Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Grandfather's Brandy

A few weekends ago found my mother and I stocking up on the food supplies that I would need for the then-pending wedding shower in South Carolina. We had started the morning early at Patak's "Sausage Chalet" in Austell, Georgia (more on that in a later post!) and had spent much of the rest of the day generally goofing off and seeking out the quality and offbeat in what can otherwise be a pretty generic corner of suburban strip mall America. Our last stop was at Total Wine, a place that can present a financial danger to anyone who carries a credit card in their wallet. We had filled the cart with all of the Cava and wine necessary for the coming event and had already begun aiming it at the checkout aisle when mom suggested detouring past the liquor offerings.

"Your grandfather used to drink this when I was a girl," she said. "What?" I thought. Her father, Ernest Hohenstein, died a couple of years before I was born. He'd emigrated from Stettin, Germany in 1924, the old capitol of Pomeranian Prussia. Today it is part of Poland and called Szszecin. Being the youngest, I was the only one of my siblings to never know him. But I think I would have liked him, had I the chance. This trip to Total Wine only reinforced that notion.

The bottle in question was a German brandy by the name of Asbach Uralt - "der geist des weines." This liquor comes from the Alsatian region of Germany and with the exception of an interruption in production during the Second World War, has been continuously distilled since 1892. Apparently a far bigger brand in Europe, it is not something one typically finds stocked at the local liquor store. Asbach ages this grape wine brandy for three to four years in Limousin oak casks, which I suspect contributes to its smooth character. At about $30 for a 750ml bottle, it is an affordable luxury.

I've often found the manner in which beverage writers describe flavor profiles a tad absurd, so I will try to place my impressions in the vernacular rather than descending into "peppery hints" and "notes of oak." As a bourbon or Irish whisky drinker, I think those of a similar mind would find Asbach Uralt a pleasant change of pace. It lacks the "burn" one senses with a bourbon and leaves behind a far smoother, pleasant aftertaste. Jessie gives it her seal of approval, because I apparently do not reek of a tavern after consuming this brandy. (She does not care for the smell of bourbon on my breath, sadly.) Yet it isn't quite Cognac, which for many is a good thing. As one reviewer suggests, "this isn't your father's Cognac, this is your grandfather's brandy." How true. A quick search reveals a several websites that suggest its use in cocktails, and I'm inclined to believe that Asbach Uralt would put a unique twist on some old standbys that call for bourbon or rye.

The English used on the company's website brings to mind the stilted prose that used to grace computer manuals from the 1980s, but it does offer a bit of history and background on this venerable product. And it appears that the folks at Asbach have also entered the maw of social networking with its own fan page on Facebook.

I haven't been this excited about an alcoholic beverage since I stumbled across Hendrick's Gin about a year and a half ago. But this is of a much different character, one that takes me back to a place that is both foreign and utterly familiar.


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