Food & Dining

Forbidden Fruits

Under-appreciated fruit brandies bring Colorado’s orchards to your glass. 

FRUIT BRANDY IS NOT Feisty Spirits top seller. Nor is it the second or third or fourth most popular liquor at the Fort Collins distillery.

Instead, you’ll find their three fruit brandies mentioned at the very bottom of the menu. “We don’t sell much of it,” says Jamie Gulden, co-owner of Feisty Spirits. “We make it because we love it.”

Fruit brandy is arguably one of the last beverages that locals stock in their liquor cabinets. Right down there with dry sherry and Chartreuse. But, as Gulden says, fruit brandy is lovable.

For curious drinkers, spring is the perfect time to sample Colorado’s array of delicious fruit brandies. Distilleries like Feisty Spirits and Peach Street Distillers in Palisade turn Colorado-grown fruits like pears, apples, apricots and peaches into bottles of amber-colored liquor. When it comes down to it, fruit brandy is what Colorado would taste like if you distilled it, aged it in oak barrels and sipped it while tending to a campfire.

“People in Colorado are missing out,” Gulden says. “But they don’t really have that much experience with brandy, so I get it.”

Gulden says brandy is popular in the Midwest and other places with strong European roots. In beer country, drinkers tend to know very little—or nothing at all—about brandy, he says.

Brandies are considered digestifs, spirits sipped after dinner to aid in the digestive process. Brandy is made from grapes, and popular types include Cognac and Armagnac. Fruit brandies are made with any fruit that’s not a grape. You may have heard of Calvados, an apple brandy made in France.

At Feisty Spirits, the fruit brandy is not sweet and, surprisingly, not fruity. Gulden says it’s a tribute to the European style of fruit brandy, which is dry. Instead of a fruit liqueur, which some drinkers might expect, the fruit softens and provides subtle, earthy layers to the spirit.

According to one spirits trade group, brandy sales nationally are exploding. That’s attributed to the resurgence of classic cocktails as well as the versatility of the spirit, which can be served in a cocktail or served straight.

Gulden and the team at Feisty Spirits hope locals will begin to appreciate brandy. In the meantime, they see their brandy as another means for innovation, for experimentation. They’ve even distilled New Belgium cider to see what kind of brandy they will get out of it—aging some in wine barrels and some in bourbon barrels. They are also working on a grappa, a warming Italian brandy known for its potency.

“We are really trying to bring experimentation back into distilling,” he says.

Now he’s just waiting for more drinkers to look at the bottom of the menu.

Other Colorado Brandies of Note

Peach Street Distillers Pear Brandy
At renowned Peach Street Distillers in Palisade, each bottle is made from 20 pounds of Palisade pears.

State 38 Distilling Apple Brandy
This Golden distillery makes batches of apple brandy using donated apples from friends, neighbors and strangers alike. Bonus: If you donate apples, you get $10 off a bottle.

Cap Rock Brandies and Eau De Vies
CapRock’s products, made in Hotchkiss, are often organic or biodynamic.

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