Summer Cocktail Series, Pt. 6: Brandy
by Jason Gubbels | August 12, 2014
Brandy is a special kind of drink. While the other noble spirits work their transformative powers from some kind of neutral starting point (juniper berries, sugar cane, rye), brandy results when a pre-existing alcohol source (wine) is further distilled -- it sees your 13% ABV of fermented grapes and raises them to 45%. Even the name suggests its wine-casked origins, a variation on the Dutch brandewijn, as in "burnt wine."
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the spirit's role within the status-obsessed wine industry, brandy has long been synonymous with exclusivity and wealth: Cognac and Armagnac represent the height of good taste in any self-respecting liquor cabinet. And in recent years, name-brand cognac has become the go-to spirit for showing off one's cosmopolitan drinking habits, with Courvoisier, Rémy Martin and Hennessy nearly ubiquitous within pop culture.
Little wonder, then, that our brandy/cognac playlist leans so heavily on recent singles from hip-hop and R&B artists, where the drink claims an especially vocal admiration society. Sure, we scraped together a couple of Irish reels ("Lots of Drops of Brandy") and some polite supper-club toasts (Nelson Riddle's easy-listening "Brandy Glow," saxophonist Al Cohn's swinging "Brandy and Beer"). But let's be honest, hip-hop is where the brandy fans are, a love affair one can trace back to Digital Underground's 1990 "Humpty Dance" ("I drink up all the Hennessey ya got on ya shelf") and Mobb Deep's 1995 "Survival of the Fittest" ("Lord forgive me/ The Hennesey got me/ Not knowin' how to act") to the original "new drink" recipe 2Pac anointed Thug Passion on his song of the same name (one part Alize, one part Cristal).
The floodgates really opened when Busta Rhymes tapped P. Diddy and Pharrell to help remix "Pass the Courvoisier" in early 2002, and the brandy shout-outs have only increased in the intervening years, as have opinions on proper consumption -- Gucci Mane insists you "Drink It Straight," while Mac Dre prefers a mixture of "Bleezies-N-Heem." But whatever your preferred method of enjoying cognac, you'll find plenty to savor in our tribute to brandywine.