For most people, the word “brandy” conjures up images of Cognac. While we’re fans of France’s famous aged grape spirit, and its cousins Armagnac and apple-based Calvados too, the brandy world is far larger than just these pours.
So we put out a call for fruit brandies—deliberately excluding those made from grapes and apples—in an effort to fling that brandy door open as wide as possible.
As expected, plenty of wonderful surprises emerged, including a mouthwatering Williams Pear Brandy that could hold its own on the dessert table next to any Cognac bottling, and a digestif-worthy, palate-cleansing Kirsch (cherry eau-de-vie) that actually evokes cherries—a far cry from cherry-flavored spirits that bear little resemblance to fruit.
Since many fruit brandies skew traditional, hailing from the Old World, a distinctly new-world apricot brandy from Texas was a particularly pleasant surprise. Made in San Antonio by Dorćol Distilling and based on Serbian rakia, this fruit-forward spirit seems to be made with cocktails in mind. Indeed, their take on the classic Fitzgerald—mixing one-and-a-half ounces of the spirit with a half-ounce each of simple syrup and lemon juice—seems like an ideal sour-style template to try with other fruit brandies too. Word has it they’re working on a barrel-aged version as well; we can’t wait to test-drive it when it’s ready.
Looking ahead, it seems likely that even more American-made fruit brandies could be headed to liquor store shelves. Although fruit brandies were part of Colonial-era traditions, Prohibition put a stop to that; grain-based spirits, such as whiskey, took precedence instead. It’s only been in more recent decades that craft distillers like Clear Creek have resumed distilling locally grown fruit, not to mention smaller outfits like Dorćol.
In addition to fruit brandies, we’ve rounded out this month’s batch of reviews with handful of other spirits, primarily liqueurs.
G.E. Massenez Poire-Prisonniere Poire Williams (France; Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., New York, NY); 98 points, $70. Juicy and mouthwatering, with lots of bold fruit on the palate plus a subtle flick of vanilla, this Williams pear brandy would make a lovely dessert accompaniment or after-dinner sip. Gift-worthy presentation includes a pear-shaped bottle with a whole pear imprisoned inside.
Clear Creek Distillery Eau de Vie of Mirabelle (USA; Clear Creek Distillery, Portland, OR); 90, $31. Made with local Mirabelle plums, this clear eau-de-vie mixes mouthwatering stone fruit and white floral notes on the nose and palate, finishing clean and brisk. Consider as a palate cleanser or nightcap after a big meal.
Wolfberger Kirsch (France; Kysela Père & Fils, Winchester, VA); 90 points, $40. Hailing from Alsace, this harmonious cherry eau-de-vie offers bold, bright and dusty cherry aroma and flavor, plus a faint floral note on the finish and appropriately bracing alcohol heat.
Kinsman Handcrafted Premium Texas Rakia (USA; Dorćol Distilling, San Antonio, TX); 89 points, $54. This unusual small-batch apricot brandy is made in Texas. It has a bold, delicious apricot aroma. On the palate, the stone fruit flavor is more subdued, with almond richness taking center stage and finishing with a floral touch. Pair with almond or vanilla desserts.
Maraska Slivovica (Croatia; Vision Wine & Spirits, Secaucus, NJ); 89 points; $23. Off-clear in the glass, the scent of this plum brandy suggests ripe blackberries and blueberries, plus a touch of anise. On the palate, look for robust berry and dark plum flavor, leading into sparks of anise and black pepper on the finish. Best Buy.