If a bunch of siblings, brothers and sisters, are the whiskies of the world, brandies, rums, vodkas et al are the cousins and second cousins.
All these drinks, of European ancestry (broadly), are distillates of a grain, wine, and molasses or sugar fermentation.
All have different flavours due to the different materials used to form the ferment from which the alcohol portion is concentrated by distilling.
In the brandy area, I buy it occasionally to top up a jug of Sazerac cocktail I keep going in an old half-gallon Michter’s crock. I blend whiskeys, brandies, absinthe or similar drinks (Pernod, Herbsaint), and Angostura and other bitters. Sometimes it goes for years, being partly emptied and then re-filled and so the flavours vary although always within a certain range given the constancy of the elements (their type).
My current one though was re-started a few months ago, based on Jack Daniels and two straight-type Canadian ryes. A couple of days ago I added the subtracted part of Valcourt Napoleon you see and the bit missing in the other one.
I’ve used Cognac too, vs. non-Cognac brandy, but I find the non-Cognac type works well and given the price of Cognac today, it’s not worth it to use it. Cognac too has a particular flavour from the loose-grained Limousin oak, a perfumed taste I’ve never really liked. The non-Cognac brandies are probably aged in American oak as they rarely have that taste. I’d guess the Limousin wood is relatively rare and reserved for Cognac.
There is a large range of brandy available today, including at our LCBO. Many countries make them, even Canada. Those from Spain and Portugal tend to be heavy-bodied and can have a heady or hothouse flowers note.
The Duff Gordon brand from Spain has sweet sherry notes too and a lush taste. The French group are generally distilled from wines made from southern grape varieties and are more austere. They vary in taste and most have internal grade categories the top of which can be very good, e.g., St-Rémy Réserve Privée.
I don’t think I’ve had Valcourt before, I know I’ve tried Villard, Cortel, St-Rémy, as well as many examples from other countries.
Of the two pictured, the Napoleon tastes less mature than the other despite being about $8.00 more in price. The odour reminded me a bit of Pisco or Grappa. The taste though shows the effects of aging and the flavour is good with a smooth, soft mouth feel. The Valcourt X.O. is more woody, almost like a Bourbon (!), more harsh on the tongue but more neutral in taste. Blended in the right way with North American whiskeys, absinthe, and bitters, it makes for a fine Sazaerac and the current batch is at a good pitch, I’ll leave it this way for a while.
Contrary to what some say who make cocktails for maturing in a crock or bottle, I find it doesn’t change much if at all in the container, at least not for the time I keep it. I don’t drink much of it myself but a portion is regularly removed for a devoted reader of Beeretseq.
If you age cocktail or any kind of drink in wood, that is different due to the oxidation factor. Glass or glazed earthenware keeps out out a large invasion of air – there is still some of course in the closed container, but it is fighting a massive amount of alcohol and flavouring and can’t make much headway.
The Valcourt labels state Distillerie de Matha and this is a producer of a well-known line of Cognacs, Brugerolle. I think probably the owner of the Valcourt label has it made at this distillery, unless it’s all one owner and Valcourt is the non-Cognac line.
Online sources suggest too some Armagnac is added to the Valcourt brandies. This is the famous brandy of the Armagnac region of France, made in a simple column still and aged in the sappy black oak of the region (or it was). I can’t say I tasted it but it all goes in to make up the resultant blend and I’m sure it is there for a reason.
Net net, the Valcourt labels shown are very sound but Beeretseq finds their best use in blending, meaning for Sazaerac cocktail as mentioned.
Note re image: the middle image shown is from an old New Orleans guide book (pre-Prohibition), here. Image is believed in public domain and available for educational and historical purposes,. All feedback welcomed.