( Originally Published 1907 )
THE habit of drinking spirits is one that, generally speaking, cannot be commended, and the doubtful origin and poor quality of much that is on the market in the present day render the habit more than ever undesirable. When, however, for medical or other considerations, wine has to be given up, a virtue must be made of necessity and recourse must, perforce, be had to some form of spirit. In such cases it is, of course, all-important that a wise choice should be made, and general experience seems to point to Brandy of which excellent qualities can now be obtained, as being by far the best one to adopt.
This spirit, which is a sort of concentrated wine, is to be found, with varying degrees of merit, in all parts of the grape-growing world. The most esteemed Brandy, however, is that which is made in the department of the Charente in France, and the term "Cognac" by which the best French Brandy is generally known, is derived from a small town of that name, which is the centre of the trade. The wines themselves of the Charente are unpalatable as table beverages, and it is only when they have been made beautifully less by distillation that their hidden excellence is brought to light.
When it is first distilled, Brandy is almost a colourless liquid and of rather a fiery character, but by being kept in cask it takes up co-lour from the wood, becomes softer and more fragrant, and goes on improving with age. The dark co-lour of brown Brandy is generally produced by means of a solution of caramel, and this is sometimes added in large quantities to give a rich appearance to Brandies of inferior quality.
Good Brandy has always been looked upon as a most valuable medicine and restorative in cases of illness and exhaustion, and at one time it was also largely used as a beverage. About thirty years ago, however, all the vines of the Cognac district were destroyed by disease, and Brandy becoming dearer and more difficult to get, other and less desirable spirits took its place, and in consequence of this, and of spurious imitations being put upon the market, the genuine article was for a long time under a cloud. The vines in the Charente were, however, in course of time replanted, and real Cognac, being now as good and plentiful as ever, is fast reasserting its superiority over other spirits, and regaining its old undisputed supremacy. This is easily to be understood, for Brandy, being distilled from wine and being therefore directly derived from the grape, is naturally very much to be preferred to spirits distilled from cheaper and coarser materials, particularly as the bye-products from these commoner spirits are often distinctly injurious.
Although the wine from which Brandy is distilled is very cheap in the locality in which it is made, it will readily be recognized that good Brandy can never be sold at a low figure, inasmuch as it takes from six to eight bottles of wine to make one bottle of Brandy. Further the capital sunk in the Brandy industry is very tardily turned over, as the spirit must lie for years in wood before it is fit for use. A reasonable price must therefore always be paid for it, and to guard against inferior qualities and fraudulent adulterations, when ordering Brandy the name of some reputable firm should always be insisted upon.
For medicinal use fine old Brandy, on account of the large pro-portion of vinous ethers it contains, is absolutely invaluable and quite without a rival; and as an everyday beverage for those to whom wine is debarred there can be no better or more wholesome stimulant.