Rows of homemade grappa in a bar in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.
Rows of homemade grappa in a bar in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.

Homemade Grappa: Don't Tell the ABC

Grappa. Just the word sends waves of warmth down the esophagus.

Grappa is brandy distilled from pomace--the solids left over during the wine-making process; the stems and pips and skins and pressed pulp. The French call this leftover gunk marc and distill eau de vie de marc from it; the Italians call the pulp vinaccia and distill grappa from it.

The concoction called caffè corretto ("corrected coffee") is available all over Italy; it's a shot of espresso "corrected" with a shot of grappa. In the mountains above Venice, though, there's a variation called resentin, in which the sugar sludge left in the bottom of a cup of espresso is moistened with a small amount of grappa, then swirled and drunk.

Bars in Italy will often have a couple of homemade fruit grappas, made by taking fresh or dried fruit and nuts or proprietary combinations of herbs and steeping them in grappa. Sip the grappa from its customary shot glass, then eat the (extremely alcoholic) fruit. A couple of shots of raisin, fig or apricot grappa, and a taxi may be indicated.

Though it's most often drunk after dinner as a digestive, it also performs admirably when pressed into service as a loose sorbet during a long dinner. A tiny scoop of grappa sorbet clears the stomach and allows the banquet-goer to eat the next few courses. It's a time-tested idea that deserves more recognition in the United States.

Sadly, the concept of homemade fruit grappa in bars will have to remain an Italian one. Nearly every U.S. state prohibits such tinkering with such a moral evil as alcohol--here in California, it's banned in the ABC Act. It's safe only if it comes hermetically sealed in an industrially produced bottle and taxed, right?

Of course, you could make your own, which is legal in California for home consumption--grappa is easily found in larger liquor stores, and all it takes is a clean, sealable glass jar and some of the fruit, nuts or clean herbs of your choice. Mix them together, and let them sit for two weeks or a month. Just sip it slowly--grappa is strong stuff.


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