This time we’ll prepare a real grape brandy and try to strictly follow the classic recipe. Topping French masters is nearly impossible, but we’ll do our best to make a decent alcoholic drink at home.
White Muscat varieties that have a peculiar scent are the best pick for this recipe, but you can use any grapes growing in your garden. Just make sure that grapes are ripe. Using Saperavi, Kakheti, and Cabernet is not recommended because these berries contain tannins which make wine spirit very hard.
- Grapes – 30 kilos
- Sugar – 2.5 kilos (optional)
- Water – 4 liters
- Oak chips (or a barrel)
Note: The amount of water and sugar depends on the juice and sugar content, and acidity of the grapes used. The exact proportions will be indicated in the technology description. If cherries are sweet, you can skip adding sugar. You’ll get pure wine spirit with a fine aroma.
Grape Brandy Recipe
- Preparing wine raw materials. Brandy alcohol is obtained by carrying out a double or triple distillation of young wine in a distillation still (in France they use copper alembic). Therefore, first, you need to make a wine.
Separate the unwashed ripe grapes from the stems and crush along with the seeds. Grapes surface contains wild wine yeast, that’s why you shouldn’t rinse them. Otherwise, the must will not ferment. You can wipe very dirty grapes with a dry piece of fabric. If you picked grapes after rain or washed them, it’s better to use a store-bought wine yeast.
Pour the obtained mass into an enamel or plastic container with a wide neck. Add sugar at the rate of 1 kilo per 10 liters of crushed grapes (optional), water (1 liter per 7.5 kilos of grapes) and stir. Cover the container with a piece of clean cloth to protect it from insects and leave it for 4 days in a warm dark place.
After 12-18 hours you’ll see a floating cap of pulp, which prevents fermentation. This layer should be crushed by stirring the must 2-3 times a day with a clean wooden stick. To prevent future wine from going sour, it’s recommended to stir the must on the first day of fermentation.
4 days after the crushed grapes will show signs of fermentation: it will have an indicative wine scent, foam and hissing sound, and all of the pulp will resurface. Now it’s time to filter the must. To do this, gently decant the juice into another container, and strain the pulp with a cheesecloth by hands or using a press, but don’t crush the seeds. After straining, pour the obtained liquid into the juice container. Add sugar at a rate of 1 kilo per 10 liters (optional). No more straining required.
After stirring, pour the fermented grape juice into a glass or plastic fermentation container, filling up to 70% of its volume to leave enough space for carbon dioxide and foam. Then install an airlock on the neck of the container. Transfer the container to a dark place at a temperature of 18-27°C.
The simplest design
Fermentation under a glove
On average fermentation lasts for 18-40 days (it depends on the temperature and yeast activity). When this time passes, the airlock stops bubbling or the glove deflates, there’s a layer of sediment at the bottom, and the must become clearer. You’ll end up with a wine material that has 10-14% ABV. You can proceed to the next step.
- Obtaining Wine Spirit. Decant the young wine into a distillation still (you can strain it through a cheesecloth for a proper clearing). Run a fast distillation (so that less hazardous substances is produced) without fractioning. Stop collecting alcohol when the proof number drops below 30 degrees.
To obtain pure wine spirit, one more distillation is required. Before starting it, dilute the double distillate with water to 20%. During the third run, remove the first 4% of previously measured pure ethanol—this is the “heads” fraction. Collect the distillate until ABV drops below 45%. A product from 45 to 30 degrees (called “tails”) can be used for other purposes as it’s not fit for the homemade brandy.
- Infusion. For wine spirit (“hearts”) to turn into brandy, it must be infused with oak. There are two options of how it can be done. The first is to buy an oak barrel, but due to various reasons, this method is used by few. The second way is easier and cheaper—infusing with oak pegs or chips. You can find oak pegs/chips in stores or make them yourself.
You’ll need an oak tree that’s at least 50 years old, such trees have a trunk diameter of 30-35 cm. Bark, sawdust, and chips are not suitable because they contain too many tannins that make brandy hard. It is desirable for the felled tree to lay for several years in the rain and snow. This provides natural soaking which decreases the concentration of tannin substances. Pour fresh wood with boiling water. Drain the infusion after 10 minutes and then soak pegs in cold water for 20-30 minutes and dry.
Cut the oak stump 10-20 cm in length into pieces 5-8 mm thick. The pegs should fit into a three-liter jar used to infuse brandy. Then put the pieces in jars (20-30 pieces in each).
Before infusion, dilute the distillate with water to 42-45 degrees. Then pour the diluted brandy spirit into the jar with oak pegs/chips, seal and leave for at least 6-12 months in a dark cold place (cellar). Infuse brandy for longer to improve its quality. However, infusing homemade brandy for more than 3 years is pointless. It’s not a barrel after all.
The taste and color of brandy depend on the properties of oak. The period of peg infusion may vary, so you should taste your homemade brandy at least once every 3-4 weeks. Typically, peg manufacturers indicate the amount and optimal time for infusion, and you should follow these instructions.
Brandy in jars
- Caramelization. This is an optional step during which the color and taste of brandy are slightly changed.
Even after infusing with oak wood for a year, homemade brandy doesn’t always acquire a characteristic dark color. If you don’t like it, you need to perform caramelization. Almost all French cognacs also contain caramel, so there is nothing wrong with that.
The amount of caramel depends on individual preferences. For some, it’s no more than 50 grams per 3 liters. After adding caramel, brandy is mixed, corked and aged for 7-10 days.
- Bottling. At the final stage, strain your homemade brandy through a layer of cotton wool and bottle it. Now off to tasting.