A global awakening of interest in craft distilled spirits is drastically changing the landscape for brandy, one of the oldest and most noble of them all.
For years now, brandy has been the underdog of the brown spirits world – a muddied sector of poor standards, questionable quality and enough flavourants and additives to easily destabilise the more reputable side of it’s global image.
This has led to a chronic decline in global consumption in the past 20 years and – bar only Cognac – seen the demise of a spirit once considered the most noble of them all. But it isn’t all doom and gloom any more. Driven by a rapid renaissance in craft spirits appreciation around the world, the interest in brandy is back on the rise and looks set only to grow from here.
According to Rabbobank’s 2015 report, Between Boring and Bling – Opportunities in the US Brandy Market there is a potential 1 billion dollar hole in the US market for premium brandy just waiting to be filled. This gap specifically emerged due to the common misconception that Brandy and Cognac are different spirits, with each acquiring their own niche target markets as a result.
As a result of this misundersatdning, a “hole” exists in the millions of spirit drinkers who fall between these two opposites of low end pouring and mixing brandy, and top end super premium sipping Cognac. A clear opportunity then, at a much needed time in brandy’s turbulent history. Where then, will the supply come from? Many countries around the world produce exceptional quality brandy, certainly up there to rival the global Cognac giant in quality, if not yet in volume:
In France itself, Cognac’s lesser known cousin, Armagnac is starting to gain a much bigger following around the world, with exports up quite steeply to the rest of Europe, Asia and North America. Granted, this is a small volume spirit (6 million bottles / year vs Cognac’s 180 million), but that’s exactly the point. Micro produced, and now gaining substantial traction in really big markets.
Staying on the continent, but moving a bit further south, and Brandy de Jerez from Andalucia sparkles as the royal jewel in the Spanish crown.
With many super premium offerings, and rare releases of 25 years plus in its stables, it certainly has the pedigree to take on the best and in modern connoisseur circles, people are looking out for this marque as a sign of superbly crafted brandy.
The quality and integrity of the spirit is marshalled by the Consejo Regulador del Brandy de Jerez (the Brandy de Jerez Regulatory Council), and their insistence on regulation and production compliance ensures the name stays in the upper echelons of premium spirit fame, although again on a much smaller and more craft scale.
Move next door from Spain, and in Portugal the capital city of Port wine – Douro – also hides a number of rare and little know quality “Aguadente Vehlha”. Both these European gems owe much of their historic success to their runaway famed “fortified” wine offerings, and while brandy distillation in those areas may owe its inception to this process, it has certainly managed to stand on it’s own feet since.
Further afield from Europe, Australia also has a niche distilling history, and with the recent explosion of Australian wines onto the world scene, the stage and opportunity for its premium offerings to to shine is all but there. One such offering making waves is St Agnes Brandy with the feather in its cap being the 40 year old XO Grand Reserve.
And then last, but most definitely not least, there is South Africa, long considered one of the world’s finest brandy producers. While mostly well know for its blended brandies, the craft arm of the spirit is flying high, perfectly set to capitalise on the global brandy renaissance with its outstanding collection of Cape Brandies.
With producers like Backsberg, Ladismith, Joseph Barry, Kaapzicht, Upland, Windmuel, Groot Constantia, Oude Molen, Tokara and others making over 20 different expressions, no other country in the world can boast the breadth and depth of style and flavour present in brandy produced exclusively in the Cape Wine Growing Regions of South Africa.
With all these premium and ultra premium crafted brandies around the world ready to step up, the supply certainly is there. And with more brands and product varieties being created each year as interest and enthusiasm for the spirit grows, a new and exciting dawn truly beckons for Brandy.
It’s not going to happen overnight, but Cape Brandy is perfectly poised, and excited for the journey ahead. Watch this space!