Brandy - Drink for Heroes
Brandy de JerezSpanish brandy is seen by some as a poor relation to Cognac. Unfair, as there are some incredible Spanish brandies that are on a par or surpass the best Cognacs, particularly the Andalusian brandies. And though it's not a competition — we can enjoy them all — Spanish brandies arrived earlier than Cognac.
Claret is the liquor for boys, port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy. - Samuel JohnsonI do like a good glass of brandy when I visit Spain, whirling its slightly sticky liquor in a crystal brandy balloon to accompany a cigar and a coffee after a good meal at Casa Lucio (the Rules of Madrid).
Like Cognac, there are protective designations of origin for brandy produced in the region of Jerez, Andalusia. Here are my three picks from some of the famous Andalusian bodegas with protected status. The brandies are verified as using traditional methods of production.
I chose these not only because of content, but also bottle. Always choose a brandy by its bottle. They need to look well on the drinks trolley, do they not? Speaking of nice bottles, a reminder of the Honorable brandy from Torres plus enticing video, the last brandy featured from a trip to Madrid.
Bodegas OsborneThe famous Osborne Bull signage (above) you see on the roads of southern Spain — which is always nice to spot as you're driving along — was created to advertise Bodegas Osborne's Veterano brandy.
The Osborne Sherry Company was founded in 1772 by Englishman Thomas Osborne Mann to satisfy the cravings of his fellow countrymen for a decent drop of sherry. The company remains a family business, concentrating on what they've done well for the past couple of hundred years.
The Conde de Osborne Dalí Edition, first released in 1964, comes in a white bottle designed by Spanish eccentric artist Salvador Dalí. The brandy is aged for more than ten years using the solera system of ageing through a succession of barrels.
Don't expect a surreal joke when you open the bottle. It won't be full of green sand or anything. There's nothing oddball about the taste of this fine, smooth brandy either. Osborne describe its 'organoleptic characteristics' in their online shop.
Bodegas Wiliams and HumbertA great favourite of mine, the Grand Duque de Alba Oro from Williams & Humbert is aged for at least 20 years in American oak barrels, taking plenty of time between transfers through the criaderas (or nursery barrels) to the final solera casks ready for bottling. In the solera method, barrels are arranged in tiers that contain brandy (or sherry) of the same age. Lower barrels containing older brandy are topped up by younger brandy from the preceding tier in a continual process. Sherry Notes offer a great explanation of the solera system here.
More English connections with this bodega too. Williams & Humbert was founded in 1877 by Sir Alexander Williams and Arthur Humbert. Now run by the Medina family, some of the original soleras are still in place.
W & H's Grand Duque de Alba Oro is produced in limited quantities. The brandy has a complex taste best reserved for those occasions when you can really savour it, Williams & Humbert recommend serving in 'a thin snifter at room temperature, allowing it to warm up in your hand' like all good brandies.
Lovely bottle, verdad?
The Gran Duque de Alba was launched in 1945. At that time, the seventh Duke of Alba, Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart y Falcó — greatly impressed following a tasting — suggested calling their new brandy after the Great Duke of Alba, Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel. Fernando was governer of the Spanish Netherlands. If you're spotting British heritage in those names, the current house of Alba is descended from the illegitimate son of James the Seventh of Scotland — Fitz being an historical indicator of illegitimacy in royal lines, but we don't wish to draw attention to that.
Barbadillo Decanter Gran ReservaBarbadillo Decanter Gran Reserva comes in a brown hand blown glass decanter, which is enough to make it worthy of a purchase in itself. Inside you get the added bonus of a gran reserva brandy aged over twenty years through the solera method.
Bodega Barbadillo has been around since 1821. Founded by the Barbadillo family, the bodega began by first producing sherry, as did all the bodegas mentioned here.
Each bottle of this brandy is numbered and signed by the winery's supervisor.
The only English connection with this brandy is when I'm sitting with a glass of it in my hand in my Teba jacket; which is good enough for me.
Salud, viejos amigos.