Caught red-handed with a smoking glass of brandy

Food & Drink - June 20th, 2011

Shortly after making my New Year resolutions, no smoking or hard liquor, I was literally caught with a smoking glass in my hand. In reality, I only smoke the odd cigar anyway — till, after an evening of indulgences, I ended up with both a cigar and a cognac.


My host said, “Let me show you one of my little secrets,” with which he exhaled the smoke of his cigar into to a large snifter. He paused, waited as the smoke swirled in the glass, and then inhaled the smoke from the glass after which he invited me to follow suit. On doing so I was impressed by the results: The smoke from the cigar was impregnated with the flavor of the cognac and you could actually taste it.

For those who are willing to flaunt the inherent health risks, it should work equally well with any number of distilled spirits, such as Calvados (from apple), Armagnac (grape) and Whisky (wheat, rye, corn or barley) and more. While distilled spirits maybe be more daunting then wine due to the vast of array of bottle shapes and color, don’t let this stop you. In fact, if you strip away the packaging and look at the process it is really quite simple.

Alcohol is produced by the natural fermentation of the juice of grapes, pears, cherries, apples, etc. Distillation takes this process one step further by concentrating the initial alcohol produced based on a simple protocol: That alcohol boils at 78.3 degrees C and water at 100 degrees C, therefore, if you heat a wine to 80 degrees C, the alcohol will evaporate, leaving the water.

The alcoholic vapors are then caught by the still and condensed into a liquid form, which comes out as a clear white liquid typically around 64 percent to 70 percent alcohol. This is typically reduced to 40 percent through either being diluted with distilled water or, in the case of top draw brandies and whiskeys, by a lengthy aging process in which the alcohol evaporates. The aging typically occurs in oak, contributing to the golden color which we are familiar with in grape brandies and whiskey.

A little savoir-faire: Do not knock your cognac back in one gulp and slam the glass down as you might with tequila. Instead, when drinking brandy, pour a quarter of a glass. Eye the rich color, then swirl it in your glass and cup it in your hands to warm slightly and coax out the aromas. Lift the glass, sniff reverently, then put down your glass and talk about it!