Though overshadowed by the bourbon boom, domestic brandy has a growing appeal. Adventurous young consumers, weaned on craft whiskey and beer, are eager to try something new. Bartenders love it because many classic cocktail recipes call for brandy, and new American expressions like Copper & Kings emphasize flavor and power over the more subtle notes found in Old World brandies like Cognac.
“It’s fruit forward, and it packs a punch,” said Julia Momose, a cocktail consultant and former bartender at GreenRiver in Chicago.
Distilleries like Copper & Kings are opening, while older, more established producers like Germain-Robin and Osocalis Distillery, both in California, and Starlight Distillery in Indiana are finding a sudden uptick in interest.
Producers of other craft spirits, like Corsair Distillery in Tennessee and Finger Lakes Distilling in New York State are expanding into brandy. Even mass-market heavyweights like Christian Brothers Brandy and E&J Brandy are polishing their images in response to renewed interest: Christian Brothers, owned by Heaven Hill Distilleries, recently revamped its packaging, while this week Gallo, which owns E&J, already the best-selling brandy in the country, announced a new, premium brandy line called Argonaut, along with the reactivation of 20 traditional Cognac stills.
“It feels like it’s the right moment, when people are ready to try something new and different but that they’re still familiar with,” said Chip Tate, the founder and former owner of Balcones Distilling, a whiskey maker in Waco, Tex., who is now distilling and aging brandy in a new venture called Tate & Company Distillery.
Broadly speaking, brandy is simply fermented, distilled fruit juice, and any fruit will do. Until Prohibition, apple, peach and pear brandies were some of the most popular drinks in America, though hundreds of distilleries made grape brandy (essentially, distilled wine) as well. Since then, American brandy has been dominated, and defined, by a few brands — Christian Brothers, E&J, Korbel — and their thick, super-sweet style.
Perhaps the most famous brandy isn’t American at all: Cognac, which must be distilled and aged in the Cognac region of France. (Armagnac, another kind of French brandy, is made in Gascony.) Cognac producers follow strict rules, including a limited choice of varietals — primarily ugni blanc, a mild grape also known as trebbiano.
American brandy faces none of those constraints. That freedom is drawing craft distillers…