How is brandy made?
The 1st Austrian “Schnapslehrpfad” ( Educationaltrail) is an approx. 1 km long circular trail through our orchards and forests, equipped with information boards on the topic of brandies. From the fruit to the correct storage of the distillates, the visitor learns everything about the production of the finest brandies. The trail can be walked and visited all year round free of charge.
there is fruit
All sugary and fermentable products from nature can be used as raw materials for the production of brandy. In addition, starchy substances, such as grain or potatoes, can also be fermented after a previous "saccharification" (i.e. sucrose being broken down into glucose and fructose). In Austria, the following raw materials in particular are processed:
- Pome fruits (e.g. apples, pears, quinces)
- Stone fruit (e.g. sweet and sour cherries, plums, plums, apricots and peaches)
- Berries (e.g. raspberries, currants, blueberries, blackberries, rowanberries)
- Pomace (e.g. grape pomace)
- Yeast deposits (e.g. yeast-wine- or yeast-beer mixtures)
In order to achieve a high natural aroma in the brandy, it is particularly important to allow the fruits to fully ripen in the orchards. After harvesting an exact quality grading of the fruits is made in order to use only the best fruits.
The well ripened, sorted and fresh fruits are washed, crushed and pumped into the fermentation containers. It is important to ensure that the alcoholic fermentation begins as soon as possible and that the entire mash ferments quickly. In the case of stone fruits, core removal is necessary at the latest after fermentation, as otherwise an increased proportion of hydrocyanic acid could occur in the distillate. This will lead to an intensive bitter tone in the distillate, which considerably reduces the quality of the brandy. Especially with blackcurrants, elderberries, rowan berries and grapes, destemming (= separating the fruit from the panicles or combs) is particularly advisable, as otherwise the distillate can obtain a disturbing grassy bitter tone.
During alcoholic fermentation, the yeast converts sugar into alcohol. This process releases large amounts of carbon dioxide. The "wild yeasts" that exist in nature have the disadvantage that they have a low alcohol formation capacity and form an increased substance of undesirable fermentation by-products, such as acetic acid and fusel oils. To obtain a clean fermented mash, it is advisable to add pure yeast that prevents the emergence of "wild yeasts". A constant fermentation process control is of great importance, the fermentation temperature of the mash should be between 18 - 20 °C. If the fermentation temperature is too high, the strong carbon dioxide development can lead to the “blowing out of flavours” (= loss of flavours). If the temperature falls below the limit, fermentation is slowed down and unwanted secondary fermentation is accelerated.
The still (B)
The copper still is the boiling kettle for the fermented mash.
The water content of a fruit mash for brandies is 80 - 85 %. The alcohol concentration is achieved by the different boiling points of the substances contained in the mash. Water is known to have a boiling point of 100°C, alcohol is already volatile at 78.3°C. This means that the distillation off of fruit mash always takes place below 100°C.
The helmet or fall (H)
This part is placed directly on the still. It is cooled from the outside by the ambient temperature. This causes condensation of the alcoholic vapours inside the helmet and thus an increase (= concentration increase) in the alcoholic vapours.
The spirit tube or climbing tube (G)
The task is to transfer the alcoholic vapours from the boiler to the cooler.
The cooler (K)
Here the alcoholic vapours are cooled in counterflow with cold water and afterwards the distillate can be removed via the template..
In Austria the technique of "double distillation" is mainly used for the production of brandies. In the first distillation, the raw distillate is produced and in the second distillation, the fine distillate is produced.
Production of the raw distillate:
The fermented mash is distilled off relatively quickly in the distilling kettle (output time approx. two hours). The quantity of brandy from two to four outputs is collected, and afterwards for a second time distilled.
Production of the fine distillate:
With the distillation of the raw distillate into the fine distillate, the alcohol and aroma content are increased on the one hand and on the other hand, the aim is to clean or separate any undesirable components (i.e. flavour, aroma).
- Fine distillate (1-2 Liter, alc. 75% vol.)
- Core distillate (30 Liter, alc. 60-70% vol.)
- After distillate (20-25 Liter, alc. 20-2 % vol.)
Of these three fractions, only the core is removed and further processed.
of the distillates
Freshly obtained distillates generally have an unfinished and unharmonious taste. Therefore a certain aging and storage time is necessary, because important decomposition and transformation processes take place for the development of the distillates, which make the distillate more pleasant and finer in terms of smell and taste. The "taste peak" of pure brandies is reached very differently depending on the sort, after a maturing phase of half to three years. Usual storage containers:
Wooden barrels (oak, acacia, chestnut):
The aging of the distillates takes place faster in wooden barrels than in other storage containers. However, this is offset by a relatively high alcohol loss (3-5 % per year) during the maturing period. In wine, apple and plum brandies, a certain wood tone in taste is often desired, whereas with other distillates the storage in wooden barrels is used less and less, or no longer at all.
Still to be regarded as proven storage containers, especially for smaller batches (disadvantage: cumbersome handling).
Stainless steel containers
Today they are most commonly used, as they are the most hygienic and technically simplest variant.
than you think
With a wide range of spirits, liqueurs and brandies, it is often difficult for consumers to filter out the pure and uncut products. Always pay close attention to the label when buying distillates. Only if the following designations are noted on it, you can be sure to buy a real brandy (this law is only applicable in the EU):
- Fruit description (e.g. apricot)
- “Austrian quality distillation”
- 100% distillate (or identical - e.g. 100% apricot distillate)
- Alcoholic content (for brandies at least 38% vol.)
You have arrived at the last board of our brandy educational trail. We now invite you to an excursion to the eventful Hödl Hof and to a tasting at the distillery.
The tasting of the brandies is an important part of the work of a master distiller throughout the entire production process. Trained tasters can draw very precise conclusions in finished products about errors in the production. But also for amateurs a test on the purity of a brandy is quite possible. Pay attention to the following criteria for tasting:
A brandy must always be crystal clear and free of turbidity. A frequent cause of turbidity is the excretion of hardness components (Ca and Mg salts), which can be traced back to errors in reducing the alcohol content (with water) to drinking strength. A slight gold or brown tone in the colour suggests that the brandy has been aged in wooden barrels, although this should also be evident in the taste.
The smell should already give a clear indication of the respective fruit. A ready-to-drink distillate must under no circumstances smell pungent or have an unpleasant foreign odor.
The taste should be fruit-specific and harmonious. Distillates that are too young usually appear sharp and unbalanced. If a mistake is noticed during the tasting process, it is best to dip a finger into the distillate and wipe it off on the back of the hand. After about 10 seconds the alcohol has evaporated through the body heat, and you now have the possibility to smell the suspected defect more strongly on the back of your hand.