Though it is sometimes hazardous to one’s credibility to make bold predictions of what the future will bring (Where are those flying cars? I want my flying car!), predictions must be made, even if predictions are merely a combination of yearning for what should be and wishful thinking.
So here’s my bold prediction: 2015 will be the year of brandy, the beginning of a major resurgence of fruit spirits, both through singular consumption and in cocktails.
Vodka, riding high for some years now, shows clear signs of stuttering with the plethora of the Flavored Vodka category. Seems like every imaginable flavor can be plunked into vodka to gain a few dollars profit and a few points in market share. Question is, though, do we really need a cognac-flavored vodka? Is there a strong and heretofore unrequited demand among drinkers for a cognac-flavored vodka, or is it the manic need for devising something new and different to appeal to a jaded market demographic? Here’s a thought: if you want the taste of Cognac…drink Cognac.
Remember when wine coolers were everywhere—then they were nowhere? Vodka isn’t going away, but it may have reached its peak. After all, many of those flavored vodkas are little more than an alcoholic version of Crystal Light.
2014 was undeniably the year of whiskey/whisky. The grain-based spirit influenced by wood maturation reached its highest point (yet), with demand at unprecedented levels. Scotch Single Malts, Irish Whiskey, Bourbon and Rye are all in high demand. Rye Whiskey alone has soared from a mere handful of choices to over a hundred currently available. Many bourbon whiskeys have achieved cult status. And new artisanal distillers have stunned (and, yes at times appalled) the market with their entries. Flavored Whiskey is all the rage these days, led by the ubiquitous Fireball Cinnamon whiskey but with a herd of maple and apple cider and peach and blackberry contenders coming up from behind.
But amongst all the fuss and fury of whiskeys, flavored vodkas, gins and even rums (for which I say YAY!), brandies were getting some serious attention as well. Here’s hoping that will grow even more in 2015.
The icon of brandy, Cognac, gained more market share, more dollar profit, and more recognition in the cocktail venue. More important, Cognac successfully marketed its product across the customer spectrum, whereas before they had enjoyed the curious dichotomy of being either luxury or low-cost, with little in between.
Suddenly, Cognac began appearing prominently in cocktails with crafted brands like Pierre Ferrand Grande Champagne ‘Original 1840′, “H by Hine” VSOP, and Louis Royer’s Force 53 specifically designed for craft bartenders at attractive prices. The great houses of Cognac introduced a flurry of new products for the younger crowd (Cognac and golden muscat wine, anyone?), and major players such as the dynamic House of Camus and the superb Cognac Park entered the U.S. market.
Cognac will continue to grow and expand, maintaining its iconic status while attracting younger and newer consumers. Meanwhile Armagnac, the older and more earthy brandy from the land of Gascony, is teetering on the edge of a long-overdue market explosion.
Just as the wines of Gascony have recently impacted on the market worldwide, the ancient Gascon brandy Armagnac will make its mark The challenge for Armagnac will be how to handle the success when it happens, because Armagnac has settled in to a comfortably low and slow level of production these days, and sudden success will strain the limited supply of well-aged brandy. High demand and scarcity of supply will be the result.
At the same time that Armagnac re-asserts itself on the scene, Calvados, that delightful apple and pear brandy from Normandy, will begin getting the attention—and consumption—it so richly deserves. Calvados (and it’s American cousin, applejack, best known through the Laird’s brand) already has a presence in the artisanal bartender’s repertoire, but it can, and should, expand even more. With the concomitant success and popularity of apple cider, apple brandy should show serious growth.
American Brandy will enjoy a surge as well, both in the ubiquitous, sweet, and fruit-simple volume brandies and the small artisanal producers that have begun to proliferate. The highly-respected Germain-Robin alembic brandy from Mendocino, Osocalis Brandy from Soquel, California, Leopold in Colorado, Clear Creek of Oregon and many others have created the highest quality level possible for brandy in the U.S., ever.
Another style of aged brandy, designated as either “Brandy de Jerez” or “solera brandy”, because it originated in Jerez/Sherry and utilizes the solera method of aging sherry in a series of barrels for an incredibly smooth, silky texture and nuanced flavors, shows tremendous promise. A concerted effort by influential craft bartenders could easily bring this wonderful brandy to increased public attention.
Then there are the ethnic and regional versions, vital and full of flavor, quite often rough and unrefined, but possessed with unique charms. Slivovitz and Barack Palinka from Middle Europe, Armenian Brandy from the Caucasus, Pisco, the clear grape brandy from Peru and Chile that is making some inroads into the American market.
Finally, there is the entire category of intensely flavored “eau-de-vie” brandies. These clear and usually unaged brandies emphasize the absolutely pure and undiluted essence of fruit, and for “flavor drinkers” they are revelatory. After all, why drink neutral spirits (vodka) laced with other flavors when you can experience the piercing purity of flavor from an eau-de-vie that is made from a combination of fruit and water only, intensified into wine then distilled into an unadulterated clear brandy? Kirsch (cherry), Poire (pear) and Mirabelle (yellow plum), among others, are the most intense, focused and concentrated essences in the entire world of spirits, and they can function as aperitifs, digestifs, or as explosive flavor enhancements to cocktails.
There’s a big, wide, wonderful world of brandies out there, and it is poised to benefit from the increased interest in spirits and the burgeoning of cocktail culture. As always, a handful of craft bartenders will begin it—actually, they already have—and we the consumers will benefit as it grows in popularity.
So remember my prediction: 2015 will be the year of brandy. And your drinking habits will never be the same again.