Grappa has come a long way. Starting life as the poor man’s beverage of choice, grappa originated as a cheap liquor that helped the working man make it through the day. Now, it’s a smooth tipple found in high-end cocktail bars, Italian restaurants and homes across the UK.
Fermented from the sugar left over after the winemaking process was complete, grappa was created to squeeze every last drop of goodness from the cherished grapes that went into wine.
But the fine tradition of grappa production has a little more to it than you might think…
Once Upon A Time…
Grappa was developed as a quick, easy drink to dull the pain of hard manual labour and provide much needed extra calories to the working class. We don’t know exactly how old the great grappa tradition is, but it began in the Middle East, around the eighth century. By the Middle Ages (roughly the 1100s), Grappa production had spread to Europe through the Moors, an elite family who ruled in Sicily.
In addition to being the favourite fix of the working class, grappa was also used by Solerno’s Benedictine monks. The monks distilled their own brew in order to preserve their precious medicinal herbs, by infusing them with grappa. By the close of the fifth century, grappa was a popular product that had been licensed, with brewers paying taxes on anything distilled from wine or pomace.
The distillation of alcohol from grain mash wasn’t mastered until the 16th century. Grappa had already been in production for eight hundred years or so by this point, back in the days when spirits were usually crafted by heating wine to make brandy. As such, grappa’s long and proud history predates the production of other popular tipples like whiskey, vodka, and gin, all of which are grain distillates. Although brewed from mash, grappa isn’t distilled from grain, but rather vinace or pomace – the skins, stalks, and pips left over after grapes are pressed for wine making.
Italy’s oldest official grappa brewer set up shop in 1779, trading under the name Bassano del Grappa, now the name of the Venetian city in Vicenza where production began. The spirit takes its name from the Latin word ‘grappapolis’, which means ‘bunch of grapes’.
Cheap Shot To High Class Hooch
Grappa evolved from the cheap shot favoured by the poor working class to high class hooch devoured by the gentry as a result of Italy’s post-war miracle economy. Under the Marshall Plan of 1947-1951, America invested a massive amount of capital in Italy, which was perceived to be a hinge country in Europe following the second World War. The result of this was a booming Italian economy that continued until 1969.
This rapid economic growth resulted in a high demand for fine Italian cuisine and the development of a string of elegant and extremely fashionable Italian restaurants around the world.
During the 1960s, a small and previously unremarkable family of grappa distillers became the first to market a high class, single-varietal grappa, at a premium price, when Benito Nonino designed a special discontinuous still. The fine tradition of grappa production has continued apace ever since, eventually leading to our own development of Dappa, a native British version of the classic grog, brewed from red grapes right here in Devon.
Grab yourself a bottle of fine English Dappa and dive into the long tradition of exquisite grappa…