Friday, January 7, 2011

American Brandy Is Bigger Than You Think.

The connection between American-made brandy and American whiskey is that most of the brandy is aged in used bourbon and Tennessee whiskey barrels. Three of the top five U.S.-made brandies are actually aged, blended, and bottled in Kentucky. The brandy is distilled in California at large, integrated vineyard, winery and distillery facilities in the Central Valley, then sent in tanker trucks to Louisville and Bardstown.

What surprised me while doing some research today is how big U.S.-made brandy is in the U.S. market, relative to French-made brandy, specifically cognac. The biggest brandy in the U.S. market -- bigger than any cognac -- is E&J Brandy, from Gallo, at about 3 million cases. It is entirely made in Central California.

Number two is Hennessey Cognac, at just over 2 million cases. Number three is Kentucky-made Paul Masson Brandy, at about 1.4 million cases. It is distilled in California but aged, blended, and bottled at Sazerac's Tom Moore Distillery in Bardstown.

Number four is also U.S.-made, Christian Brothers, which like Paul Masson is distilled in Central California and tankered to Kentucky, where it is barreled and aged at Heaven Hill's Bernheim facility in Louisville. After that it is sent to Heaven Hill in Bardstown for blending and bottling. Christian Brothers sells about 1.2 million cases and Heaven Hill's Coronet, at number ten, adds another 150,000.

The three remaining cognacs in the top ten are Remy Martin (#5), Courvoisier (#6), and Raynal (#8). Number nine is Presidente Brandy, which is made in Mexico.

That leaves number seven, Korbel Brandy, which sells about 350,000 cases a year, mostly (it seems) in Wisconsin. Korbel makes its very popular California sparkling wine in Guerneville but the brandy is distilled and aged near Bakersfield, then brought up to Guerneville for blending and bottling. Korbel's sparkling wines are marketed by Brown-Forman. The brandy is not but it is aged in barrels from Brown-Forman's Jack Daniel's Distillery.

Remember, this is just the ranking of U.S. sales. American-made brandies are rarely exported, whereas cognac is revered and sold all over the world. Mexico's Presidente Brandy, number nine here, is huge in Mexico. The U.S.-made products also tend to be less expensive and hence less profitable than imports. Still, it is significant that about 60 percent of the brandy sold in the USA is made in the USA, and I would not have guessed it was that high.


erik.ellestad said...

"The brandy is not but it is aged in barrels from Brown-Forman's Jack Daniel's Distillery."


Being from Wisconsin, I have to admit having a soft spot for Korbel, especially in a well made Old-Fashioned.

Matt Lange said...

Also being from Wisconsin, as I read the list of best selling brandies I kept thinking, "where is Korbel?" I would have assumed it was number one or two with E & J being the other big one. I had no idea it sold so much more in wisconsin than everywhere else. Wonder why Korbel specifically sells so well here?

sam k said...

Maybe for the same reasons rye whiskey does so well in Wisconsin?

Matt Lange said...

Sam K,
I didn't know that Rye Whiskey sold particularly well in Wisconsin. I know I like it.
Do you have any sources referencing this trend? I ask for multiple reasons...

sam k said...

Matt, there was an article in Malt Advocate a while back that quoted Larry Kass of Heaven Hill saying that Wisconsin was a traditionally strong market for their rye.

There's also a bit of evidence here in Chuckland:

Chuck Cowdery said...

Belatedly responding to Erik, it might have been clearer if I had written something like this. "Part of Brown-Forman's relationship with Korbel is supplying barrels for aging Korbel brandy. The barrels, made at the Brown-Forman Cooperage, previously held Brown-Forman's Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey."

Chuck Cowdery said...

I was recently asked, only half in jest, what the best bourbon would be to use for a manhattan garnished with a pickled mushroom. Sensing a true Wisconsinite I responded, "Korbel Brandy."

Actually, now that I think about it, a manhattan using Korbel Brandy instead of the red vermouth sounds good, but I still don't know about the pickled mushroom garnish.