Thursday, February 2, 2012

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Rowley & Clarke on American Brandy at Tales of the Cocktail 2012

Last July, Dan Farber objected — politely, gentlemanly, pointedly — to the tight focus of Paul Clarke's session on applejack at Tales of the Cocktail. Clarke, an avuncular editor of Imbibe magazine and a frequent speaker at Tales, stayed on topic. Where are the European-style eaux de vie in this conversation? the California distiller wanted to know. Where are the other orchard spirits that American distillers have been making?

Farber's challenges sounded an awful like like an invitation. Even at the time, I recall, Clarke beamed and responded with something like "You're absolutely right. That's a great idea for a session next year." I had already wrapped up my own standing room only session with Max Watman on new American distilleries and could only smile as Clarke and I exchanged glances. You see, I dote on bourbon, I drink an awful lot of rum, but brandy? Good brandy makes me go weak at the knees.

In the intervening seven months, the two of us kicked around the possibilities for a session on American brandies. Not the whole time, mind you, but enough to agree on a pitch. Word came from New Orleans yesterday: we're on.

Plenty of details to be ironed out in the next few months, but here's the session in broad strokes:
For much of the nation’s history, applejack, peach brandy and other fruit spirits were key characters in the realm of American drinks. Today, bartenders and craft distillers are rediscovering the appeal of fruit spirits, and this is the most dynamic era in generations for the production and use of these brandies.

This session will cover some of the background of spirits made from apples, peaches, pears and other fruits, and the ways these spirits were historically made and consumed. The session will also explore today’s realm of American-distilled fruit spirits, from the rich character of aged apple and peach brandies to ethereal eau de vie, with an emphasis on the ways these spirits are produced and a look at some of today’s most distinctive distillers of fruit spirits. Panelists will also discuss the use of fruit spirits in cocktails, from classic drinks made with aged apple and peach brandies to special considerations that should be taken when mixing with eau de vie.
Location, date, time, etc. to come in early March. All I know for now is that I'll be back in New Orleans' French Quarter this July 25th-29th.

[edit: The brandy session is still on, but there's been a change in the lineup. See here to see who's on deck.]

Goes well with:
  • Tales of the Cocktail is a nonprofit based in New Orleans dedicated — in its own words — to the advancement of the craft of the cocktail through education, networking and promotion. Check out its website and Twitter feed. Its name is also dropped occasionally as Shit Bartenders Say.
  • Dan Farber makes brandy in California, including a lovely French-style brandy made from California apples that's been sleeping in barrels since Roseanne last aired. Check out his distillery at
  • As @cocktailchron, Paul Clarke is also on Twitter. Paul's not only a friend of mine, but one of the first journalists who actually got the story right of what modern the American moonshine scene looks like in a 2009 issue of Imbibe. For that alone, a gold star always appears next to his name in my book.

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