“We asked ourselves, ‘If we make a really good wine, will it make a really good brandy?’ The answer was yes!” says Daniel Plenzik, co-founder and distiller at Bridgeland Distillery in Calgary, Canada.
Bridgeland Distillery is changing the way the world thinks about brandy by making single-varietal brandy from high-quality wine grapes. Brandy is essentially distilled wine and while over 99% of the world’s brandy is made from a blend of grapes, Bridgeland Distillery chose to make theirs differently. And while it may seem obvious that great wine would make great brandy, a few failed experiments prove otherwise.
Plenzik and his fellow co-founder and distiller, Jacques Tremblay, tried making single-varietal brandy from Pinot Noir, Colombard, Chenin Blanc and Thompson grapes to “no great results,” as Tremblay puts it. “They were not bad, but weren’t spectacular on their own.”
After these lackluster experiments, Bridgeland eventually made two spectacular brandies, one from Moscato grapes grown in California and one from Gewurztraminer grapes grown in British Columbia. How spectacular? Bridgeland Moscato Brandy received a gold medal and was named the best product in the Brandy Aged 2-3 Years category of the 2022 World Brandy Awards.
If Canada seems an unlikely place to make world-class brandy, that is precisely the point. Unhampered by traditions, Plenzik and Tremblay are free to think about brandy in novel ways and change the way people think about the spirit.
“Most of the brandy in the world is made from varieties of grapes nobody wants to make into wine,” explains Plenzik. This includes brandy from famed regions like Cognac and Armagnac. “These grapes have low sugar and are high in acidity making it hard to achieve a good acid/sugar balance. So, these get blended together and distilled and spend a lot of time in the barrel to let it do the work of mellowing the flavors.”
By using highly-aromatic wine grapes instead, Bridgeland Distillery was able to make brandy needing only a short time in barrels. Where Cognac and Armagnac are lauded when they spend longer in barrels — the VS, VSOP and XO labels are indications of increasing age — too much time in barrels would mute the bright flavors of Bridgeland’s brandies.
Bridgeland’s Moscato and Gewurztraminer brandies are bright and fruity, expressing flavors of clementine, honeysuckle and candied orange peel. This is a stark contrast to Cognac and Armagnac where the sweet and fruity grape flavors are tempered by spicy and earthy bitterness. “Cognac has a signature taste,” says Tremblay. “So, for brandy lovers, our brandies will provide an entirely new experience.”
“It’s not better. It’s different,” says Tremblay. “Although … we did win Best in the World,” he laughs.