Education Is Key For Expanding Interest In Brandy


While Cognac builds upon consecutive years of growth, domestic brandy is ripe for at least a share of the success, considering the craft distillery boom and consumers’ continued fascination with cocktails.

Ohio distillers that produce brandy and applejack are optimistic the growth they’ve experienced and read about is bound to flourish. They admit segment sales aren’t nearly as dynamic as those of the other distilled spirits they produce, but the expectation is that growing consumer interest will translate into sales growth.

Representatives from Red Eagle Distillery in Harpersfield Township near Geneva and Columbus’ Watershed Distillery say educating consumers is a necessary element in creating that interest.

“A lot of people expect brandy to be sweet like an apple-flavored liqueur, but that’s not the case …,” said Watershed Marketing Manager Claire Spurlock of the label’s Apple Brandy. “There is no added sugar whatsoever. We really try to capture the true essence of the fruit when we distill apple brandy, and that means a lot of those deeper earthy red apple flavors, as well as some of the light crisp green apple flavors are prominent.”

The oak barrels, too, add to the flavor profile, she added, mostly vanilla and caramel.

“The best way to dispel any misconception is by giving people a chance to taste the apple brandy on its own or in a cocktail,” Spurlock said. “Once they have a frame of reference taste wise, it’s a lot easier to imagine how it can be enjoyed.”

Self-described grape farmer Gene Sigel, owner of Red Eagle Distillery and South River Vineyard, said he got into the brandy business looking for another way to utilize excess Concord grapes from the winery. He already was distilling a vodka from them.

“The real question was what do I make,” he recalled.

He had the charred oak barrels for the bourbon he produced. Why not use the bourbon barrels, too, he asked himself. The finished product is a 100-proof “grapey,” “jammy” hybrid brandy.

Sigel said nearly everybody who tries his Concord-grape brandy purchases a 375 ml-bottle on the way out. He said he’s well positioned to handle future growth and added that it’s an exciting time to be in the business.

At Watershed, Spurlock said she always invites consumers to smell the spirit first to identify any notes.

“There are thousands of different types of apples out there, and everybody has a different palate so everybody senses different things,” she said. “After you’ve smelled it you should take a small sip to coat the tongue and get your palate ready to taste something high proof.

“Then, take another sip and see what you taste. If you enjoy sipping on its own, then keep on enjoying it just like that. If it’s too strong or you want to get creative, then mix up a quick cocktail. …”

She suggested replacing bourbon with brandy in either a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned for “a new spin on an old classic.”

As for her favorite, she likes mixing her brand’s apple brandy with spiced apple cider either over ice or warmed in a mug.

“… Of course, we love to see sales growing, but for us it’s also a passion project,” Spurlock said. “Brandy was once the most prominent spirit being distilled in Ohio and we want to bring that tradition back to life.

“This part of the country is known for the beautiful apples it produces, and we like being able to share that with people. It’s exciting for us to produce a spirit that is not only made from Ohio grown apples, but is also pressed, fermented, distilled and aged in Ohio. Even the barrels are made in Ohio.”