Melbourne’s Saint Felix Distillery recently released a limited edition, 800-bottle run of Cherry & Cacao Husk Brandy. A perfect winter warmer with rich flavours of cherry, chocolate and red wine, the brandy joins Wild Forest Gin, Bitter Citrus Aperitivo, and Yuzu & Green Tea Spirit in the distillery’s portfolio. But are Australians ready for craft brandy?
“Australians’ perception [of brandy] is they think it’s just something you’re cooking with, it’s something you put in pudding or it’s what grandma used to drink.”
Xavier Nalty, Saint Felix’s distiller, summarises how many Aussie drinkers feel about brandy as a category. This doesn’t mean that he’s not up for the challenge of challenging these preconceptions – and with his Cherry & Cacao Brandy, he’s got the perfect product with which to do so.
With almost 20 years under his belt as a chef, Nalty spent the last 12 of those on the Mornington Peninsula; he says he was inspired to make a brandy after learning of the region’s history as Victoria’s fruit bowl, before the orchards were replaced by vineyards.
The exact recipe for the brandy was created with the help of former World Class Bartender of the Year, Orlando Marzo, the idea drawn from Nalty’s experience in the kitchen.
“Being a chef, when you think of a winter dessert, it’s chocolate, cherry and red wine – from a cooking point of view, those flavours just marry,” he explains. “And so when we were coming up with little winter brandy that we could launch, that winter dessert was the inspiration.
“And it kind of just fell into place. We worked with a chocolatier, called Mörk in North Melbourne, and we started to distill their cacao husk. So we did a little small batch of Chocolate Negroni for them, and we cold distilled the gin in the rotary evaporator with the cacao and the flavour was just insane. It was so good.”
This experience inspired Nalty to go down a similar route with his brandy. In addition to the central ingredient of cherries, raspberries are added to the mixture (which includes the cherry pits) and it is macerated. The fruit is then removed and the liquid distilled in Saint Felix’s 18th-century Portuguese copper pot still. That distillate is then used to macerate the cacao husk, which lastly is blended and finished in Barossa red wine casks.
He also sees parallels with distilling and his old vocation: “It’s essentially cooking, instead of an oven and a stove you’ve essentially got a pot and you’re still dealing with flavours, botanicals, fruits.”
Winning hearts and minds
So, how to win over Aussie consumers who might be sceptical about brandy?
“Education is massive, and I think slowly, we’ll get there,” says Nalty. “But I speak to friends and say, you know Cognac is brandy as well, I’m sure you’ve had Hennessy and the reaction is usually ‘oh really?’”
He also says that it’s also a case of people’s tastes in the market changing – not to mention the hard work of distilleries putting out a quality product.
“I remember 10 or 15 years ago, I had one friend that used to drink gin. And we’d always go out and he would order, when Hendrick’s first came out, he was having Hendrick’s with a cucumber, I used to give him so much for it. I was saying, ‘come on man my grandma drinks gin what are you doing?’ And now he always gives it to me because I’m making gin now, but 15 years ago, it was nowhere.
“So markets change, and there’s a few more Australian distilleries doing some brandies: Sullivan’s Cove, Bass & Flinders. I think people are eating better and so people are starting to drink better as well. Australian whisky is smashing it right now, no doubt but I think some people want to try something different in a dark spirit. And hopefully, that’s where we can start changing the minds of people and getting them to drink some tasty brandy.
“The more people that start manufacturing some tasty brandy, the more good product there is on the market to start changing people’s perception of what it is.”