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Brandy and Liqueurs

Brandy de Jerez (Jerez Brandy)

Origins

Brandy is a distilled beverage with centuries of history. Distillation is, in fact, an art whose historical origin is so remote that it difficult to trace, making it unclear whether it should be located in China or Babylonia. What we do know is that it was the Arab culture, through the Iberian Peninsula, that transmitted this art to the western world. The religious prohibition of drinking alcohol limited their enjoyment of the famous wines of the Sherry or Jerez region, so that Muslims chose to distill them in order to transform them for medical purposes, using them as antiseptics or in cosmetics and perfume.

The production of brandy itself, aging wine spirits in oak casks, cannot be accurately placed in time either. There are 16th century documents that ascertain a significant production of wine spirits, which was even taxed by the City Government of Jerez with a municipal tax on production. By the 18th and 19th centuries, Spain was consolidated as a major producer of spirits for commercial purposes and for export. These exports were destined mainly for countries in central and northern Europe, Holland being a particularly prominent destination, serving as an export platform for practically everywhere else in the world. Hence the origin of the term used to describe the product in Spanish, coming from the Dutch; the word brandy is the English adaptation of the Dutch term brandewijn (burnt wine).

In the early 19th century, with the arrival of English and French merchants in Jerez, the use of the characteristic elaboration and aging processes of what is now known as Brandy de Jerez (Brandy from Jerez) began to settle, and the product’s promotion and marketing continued to expand around the world. It is at this time when the best-known brands first began to see the light. Later, the 20th century brought a period of expansion and global recognition, which is widely consolidated in the present.

Brandy and Brandy de Jerez

Brandy is part of what are called "Spirituous drinks", defined as having an alcohol content exceeding 15%, and being obtained by distilling various fermented natural products of agricultural origin. In the case of brandy, we are talking about spirits and distilled wine grapes, aged in oak, with an alcohol content of 36 to 45 degrees.

What, then, is it that differentiates Brandy de Jerez? Its organoleptic profile, so unique, is the main difference. This profile is the result, on one hand, of the very special wines the brandy comes from, and on the other, of the traditional elaboration system in wooden casks, where the brandy ages, together with the unique climatic and environmental conditions occurring in the processing area. Main factors:

  • Aging in American oak casks with 500 liters capacity, which previously must have been conditioned with Sherry wines.
  • The use of the traditional criaderas and solera aging system.
  • Aging exclusively in the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

The grape variety used is Airén (95%), and Palomino. The distillation is carried out with the wine without lees and through a simple distillation, separating the heads and tails and choosing only the central fraction of the spirits. Copper stills called alquitaras are used for the distillation.

Later, for aging, American oak casks, called botas, are used (their porosity and transfer capacity are the most adequate), with 500 to 600 l capacity, previously conditioned with Jerez wines, which may be of different types: Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Pedro Ximénez, etc.. Consequently, Brandy de Jerez is the spirit of wine, insofar as its raw material is the result of the distillation of wine. This distillation - which for one liter of brandy requires some three liters of wine - is a natural process of separating, through heat and cold, certain components of the special wines of Jerez, leaving the imprint of the particular characteristics that make up their aroma and taste.

Aging must be carried out for a minimum of six months, but because of its particular aging system, called criaderas and solera, any Brandy de Jerez, regardless of its age, actually contains components of older aging. The reason is that this is a dynamic system, based on the transfer of liquids, where the brandy is mixed and nurtured by the various stages of development. This confers exceptional stability and quality to the final product.

The operation of the system is both simple and complex: several overlapping rows of botas (casks), called criaderas, are placed resting over a first row, which in turn rests on the floor and is called the solera (from the Spanish word for floor, suelo). Each year, a small amount of brandy is removed from the solera and used to bottle and send to the market, but there is never a full extraction. Instead, the gap left by the amount removed is filled with an equivalent amount of brandy from another cask in the row immediately above, which in turn is filled with brandy from other cask in the row immediately above, and so on, up to the first criadera or escala, which is the one incorporating the younger, newly distilled wine and spirits.

A very special brandy

Spain has a long tradition in the elaboration of Brandy, which over time has made us one of the major players in worldwide processing and consumption. It should be pointed out that 95% of Spanish brandy is Brandy de Jerez, the only one that (since 1989) has its own Specific Designation of Origin and Regulatory Board.

According to Regulatory Board information, the production volume lies at some 67 million bottles a year, of which 60% goes to domestic markets and 40% to exports in over 70 countries, among which Philippines, Mexico, Germany and Britain stand out.

Types

Depending on the aging time, there are three types of Brandy de Jerez:

  • Brandy de Jerez Solera: the youngest and fruitiest, with an average age of a year and a volatile content greater than 150 mg. per 100 cc. of pure alcohol.
  • Brandy de Jerez Solera Reserva: average age of three years and a total content of volatile components of 200 mg. per 100 cc. of pure alcohol.
  • Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva: average age of ten years and a total content of volatile components of 250 mg. per 100 cc. of pure alcohol.

Liqueurs

Apart from the historical development of Brandy de Jerez, the province of Cadiz has a significant tradition in the development of other liqueurs and spirits. These beverages are produced by distillation, the traditional process of physical separation, with the application of heat, of alcohol from the other components present in any liquid obtained by fermentation of an agricultural plant product.

El Puerto de Santa Maria seems to be particularly important regarding this industry. To point out just a few, there is the traditional production of gin by the company Rives, or the cocoa liqueur from Destilerías Picó, a classic craft in Cadiz with two centuries of history, but still producing in copper alembics to this day; and the famous punch from Ponche Caballero, also dating back to the 19th century. This tradition in the production of distillates has carried over into present times with the launching of new products that adapt to the latest trends, among which we could mention the Chocolate Vodka sold by yet another company in Cadiz, Pancracio.

 
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