall fruits all year long. Fall is a great time to pick apples which once turned into cider can then be fermented into dry cider. The dry cider will then be distilled into apple brandy. To make brandy at home you'll need to gather your fruit and start the fermentation process at least a month before you plan distill it to make brandy.
Apple Brandy Recipe
In order to make apple brandy you will need apples. 16 pounds of apples will yield about 1 gallon of cider. If you are planning on doing a 5 gallon batch of cider will need roughly 80 pounds of apples. If you choose to use apples you will need to grind and press the apples. If you do not have access to a press a heavy duty juicer will work, but it is not efficient and takes a long time. If you are like me (lazy) head down to the local farm and buy 5 gallons of fresh pressed cider.
Once you have the fresh pressed cider it is time to start the fermentation process. Feel free to use a yeast nutrient of choice, I personally don’t add yeast nutrients to my ciders and they always ferment dry. I have had great luck using wine yeast, WLP775 English Cider Yeast, and Safale US-05 ale yeast. I prefer the English Cider yeast and US-05 as they both ferment dry, but retain a lot of flavor from apples. Always take a hydrometer reading and make sure to aerate the cider before pitching the yeast. Keep the cider between 64-68 during fermentation for best results. The cider will finish fermenting in a week or two, take a hydrometer reading to verify the fermentation is finished. Once fermentation is finished leave it for a month to settle before running it.
You can get real nice final product with a single slow spirit run in a pot still, but you can get a bit cleaner higher ABV product by running it twice. I prefer brandy that has been distilled in pot stills over column stills, as I feel the fruit flavor comes though more pronounced in a pot still. Always make good cuts, but with apple brandy we have found that you can get away with more lenient cuts as the apple flavor is more forgiving. Apple brandy goes perfectly with toasted oak. Feel free to use oak chips, oak spirals, or oak cubes,- taste the product frequently as you don’t want to over oak the brandy. Once you feel the oak flavor in the brandy is at its peak, strain the brandy and bottle it. Do not store the final product in the refrigerator as a true fruit brandy does not belong there.