What is Brandy de Jerez?
Brandy de Jerez is a brandy made exclusively in the Sherry Triangle in Spain and it is protected by denomination of origin.
Brandy is a spirit distilled from wine, although it can also be made using other fermented fruit juices, such as apples, cherries or peach. The spirit is then aged in oak casks. Brandy de Jerez is made using the Airén grape (La Mancha region) or, rarely, from Palomino (Sherry Triangle).
It is then aged in ex-sherry casks using the unique Solera ageing method more commonly used in the sherry-making process. This has a huge impact on the flavour profile. Brandy de Jerez is often sweeter and more full-bodied compared to other brandies.
Brandy de Jerez is distilled using either continuous column distillation or copper pot stills (alembique). The quality of the wine will have an impact on the distillation and the alcoholic strength as well as the levels of volatile compounds (congeners responsible for a lot of the taste and aroma). These base spirits have been split into three categories:
Holandas – Spirits below 70% ABV and containing 2–6g of volatile substances per litre of pure alcohol. These are more fragrant, better-quality distillates mainly from copper pot stills.
Aguardiente – A spirit between 70 and 86% ABV and with 1.3–4g of volatile substances per litre of pure alcohol. Distilled in column stills.
Destilados – A spirit between 86 and 94.5% ABV and with less than 1g of volatile substances per litre of pure alcohol. This spirit is also used for fortifying sherry. Also made using a column still.
Distillation usually takes place in La Mancha as that is where the wine comes from. 50% of the spirit used must be distilled to 86% ABV or less. It takes three litres of wine to produce one litre of brandy.
Brandy de Jerez is matured in American oak butts (475–600 litres) previously used for a range of sherry wines (Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso, Amontillado, Pedro Ximénez …). Each style of sherry will have a different impact on the colour and flavour of the brandy. Fino and Manzanilla create light and elegant brandy with a paler colour, while ex-PX casks will contribute to a darker and richer brandy. The casks used must have contained sherry for a minimum of three years to allow enough seasoning for the brandy.
This specific blending method, used for both sherry and Brandy de Jerez, is called Solera.
The barrels are arranged in groups on top of each other, in tiers called criaderas. They take a small amount from the bottom barrel to be bottled – this is the oldest liquid. Then the same amount is replaced with liquid from the next oldest barrel, and that one is then replaced from the next criadera, and so on until the youngest one. These extractions are known as sacas and the filling process is called rocios. This rotation process of sacas and rocios takes place every four to five months, or in some cases once a year. Each bottled brandy will contain brandies of different ages; some are over 60 years old.
Due to the hot weather the angel’s share (loss to evaporation) is around 7% each year.
The maturation process must take place in the Sherry Triangle and it is often done in the same bodegas as sherry.
Types of Brandy de Jerez
When it comes to the age of the bottled brandy, the average can be calculated from the number of criaderas in the Solera system, how much brandy is taken at a time and how often. The below classification also regulates the alcoholic composition of the drink. This means that to create quality Brandy de Jerez you can’t leave it all down to the ageing method and time, but you also have to take into consideration the quality of the base spirit.
Brandy de Jerez Solera – Aged for a minimum of six months, minimum volatile compounds of 1.5g per 1 litre of pure alcohol and min. 50% holandas.
Brandy de Jerez Solera Reserva – Minimum age of one year, min. volatile compounds of 2g per litre of pure alcohol and min. 75% holandas.
Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva – Minimum average ageing of three years, min. volatile substances of 2.5g per litre of pure alcohol and 100% holandas.
Most brands exceed these ageing requirements by double. Solera is more commonly aged for a year, Solera Reserva for two years on average and Gran Reserva around eight years.
The final strength of the brandy should be between 36 and 45% ABV. Although most brandies achieve their colour and sweetness from the sherry butts, a small amount of caramel colouring and flavoured syrups for sweetening are allowed.
What does it taste like?
Obviously, each brand will have its own style under each category so these are just general notes.
Solera has the palest colour and a delicate yet elegant aroma. Some are aged in Fino, which contributes to very light brandies. Oloroso, on the other hand, adds notes of vanilla and caramel. Brandies from both of these butts will be fairly dry and nutty with a subtle tannic taste from the oak.
Solera Reserva has a slightly darker colour to Solera, and a sweeter aroma with a touch of coffee. The mouthfeel is fuller, creamier and the taste sweeter. You can expect notes of baked apples, fruit peel and vanilla custard.
Solera Gran Reserva is much more complex in both flavour and aroma. If aged in PX-sherry butts, you will get plenty of sweetness on the palate with a very pleasant mouthfeel. Expect notes of vanilla, cocao, black fruits and toffee. The texture can be almost syrupy. Due to the oxidative ageing and the length of ageing, you can expect smoother brandy even from Fino and Oloroso butts. The colour varies from golden amber to deep mahogany.
How to serve it?
Brand de Jerez doesn’t age in the bottle and, ideally, it’s best to consume it within six to eight months after opening for the best quality. Like many other spirits, it is important to store the bottle in a dry, dark and cool place.
To get the most out of the flavours, serve Brandy de Jerez in a brandy snifter (aka balloon glass). The large surface area of the glass helps evaporate the liquid, the narrow top traps the aroma inside the glass, while the rounded bottom allows it to be cupped in the hand to warm the liquor. These glasses are usually fairly big and should only be filled to around one-fifth of their capacity.
If you don’t want to let the spirit warm up in your hands, you should use a glass with a longer stem. For example, a sherry glass (aka Catavinos glass). This is commonly used in bodegas. With this smaller glass you will get less alcohol smell and more of the complex aroma extracted from the casks and congeners. Only fill one-third of the glass.
The ideal drinking temperature is 10–15°C, although Brandy de Jerez is such a versatile spirit it can be enjoyed all year round. In the colder months it will warm you from the inside out, while in the summer with ice it makes a delicious drink to sip and cool down. Alternatively, try it in many cocktails, hot or cold.
Brands to try:
Lustau: Lustau Solera Gran Reserva, Lustau Solera Reserva
These are just a few of the many brands available. Each brand has a several bottlings so there certainly is plenty to explore when it comes to Brandy de Jerez.
Have you tried Brandy de Jerez before? How did you find it?
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