A fiery end to a smooth Grappa

Michael Swamy | Updated on August 17, 2011

Grappa bottles   -  BUSINESS LINE

Grappa cocktail 1   -  BUSINESS LINE

Grappa cocktail 2   -  BUSINESS LINE

One can talk for hours about Italian beverages, especially those rare jewels that have been emerging over the last decade. Beverages like Grappa and liqueurs made using Grappa as a base are gaining ground world-wide.

The story of Grappa can be traced back to the Middle Ages where it was the drink of farmers. It was produced by travelling distillers who would traverse Italy's northern territories and the Alps. Over the centuries, this alcoholic beverage has been refined and improved upon by wine distillers and commercial producers. Protected by law, it can be called Grappa only if produced wholly in Italy. Grappa is usually served as an after-dinner drink, and its taste could be best described as smooth and fiery.

Making the Grappa

Grappa is made from the leftovers of the winemaking process, such as the skin and seeds of grapes. The juice produced is slow-distilled over a bain marie (water bath) and not directly over a flame. This is done to prevent the skin and seeds from burning and to achieve an alcohol content of 40 to 65 per cent. Initially, any and every grape variety was mixed to make Grappa. Three decades ago, a few distilleries took the decision to use only the best variety of grapes. The first Grappa of this varietal was made from Piccolit, a very rare grape variety from Colli Orientali, the Friuli region's best white wine grape. Its flavour was much refined from previous varietals. The process needed to create Artisanal Grappas, which are made of single vintage grapes, such as Barolo, Amarone, Moscato and Chardonnay was soon crafted by estates like Poli, Francoli, Brunelli, Marolo. The Grappa Bianca is bottled immediately after distillation while the Reserve has a pale golden hue as a result of maturation in casks made of different woods. Some Grappas are made with a blend of spirits distilled from honey, fruit and herbs with hints of blueberry and lemon. These have intense flavours and a brown hue. Flavours are best sampled in tulip-shaped glasses which focus the aromas towards one's nose.

Discovering Distilleria Bottega

I believe that in order to know and fully appreciate a beverage, one needs to know its roots and my whirlwind trip to Milan, which included a visit to Distilleria Bottega only confirmed this. There are over a hundred producers of Grappa, but Distilleria Bottega, a company based in the picturesque town of Bibano di Godega, 50 km away from Venice in the Italian region of Veneto, produces a Grappa to look out for. I met with Alesandro Bottega who enlightened me on the history of his family-owned distillery. The Bottegas began their journey into the world of Grappa in the 1920s, when Domenico Bottega, a wine trader and oenologist began to develop the first single-variety Grappa. He shared his father's passion for winemaking and apprenticed with the best master-distillers in Conegliano. His expertise, combined with his entrepreneurial spirit, led him to set up his own distillery. In 1985, Aldo Bottega's son Sandro began to use handcrafted Venetian Murano blown glass to bottle the double-distilled Grappa Alexander. The beautiful glass bottles were used by the family as a marketing tool to grab the attention of Grappa lovers everywhere. Today, the tasting room at Distilleria Bottega carries a selection of Grappas like Grappa Alexander, Grappa di Prosecco, Grappa di Moscato and Grappa di Nebbiolo. Also available for tasting is a selection of exquisite liqueurs like Sambuca, Galliano, Amaretto, Melon and Limoncello.

Savouring it best

There are many ways to enjoy Grappa and it is best had at the end of a meal. Grappas are consumed as shots or added to an espresso to create the caffe coretto. In the Veneto region, one first downs the espresso and follows it up with a shot of grappa from the same cup in a practice called Resentin. There is a whole range of cocktails created with grappa to try out too, making it a much sought after drink in bars across Europe and the US. Although experts advise otherwise, Grappa is usually served chilled: a young Grappa at 9-13 degrees Celsius and a reserve at around 17 degrees Celsius.

As a lifestyle drink, Grappa is upmarket all the way. The delicate process of hand blowing bottles and the exquisite centrepieces in each bottle makes one realise that not only is the drink a masterpiece but the bottle is a collector's item and a souvenir to cherish. What more can one ask, but to drink sensibly.

Here are some Grappa cocktails you can shake up for our next bash.

Grappa apple and ginger martini

30ml Grappa

90ml apple juice

5ml ginger juice

20gm apple chunks

Procedure: Muddle apple chunks, lime chunks, ginger chunks together with some white sugar in a cocktail shaker. Top with ice, Grappa and apple juice, shake and strain in a martini glass. Garnish with apple slices.

Watermelon grappioska

30 ml Grappa

30 ml fresh watermelon juice

30 gm fresh Watermelon

In an old fashioned glass, muddle watermelon chunks with lime chunks and raw sugar. Top with crushed ice, add Grappa and fresh watermelon juice. Mix properly and serve.

(The author is a Cordon Bleu Chef & Food Stylist)

Published on July 27, 2011

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