Nobody does brandy quite like the French. The iconic St-Rémy brand is no exception. Liquorland Toast explores the origin of this ambrosial after-dinner drink
The origin of brandy was a bit of a happy accident, if the story of a Dutch shipmaster in the early 16th century is to be believed. It is thought that the trader wanted to maximise the space on-board his ship and so he removed the water from his cargo of wine through distillation. The plan was then to add the water back in at his destination port but the concentrated liquor found favour among drinkers.
This new libation was branded bradwijn – “burned wine” – and is what we know as brandy today.
It may have Dutch origins, but France is the country most synonymous with producing quality brandy. One early example, St-Rémy, has prided itself on being French since its creation in 1886, from its grapes to its bottling process. Just like wine, this noted brandy celebrates its “terroir” (origins of its grapes), selected from the country’s best vineyards. Characterised by a roundness and beautifully long finish, every drop evokes the French art of living.
In the bottle
While grapes are widely used to make brandy, other fermented fruits, such as pears and apples, can also produce fruit brandies. The majority are aged in oak barrels, producing a deep amber colour. You may see letters on a brandy bottle – VS (Very Special), VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) and XO (Extra Old). These denote age ratings; the longer it’s aged, the better quality the drink.
A common way to enjoy a quality brandy is as a digestif – or after-dinner drink. Traditionally served neat at room temperature, a special glass called a snifter, tulip or balloon allows the drinker to cup the glass, to warm the liquid slightly. Served with a cheese platter, chocolate or petit fours only serves to enhance the complex aromas and flavours of this intriguing spirit. But brandy also lends itself beautifully to cocktails and is often used to deglaze a pan for delicious savoury and sweet sauces like that in crêpes suzette.
Multi award-winning St-Rémy XO is rich and complex. In the glass, it is a deep amber, tinted with red hues. On the nose, you’ll smell delicate oak and vanilla, with hints of honey and ripe fruit. Take a sip and subtle notes of wood and vanilla are heightened with flavours of gingerbread, candied apricots, dates, figs and nuts. Subtly spicy with a long finish, it is delicious served neat, over ice, or in a classic Sidecar cocktail.