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Jul 16, 2006 09:41 PM

Historical Q re "white brandy" in Civil War era US? [moved from Wine board]

In a Civil War era (1871) recipe for brandied peaches, written by a Southerner but intended for a national audience, what do you all think "best white brandy" would have been? Rum? I assume that in context (the book, the author) it's unlikely to have been corn liquor and have no real idea what might have been the most common "brandy" in that area at that rime.

Anyone interested in checking out the whole book, by the way, can access it here:

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  1. I would say it is unaged corn liquor, that would have been the most widely available spirit at the time. Other options would be rye, wheat, or rum. I can't imagine much true brandy being around at the time. The author seems to have no concern for the type of liquor used, she seems to call everything brandy (even in a julep). I only skimmed over it, why do you discount corn liquor?

    1. (Sorry mods, I hadn't noticed there was a separate "spirits" board, nice to be able to move posts instead of just flagging them!)

      I think the modern use of "brandy" to mean Cognac and approximations thereof reasonable or not is fairly recent - I'd guess post WWII with the returning GIs... From what I've been seeing, I think in common usage it could mean any distilled spirit that wasn't otherwise manipulated like gin. (Before I posted, in fact, I searched for a hopefully quick answer and while I didn't find it, I saw several recently written references to grappa as being a "white brandy" so it's apparently not an archaic term.)

      I discounted the idea of corn liquor because I thought that except limited local consumption, it never really spread very far out of the South - at least not in the mid-19th century.

      But maybe that's why she's vague - in an era when retail (or any other) availability of different liquors all in one place would have been limited, presumably everyone but the very rich just used what was available.

      1 Reply
      1. re: MikeG

        I've always wanted to try brandied peaches after seeing so many mentions of them in Southern and pirate themed movies and books, let me know how they come out.

        I'm pretty sure the word brandy comes from the Dutch brandewijn "burnt wine", while I have seen some early references to distilled grains as brandy (15th-16th centuries), brandy almost exclusively refers to the disillate of fermented fruits. Common usage is definitely not my area of expertise, but I do know many people refer to all aged grape brandies as Cognac, and many Cognac drinkers don't know that Cognac is a brandy.

      2. Yes, I agree about the origination of the term,but I never bothered to look into whether the "burnt" part was just the distilling or some other part of the process.

        I'm kind on preserving overload at the moment (working on the cherries right now) so this may not end up happening this Summer at all, but I'll post about the results if I ever get any.;)

        1. It's very likely that it is a "rye", but probably unlike any rye you could find today. The cloests flavor you might find to this might be a vodka made from rye, which would be very much like some American whiskeys as distilled over a hundred years ago. Vodka is pure spirit, without aging or additivies, until you infuse it. You would notice very little difference between vodka and the spirit that comes out of a still for scotch, irish whiskey, bourbon or rye. It's really the aging, how, how long, where, in what, etc. that makes all the differnce. While there is some difference in taste (provided the same strength is tasted), I know few people who could pick out the differences in taste between pure spirits distilled from rye, wheat, potato, barley, corn, etc.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Captain

            Tuthilltown Distillery in New York has an unaged corn whiskey called Old Gristmill that is really great stuff. You definitely get a corn aroma from it. If you can't find that, there's always Georgia Moon.

            I've had many different whiskies right out of the still, and they are definitely distinguishable from vodka, and from each other. Vodka is usually distilled and filtered too many times for the grain to really come through on the palate in an identifiable way.

            1. re: warrenr

              warrenr, no question that some can distinguish different spirits based on their base grain. As someone who prefers Irish whiskey, I'd like to think I can tell the taste of a potstill whiskey (one made with malted and unmalted barley) from one that is all malt. However, I don't think that most people are up to being able to do that, at all. I gave someone a good rum the other day, on the rocks, and he thought it was whiskey. You obviously must have some experience in this area.

              What I really wanted to write about was to say thanks for the mentioning the Tuthilltown Distillery. I did a web search, and it seems interesting. Kind of surprised by some of their products, but they might be worth a try. And I should be in the area within two weeks. Cool.

          2. Brandy, the stuff we drink today, is centuries older than the Civil War. Your recipe calls for brandy, not corn whiskey, rye whiskey, or any other kind of whiskey. White Brandy (even today) is brandy that has not been colored by aging in wood or by any other method; most fruit brandies are clear in color, so you can use any of them---even a clear peach brandy---in your brandied peaches. Christian Brothers makes a white brandy under that name, as do several other manufacturers.