While Queen Victoria was finishing dinners with peaches, American nobility was sipping mint juleps concocted with fruit brandy—not Bourbon. Today, Southern spirit makers are attempting to ignite a renaissance of the beverage.
“Historically, fruit brandy commanded a premium over whiskey in the cottage industry,” says Chadwick Ralston, who heads marketing at ASW Distillery in Atlanta.
Before Prohibition, a dry style of peach brandy was made using all parts of the fruit, its production devoid of added sugar or flavoring. ASW Distillery and High Wire Distilling, based in Charleston, South Carolina, are among a handful of commercial distillers using traditional cues and exquisite varieties to bring back the brandy.
Production is dependent on cooperating weather cycles for ripe freestone peaches (where the pit easily separates from the fruit). So far, crop yields have been a challenge, and American Spirit Whiskey has moved on to other fruit brandies.
High Wire Distilling Owners Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall, however, have persisted and made a limited-release, numbered-bottle Peach Brandy, with crops grown in state.
“We use recouped charred or toasted French oak barrels,” says Blackwell. “The barrels previously stored fortified wine: Madeira and Port,” He’s hoping the release will re-establish peach brandy as “the American Cognac.”
South Carolina and Georgia have always duked it out to be the juiciest state on the Eastern seaboard. The peach varieties here are their crown jewels.
Belle of Georgia
This white-fleshed heirloom freestone is popular with backyard growers. It’s listed on the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste list of delicacies disappearing from America’s tables.
This is the queen mother of American varieties. The freestone fruit was introduced in the late 1800s and named after the wife of Georgia’s most decorated orchard owner, Samuel H. Rumph.
This freestone reaches ripeness later in the season and contains the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. It’s also the perfect size for modern brandy production.