IS TODAY’S GRAPPA POISED TO BE THE NEXT “IN” DRINK?
BY LAURA TAXEL
here was a time, not too long ago, when few Americans
knew anything about grappa, and those who did
dismissed it as firewater—all burn and no balance.
But that’s changing. Restaurants and bars that cater
to a savvy, sophisticated audience and those that want to
differentiate themselves from the competition are adding the
traditional Northern Italian spirit to their lists.
Curiosity, exposure through travel and the quest by a certain
class of sippers for uncommon and luxury options are contributing to the growing interest. But no doubt the single most
important factor is the quality of the products now available in
this country from importers and microdistillers.
Joseph Deluca, principal with Beverage Resources,
Lakewood, Ohio, and vice president of the U.S. Bartenders’
Guild’s Ohio chapter, predicts that grappa, along with other
fruit-based eaux de vie, is poised to become the next big thing
among craft bartenders and discriminating drinkers.
The best are made in small pot stills with low, slow heat to
protect the natural esters. As steam is pushed through a basket
containing the pumice, it picks up the botanicals. “This is what
gives grappa its light, ethereal, what I call feminine notes,” says
Deluca. But because it’s bottled at proof, which means no
water is added, it’s aggressively alcoholic, generally 45% to 48%.
“That’s stronger than most Americans are used to,” he adds.
To ensure a positive impression, he recommends adhering
to chill standards. “If it’s too cold, you lose the pretty subtleties,
but the ethyl alcohol is emphasized when grappa’s too warm.”
Because of its historic connection to rural, agricultural life and
the fact that grappa is the result of a no-waste, repurposing philosophy, Deluca thinks it has a natural appeal for today’s foodies and
environmentally conscious consumers. “To create something
excellent from such humble ingredients represents the height of
the distiller’s art. This is a story people can connect with.”