Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Alameda Brandy Conference

Brandy is not a word with pleasant associations. See the little old lady pushing a thimble of brandy across a doily strewn table? It’s a long climb from that little old lady’s living room to the barrel house at Jepson Winery in Ukiah, California, where Alison Schneider talks about blending brandies as if she were talking about choreographing a ballet.

In about a week and a half, the American Distilling Institute will convene at St. George Distillery in Alameda, California for our annual conference. I’ll be there, as will numerous writers and many, many distillers. Matt Rowley has written a great anticipatory piece here (he did the heavy lifting).

For artisan distillers, this is the key event of the year, and this year, it’s all about brandy. This will include all sorts of eaux de vie, and all types of miraculous flavors. The most surprising spirits I’ve had over the last few years have been brandies, or close to it, like the Gewürztraminer Grappa made in Petaluma at Stillwater Distillery. St. George, themselves, make a fabulous line of brandies, both aged and unaged.

These small distillers are changing the rules. Grappa, in their hands, is no longer the byproduct, no longer a desperate attempt to squeeze the last dimes out of a harvest, but a goal in itself. What’s more, small, artisinal distillers are allowed to do anything they want. Basil eau de vie? Sure. Organic asian pears? Why not? 

I’m a whiskey man at heart, but I have to admit that the real sweet spot for small scale, artisinal distilling is brandy, and I’m looking forward to seeing what everybody is doing, and what they have to say about it.

This year, for the first time, the public has a chance to drop by and get a taste of the action. Come out to St George on Sunday for  Meet the Maker from 2 to 5. $40 gets you in the door, where 40 distillers will be pouring their own wares. You can buy tickets and get more details here.

In the meantime, I’m trying to get around some brandy in anticipation. Rory Donovan’s Peach Street Distillers (he’ll be there) makes my favorite: 

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