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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 often 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.
If you are a brandy connoisseur then you already know that Calvados, for example, 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 we suggest you start with one of these great cocktails: Brandy Sour, the Brandy Alexander, the Sidecar, the Brandy Daisy, or the Brandy Old Fashioned.
Fruit Brandy Basics
Pears, apples, grapes, peaches and plums are all great fruits which can be processed into wine. Though, something to keep in mind is that 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.
Apple Brandy Procedure
Making fruit brandy requires 3 steps: 1. Break down the fruit and extract the juice. 2. Ferment the fruit juice. 3. Distill the fermented juice. An optional 4th step would be to age the distilled brandy in a wood barrel.
Apple Brandy Recipe
From here on out, we're assuming you've got a federal distillers permit, or you have a federal fuel alcohol permit and you're going to be putting the final product in your gas tank.
Making apple brandy requires requires one to round up a good amount of apples. Using a rule of thumb, 16 pounds of apples will yield about 1 gallon of cider. 1 gallon of cider will only yield about a pint of brandy once it's distilled!
Let's assume a 5 gallon batch of cider, which will yield about a gallon of finished brandy. For this, you'll 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.
If you picked and juiced your own apples, you may want to either boil the juice for a minimum of 10 minutes OR add a campden tablet and let it sit for a day or so. Both of these methods kill wild yeast and other bacteria that live on apples. If this step is skipped the hard cider that is made will definitely contain "off flavors," some of which will make it into the final product, though at a much less detectable level.
Once you have the fresh pressed cider and have pasteurized it, it is time to start the fermentation process. We have had great luck using wine yeast, WLP775 English Cider Yeast, and Safale US-05 ale yeast. We recommend 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 sit for a few days (or "cold crash") to allow sediment to settle to the bottom of the fermenter.
Feel free to use a yeast nutrient, however it isn't necessary, as cider should contain plenty of nutrients for the yeast to feast on as they grow. Cider generally ferments dry without the addition of yeast nutrients.
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. We prefer brandy that has been distilled in pot stills over column stills, as the fruit flavor comes though more pronounced in pot still brandy. Making good cuts is always recommended, 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.