Brandy and Cognac

Turn Wine into Brandy
with your own miniature distilling machine

The chemistry set for connoisseurs. Satisfy your thirst for experimentation and for good, full-proof spirits! This is a working version of the professional apparatus used by the world finest distilleries. Put in your favorite wine, aperitif, beer, ale or stout (by adding water), eau de vies (by adding fruit juice), distilled brandies and whiskeys. Crafted in Italy with style and precision, it makes a fascinating display. And you though you had it all.

Note: Under the laws of the the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, this still is exempt from regulations for setting up and registration of distilling provided that it is not used for distilling.

(item number 1492)

click here to order

And don't forget to take a look at our exclusive Cognac Pfeife.

The most highly regarded of the world's great brandies is cognac which can only be made from grapes grown and distilled from within the specially-demarcated Cognac region, about 100 miles north of Bordeaux on the coast of France. (Hence, all cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is cognac.)

    The St. Emillion (also called ugni blanc), folle blanche and colombard are the three grapes varieties used. Cognac is always distilled twice in small copper potstills and then aged in French oak casks for aging. The minimum aging period for cognac is two and a half years, but the vast majority of cognacs age for much longer periods, with the best XOs maturing for two to three decades or more.

    Virtually all bottled cognacs are blends of many different spirits. A particular VSOP brand may be the end result of the blending of as many as 50 cognacs. The purpose of blending is to maintain a precise standard of taste and quality from batch to batch.

    Hennessy was one of the first to introduce a system that would help consumers differentiate among various cognacs. Sometimes known as Three Star, VS (Very Special) cognac is a blend from brandies that have aged a minimum of two years, but many have aged considerably longer. In Hennessy's VS, there are brandies that are up to ten years old. VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) refers to blends that are not less than four years old. The descriptor XO (Extra Old) denotes a blend of considerable age. The Hennessy family was the first to use this designation. Other descriptions such as Napoleon, Extra, Vielle Reserve, and Vieux mean the same thing.

    Armagnac, also from France, differs from cognac in a number of ways, the most obvious being a single distillation. Armagnac also often carries a vintage date on the label, referring to the year that the brandies were distilled. All brandies used in the blend must, by law, come from that single vintage. Cognac only rarely uses vintage years as an identification, preferring instead to use a lettering system.

    Despite the renown of it's neighbor to the north, more brandy is produced in Spain than in any other European country. And of that production, some 95% comes from Andalucia in the south, especially from the town of Jerez de la Fontera. What separates these Spanish brandies from those produced elsewhere is the utilization of the solera system in the aging process. Under this system of oak cask aging younger brandies are continually married with the mellower, older brandies from previous vintages. The end result are fine brandies that combine the best qualities of each of the individual components into one consistent product representative of the style of the product.

     Germany also has a long tradition of making fine brandy, even though the country is at the northernmost limit of wine production. One pioneer of fine brandy was Hugo Asbach, who described his brandy as "Weinbrand", the German word for grape brandy, which subsequently became the generic term for high-quality wine spirits. In an attempt to emulate the qualities of cognac, some German brandies are blended solely from grape spirits produced in pot-stills. However, the best German brandy is blended from spirits derived from both pot and continuous stills, giving it its own style, with an emphasis on flavor and smoothness. Asbach Uralt Brandy is a blend of both types of wine spirit, aged for over two years in small oak casks. The result epitomizes German brandy at its best and is richer and rounder than many cognac brandies.

    Fruit brandies--eaux de vie--are water white, 80 to 90 proof spirits distilled directly from fruits. Fruit brandies made from cherries are called Kirsch or Kirschwasser; from pears, Poire, and from raspberries, Framboise. They are best served chilled over ice. Fruit-flavored brandies are brandy based liqueurs flavored with blackberries, peaches, apricots, cherries, and so on. Brandies fine enough to be drunk undiluted out of a snifter do not need to be heated over a candle. The warmth of a hand is sufficient to enhance the bouquet.

    American brandies are divided unequally between the giant producers like Gallo, Christian Brothers, Paul Masson and Korbel and the minuscule, boutique distillers of Oregon and California. Many critics have noted improvement in domestic brandy production in recent years, allowing these products to compete with those of any other region in the world. A great deal of brandy is also produced in Mexico, including the world's best-selling brand , Presidente.

    There are many brandies available in this country, although most have relatively small audiences. They include calvados from France and applejack from the U.S. made from apples; grappa made in Italy and now in California; Metaxa and ouzo from Greece; pisco from muscat grapes and produced primarily in Peru; slivovitz, a golden-brown plum brandy produced in the various Balkan countries; kirsch, produced from cherries in Alsace, Germany and Switzerland.


    Did you know Hennessy, the french cognac producer, has 2,600 vintners under contract and operates 27 distilleries. They are the largest owner of the largest reserve of old cognac with 250,000 barrels aging at all times. Hennessy XO is a blend of more than 100 brandies, and Paradis features brandies in its blend 100 years old.

    Did you know, Martell is the best selling cognac in France? The annual amount of evaporation (the "angel's share") from brandies Martell ages alone amounts to 2.5 million bottles. That's right, million. Martell's most famous label is Cordon Bleu, a blend of Grande and Petite Champagne brandies aged 20-30 years.

    Did you know, A.E. Dor was founded in 1858 and is famous for having the largest reserve of old cognacs in the Charentes? The oldest dating back to 1805. The Hors d'Age No. 8 Grande Champagne and the XO are both highly sought after. A.E. Dor's crowning achievement is the lustrous, 50-year old Hors d'Age No. 9 Grande Champagne cognac.

    Did you know, the Frapin estate, Chateau Fontpinot, is the largest in Grande Champagne? It encompasses 740 acres that have been n the family since 1210. Frapin is most famous for their Extra Reserve Patrimoniale, an extraordinary limited bottling of rare. private reserves, and Tres Vieille Reserve du Chateau, an exemplary brandy distilled from grapes grown on the Chateau estate and aged in small casks for 15-20 years.

    Did you know, Courvoisier is the brandy most closely associated with Napoleon Bonaparte. Courvoisier owns no vineyards, rather they purchase brandies from over 400 private distillers and then oversee their cellaring and blending. At any point, Courvoisier has roughly 45,000 barrels of brandy aging. The courvoisier line of cognacs feature on the top-end XO Imperial, a Fine Champagne cognac comprised of brandies aged between 20-35 years and Initiale Extra, a blend of Borderies and Grande Champagne brandies aged more than 50 years.

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March 1999

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