Everything You Need to Know About Grappa

If you’ve had any experience with grappa, it likely came at the end of a meal at an Italian restaurant after a waiter handed you a shot glass of clear liquid. It burned going down, probably, and you weren’t quite sure what you’d just consumed. Grappa has been a beloved spirit in Italy for more than 200 years, yet its reputation hasn’t exactly been stellar in the U.S. Over the past five years, however, grappa imports have ramped up, providing an increasing number of options. Grappa is no longer a mystery spirit you should be wary of, it’s something you should experiment with. Here’s what you need to know about grappa.

What Is Grappa Made From?

Grappa is made from the skins of wine grapes, which is called pomace. Unlike brandy, which is made from wine, or whiskey, which is made from a liquid mash, grappa is made from a solid. Producers use the grape skins, seeds and stems that sat in the fermentation tank with grape juice to make red wine. They can also make grappa from white wine byproduct, but since the pomace isn’t usually fermented with the juice during white wine production, distillers must first ferment the skins and seeds themselves.

Where Does Grappa Come From?

No one knows exactly when the first grappa was made, but we do know for sure that the spirit is rooted in Italy. In the 17th century, chemists developed a distillation method that allowed people to derive alcohol from solid pomace rather than just liquid wine. In 1779, the first grappa distillery, the Nardini Distillery, opened near Venice, Italy, where it still makes grappa today.

What Does Grappa Taste Like?

Like all types of liquor, grappa’s taste is highly dependent on the quality of the distillate. The cheapest stuff will taste closer to a strong cheap vodka, while finer grappas are subtly sweet with fruity undertones. It’s most often clear or aged for a short period of time, with a light aromatic quality like an unaged Cognac. The cheaper grappa on the market can be a little aggressive alcohol-wise, but you can find nuanced notes of citrus, flowers and herbs in a good bottle.

What’s the Difference Between Brandy and Grappa?

Brandy is made from distilling fermented grape juice (wine) with or without the solid grape matter (skins, stems and seeds). Grappa, on the other hand, is made solely from distilling the fermented skins, stems and seeds of wine grapes.

How Strong Is Grappa?

Grappa can vary between 35 percent alcohol by volume (70 proof) and 60 percent alcohol by volume (120 proof).

How Do You Drink Grappa?

Since its earliest days, Grappa has been enjoyed as a digestif. That’s still the norm, but it’s also making its way into cocktails. Grappa in Seattle and Rhine Hall in Chicago, for example, feature grappa in Moscow Mule and Aviation style drinks as a spirit that adds a little character without stealing the show. The best grappas, however, are meant to be consumed neat.