Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
Meanderer

Distilled Apples

Recommended Posts

I've noticed a slow but steady growth in small scale, artisanal apple brandy producers in the U.S. but I have yet to come across any of their products on the shelves of my local liquor stores.  Has anybody had any experience with any locally produced apple brandies and, if so, are any of them on a par with or better than comparably priced Calvados imported to the states?  I'll be in the vicinity of two small distilleries in the northeast in a few weeks and I hope to judge for myself.

You may find this Jason Wilson article of interest to you.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...8101401830.html

Apple brandies were also discussed in several Free Range on Food chats including this one:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...9020502272.html

Apple brandy weather will be upon us soon. Time to get ready.

skipper

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I should point out that Laird's -- which makes IMO by far the best apple brandy in the US -- does not use obscure apple cultivars developed to be turned into cider and distilled into spirits.  As far as I know, they use the fruit of the same cultivars you can buy in the supermarket.

Unfortunately, if there ever were significant numbers of cider/spirit apple trees in the US, there aren't now.  This is unlike traditional European apple cider and apple spirit producing areas of the world such as Calvados, Asturias, South West England, etc. that have a more or less continuous tradition of apple-based alcoholic beverages and therefore a more or less continuous population of specialized apple cultivars for these purposes.

Planting and growing apple trees in the US for a supposed future market for apple-based distillates on a large scale?  It seems highly unlikely this will happen in the forseeable future.  Figure it takes around 4 years before a new apple tree will be ready to bear significant fruit.  Figure another 4 years to put some age on the apple distillate.  Figure 2 years of planning.  Ten years is a pretty long time and a pretty large investment with no guarantee of a return.  And if it doesn't work out?  The growers have to rip out all those cider apple trees, plant something they can sell, and then wait for those trees to bear fruit.

Ultimately, the reason to ferment alcoholic beverages or distill spirits was exactly because it was the best way to either make money off of your crops, or it was the only way to conveniently preserve the value.  Unfortunately, Prohibition gave the US alcoholic beverages industry a huge hit from which it still hasn't fully recovered, and with respect to things like apples, refrigeration and improved transportation changed the economics.  This is why we still don't have one of the great American spirits of all: aged peach brandy.  150 years ago, the best thing they could do with the superabundance of peaches at harvest time was distill them into brandy.  Now, making brandy is less profitable than shipping peaches across the country.

Frankly, if Georgia wants to bring out a distinctive, artisinal spirit -- peach brandy is a much more logical place to start than apple brandy.  There's a niche where there is literally no competition.

I thought about apple brandy because I had just tried Calvados for the first time...thought about the apple orchards of northern Georgia...and wondered if they could it. I've never had peach brandy, so I didn't explore that :)

As for the apple trees -- I wasn't engaged on this point, but wouldn't you be able to use any apple? I'm sure there are specifics ones that would make a better spirit (God knows I prefer any green apple to a red delicious) but that's not to say that those apples aren't available (whether Georgia or Washington state or wherever).

Finally, Georgia has such stupid alcohol laws that I'm not surprised that this has never been explored.


Edited by Reignking (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You can use apple cultivars that were not designed for cider and/or brandy. This is what Laird's does. But there are specific cultivars that have been developed specifically to have properties that are good for cider and brandy. These cultivars tend to be inedibly sour or bitter and/or have a texture or other properties that makes them unsuitable for eating. In the areas of Europe that have longstanding continuous traditions of making cider and brandy, they tend to use these specialized "cider apples" along with a mix of apples that might be suitable also for eating and/or cooking. The relative dearth of cider apples in the United States may be one reason why our European-style apple brandies don't measure up well.


--

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, any apple, just as any other fruit, can be distilled into a spirit. However, just as some grapes are considered to be better for grape-based brandy(Cognacs and Armagnacs mostly use Ugni Blanc), so must some apples be better for apple-based brandy. I read somewhere that producers in Normandy may use as many as 75 different varieties of apples in a single batch and that most of those varieties are not typically grown for any other purpose eaten.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I suppose one should point out that the traditional or "allowed" choice of fruit isn't always because that's what's best. After the phylloxera plague, most of the producers in the Cognac region replanted almost exclusively with ugni blanc rather than the mix of grape varietals they had been using before the plague -- not because ugni blanc was the best grape for distilling into brandy, but rather because it was more economical (higher yields, etc.). Cognac, in particular, is made from pretty crappy raw materials and depends upon maturation in wood for most of its desirable characteristics. This is one reason that some American producers (notable Germain-Robin) have been able to compete with the French producers by starting off with a much higher quality wine and a much higher quality distillate out of the still. Grape brandies in general don't tend to have much "grape character" whereas one would like for an apple brandy to have significant "apple character" (otherwise you might as well have a grape distillate, right?).


Edited by slkinsey (log)

--

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I partially succeeded in my plan to try the two apple brandies I mentioned at the beginning of this topic. I could not locate a bottle of the Flag Hill product but I did find a bottle of its pear brandy. It had a definite nose and taste of pear but finished with a faint oily/fishy taste when tried at room temperature. When slightly chilled, as recommended on the bottle, it was better.

