A Brace of Brandies

IMG_20160722_171343I don’t usually sip on brandy, I like whiskey when I want a hard drink. But I’ve studied all drinks, their manufacture and history, as they’re all related.

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.

IMG_20160723_074910Contrary 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.



5 thoughts on “A Brace of Brandies”

    • Thanks for the comment. Brace here means simply a pair, or two. I was reviewing two French brandies, and how I view them for different uses like a Sazerac cocktail.

  1. Gary,

    Any chance you might be able to post up your recipe for batch Sazerac? I’m still trying to monkey around with my recipe, but haven’t come close to perfecting it for a decent sized batch. Would be interested to read yours if it were to be made available. Thanks!


    • Yes, certainly. I have two forms of it. One is all-whiskeys. One is whiskeys + brandies. The Sazerac as you may know originally was made with Cognac. Later, rye whiskey was substituted, or for part of the Cognac, so you have versions that use 50/50 of each.

      If I do all-whiskeys, I always blend straight whiskeys, so bourbons and straight ryes. It can be 2, it can be 20, it doesn’t really matter. I try not to use blended whiskies including, say, Canadian Mist because I find the grain whisky (neutral) element takes away from the character. But I will use the newer straight type Canadians like Crown Royal Northern Harvest and Canadian Club Single Rye Grain Chairman’s Select. But always with American ones for the deep wood and charred tastes.

      So, say Jack Daniels (any iterations)), Jim Beam, the Single Rye Grain mentioned, maybe Old Overholt, that type of mixture.

      Then, I added bitters, a mix of Angostura and Fee’s (any kind). Sometimes I’ll add a third bitters.

      Then enough asbinthe or Pernod or a combination. I’ve used arak which is fine too. You want the licorice taste. Add about a half-ounce to a full bottle, I find it is enough but taste varies here, you can add more.

      Just mix and serve, no ice.

      The brandy one is the same except for half the whiskey mixture, substitute one or more brandies or Cognacs.

      In time, you can add to the batch to adjust or change what you don’t like. If it’s not woody enough, add more bourbon. If not spicy enough or brandied enough, more rye whiskey or more brandy. Etc.


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