Drinking Brandy: Appreciation class

Drinking Brandy: Celebrating the uniqueness of palate

Allow your own palate to develop, regardless of what others say

The human palate is a unique and fascinating thing. People’s tastes in everything differ. From cars to clothes and music to food, there may be many overlaps in what people agree to like, but there are also huge plains of difference. So why would this be any different when drinking brandy?

There is no right or wrong on what you like or dislike when it comes to appreciation. At the end of the day your own taste buds tell you quite instantly what they like or don’t like. Follow and discover more of what you like, and move away from what you don’t. I don’t feel anyone should tell you otherwise, it is your own perspective that counts at the end of the day.

Break down negative connotations

The first step to drinking brandy, and appreciating it,  is to step outside of preconceived notions of the spirit. Spook and Diesel, dobble brannas en coke. Klippies and Cola. While those all have a place in the bigger brandy picture, it is the matured and aged spirits that truly reveal the depth and character of their crafting. Much like whisky premium brandies are also double distilled in copper stills and aged in oak barrels for anything from 3 to 20 years plus.

Open your mind to the education that is out there around brandy. Focus hard on nosing and tasting so see what you personally can discern from it. And most importantly don’t rush it. It was only after a 3rd tutored tasting that I really started to discover the different and multi-layered complexity of premium brandy. It takes a while for your palate to become used to sipping neat spirits, but when it does you will be amazed at what you discover. Unique and varied, no brandy is alike, each having its own subtle differences.

The specifics

There is not a great deal you really need to know when drinking, tasting and enjoying premium brandy. At the end of the day you are either going to like the smell and taste of a brandy, or not. But there are a few hints that can really help you when tasting and comparing different brandies:

The Glass
Premium Brandies are best drunk out of a “Brandy Snifter” or “Brandy Balloon”, which concentrates the subtle aromas of the spirit at the top of the glass for nosing.

Pour and Serve
Brandy doesn’t need to “breathe” as does wine. Letting your brandy stand too long will result in evaporation of volatile alcohols and a loss of character.

Don’t swill the glass.
The layers of smells and tastes in brandy are so delicate that mixing these up before nosing will result in a loss of these subtle nuances.

Nose first.
If you are not used to drinking brandy or sipping neat spirits, start with your nose a way off from the glass and bring it closer as your nose acclimatises to the alcohol.

Small sips.
Again if not used to sipping spirits, start with a tiny wetting of the lips. Too much on that first sip can overpower and put you off ever trying again. Much like your nose, when your taste buds acclimatise you can take bigger sips to fully appreciate the taste.

Start young and move older.
If you taste a number of premium brandies, start first with the youngest aged and move up through the older brandies. Always leave some of each to go back to. It is amazing how different your first can taste after your last, once your nose and palate have been through them all and warmed up to tasting neat brandies.

Try them neat first up.
Although this may be too strong for some people, I do believe it is better to sample a brandy first without ice or water. While there is no problem adding these to the mix later (and indeed in some cases it does reveal more elements of the brandy) At least this way you get a true feel for the neat spirit and then would be better advised on what to add to it to match your specific palate. If you cant go neat, add a dash of pure spring water, but just a tiny drop.

Go blind.
It’s a strange but true human conviction that when it comes to enjoying anything consumable, it seems price and brand do influence our final views of a product. And that’s ok, we are human after all. But when you do taste a range of brandies, try and do it “blind”. So pour them out and mark the glasses in some way that you know which is which underneath, but then mix them up in such a way that when you taste, you don’t actually know one from the other.

That way all preconceptions about brand or price are put aside and the only thing you can judge on is the liquid lying in the glass in front of you. This makes for many an interesting discovery, and also leads to some pretty fun revelations about what it was you like, or at least thought you did!