The Sweetgrass Farms Apple Brandy was really, really, really good. As you may have guessed, I am not terribly articulate when it comes to describing the product but I can say this--if it was readily available where I live, I would purchase it on a regular basis despite its high price(about $35 for a 375 ml bottle).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you're willing to go a tad more north than Vermont, there's a Quebec Eastern Townships cider producer which does apple ice wines and brandies.

Producer site

SAQ (Quebec Liquor Board) listing

I've got their brandy and eau-de-vie in the house, but not much to compare the brandy against (Laird's 80 proof and basic Boulard calvados (no age statement)).

I like it, in any event. Their literature infers at leasts two years of barrel aging.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I haven't tried it, but Bellwether says they use traditional European cider apples, as well as Upstate NY varieties, in their ciders.

Bellwether cider is quite good, especially the drier varieties, and they're very nice folks. A small distillery recently opened in Burdett, NY. They make something called "Maplejack liqueur," which is an apple brandy and maple syrup concoction. When I tried it recently, it had a great nose of apples and reminded me of Calvados. The added syrup made it too sweet for my taste, however, and the sweetness obscured the subtle apple flavors. They're not planning to release the plain apple brandy for sale, which is too bad as I think the base spirit would be pretty good without the maple syrup.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm not a huge apple brandy fan, but I just broke down and bought a 375 of Yahara Bay Apple Brandy. They're a local company (in Madison, WI), so really I bought it for that alone. The bottle says the brandy's made with local Honey Crisp apples. I have to say I really wasn't expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised. It's a nice brandy with a good apple finish. Not terribly complex, but I'd say it stands up decently to the Calvados I've tried at the price point ($23/375ml).


nunc est bibendum...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Not terribly complex, but I'd say it stands up decently to the Calvados I've tried at the price point ($23/375ml).

It stands up pretty well to $46/740ml Calvados? That sounds a lot better than "not terribly complex." You can get a pretty darn complex Calvados for 46 bucks a bottle! 5 and even 10 year old Calvados can be had for around 50 bucks a bottle.


--

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"I wonder what kind of stills the US apple brandy makers are using? The better Calvados is from a pot still.

Also all Calvados contains some amount of pear brandy. So add in those two factors and I think it accounts for the big differences Calvados and our apple brandy."

Bfishback: 15 August 2009 - 01:46 PM

I was in Normandy earlier this year for a Polymer Char conference and my host was kind enough to take me to a couple of Calvados distilleries. The ones I visited claim to us only apples and they were pot stills. I got the impression that this was standard for the region. Now if I can just find a source for Roger Groult's 25 year old Calvados in the states, I'd be a happy panda. of course, a yearly trip to restock isn't that bad.

What I actually found I like as much as the apple brandy was the Pommade, an apple wine of 12-14 proof.

Kevin

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Like I said, I'm not a Calvados expert and I don't really have access to a lot of it nor have I particularly sought it out. So $23 per 375 is better than what I'm used to-Daron, which I don't think is very good. You don't see too much $50 Calvados (I don't think I've seen any, though I haven't looked) around here. I don't really care to make sure I can get good Calvados though (like I do with Rittenhouse BIB and Carpano Antica Formula which I made sure I had local access to). The YB reminds me more of brandies like Maison Surrenne or Germain-Robin (not Shareholder's reserve), which is to say pretty good but not terribly complex as far as brandies go.

I've seen Yahara Bay products around for quite a while but didn't spring for it because I thought $23 was a bit much and I wasn't sure whether it would be worth it. I sprang for it and was surprised that it was pretty good, though it wasn't earth shaking. On the world market, it's probably over priced. Here, it's a solid local brandy with the added value that it's made pretty much down the street from me.


nunc est bibendum...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Honey Crisp"?

Why on earth do American distillers insist on using eating apples, like Honey Crisp and Golden Delcious for Apple Brandy and Cider.

It's no wonder most of the American Apple brandies are insipid.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hence my initial hesitation at buying it and my surprise that it wasn't that bad. This company also as a vodka, an "extra dry" gin, a limoncello, a rum, and I think even an unaged whiskey. I haven't tried any of these other products and I'm not sure what purpose they serve beyond novelty. I mean, why make a rum or a gin to compete with Flor de Cana or Beefeater? The apple brandy makes more sense to me--its local and its brandy, two things people like a lot around these parts.


nunc est bibendum...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The reason to make things like vodka, gin or white rum is that they don't have to be aged. The high proof neutral spirit ones have the added advantage in that they are a lot easier to distill. Building up a supply of good aged spirit is a major stumbling block to becoming a producer of spirits. You can't just start out with a warehouse full of eight year old whiskey or brandy, and you also probably can't afford to start distilling and wait 8 years before selling your product. As a result, you have to sell things that don't have much age on them. This is why it's unlikely these producers will compete with Laird's anytime soon. Best case scenario, it's going to be around eight years before they can even taste to see if their product is as good as Laird's bonded.


--

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...