This is the first in an intended series of interludes wherein I’ll pair my experience of a brandy, Cognac and Armagnac – collectively burned wines – with consideration of some of history’s greatest poetry and a few observations of my own. The brandy reviews will not be from the palate of a long-experienced connoisseur. Instead what I’ll be offering will be direct impressions and reflections of each burned wine as I experience it.
I am starting with Borysfen 5 year-old, a brandy which I obtained from a local LCBO store in my community. Borysfen is a Ukrainian brandy which LCBO brought to Ontario in 2013 – this I learned from the website of the Embassy of the Ukraine to Canada. Apparently Ontario was starting with an order of 375 cases. $23.55 Canadian dollars buys an even half-litre (500 mL) of brandy; that is comparable in price to other brandies on the shelf. I tend not to quibble one way or another over a few dollars; brandy at any price is a luxury purchase, let’s not kid ourselves.
Let me pair my experience of Borysfen with contemplation of Taras Shevchenko’s poem Zapovit (or “Testament” in English). For simplicity, the original and a translation are available on Wikipedia .
When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper’s plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.
When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears
Into the deep blue sea
The blood of foes … then will I leave
These hills and fertile fields —
I’ll leave them all and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I’ll pray …. But until that day
I know nothing of God.
Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants’ blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.
– Translated by John Weir, Toronto, 1961
Tavria, the company that produces Borysfen, advise on their website that Borysfen is produced from grapes grown in a unique sandy area on the Dnieper. How fitting, then, to consider Shevchenko’s bold nationalist sentiments with a serving of this brandy. Writing this essay in 2016 is a celebration of Ukrainian nationalism. North American news outlets have given meager coverage to Russia’s most recent annexation of Crimea – preferring instead to focus on the latest moronic comments by Canadian and American politicians or expressing pseudo-outrage over the the slightest violation of opinion uniformity. It is curious that we haven’t been hearing daily updates regarding the one million Ukrainian refugees that have been displaced from their homes. I earnestly hope a few dollars of my purchase find their way back to Ukraine.
When I think of brandy, it is not typically the Ukraine that comes to mind and so I am also suggesting an evening devoted to an atypical choice of brandy and soda. I’ll go so far as to support the Simply Refined blog’s 2011 defense of the brandy and soda which I am re-presenting here (sans public commentary, for that please visit Simply Refined directly)
I’m standing up in defense of the oft-forgotten Brandy and Soda. A pressing issue of the day, I know. You may all breathe easy now that this eminently sippable cocktail has a found its champion.
As for fizzy drinks, most people these days lean towards the classic G&T or the slightly more hairy-chested Scotch and Soda. But there are some situations that beg for something in between the two. Tonight for example. It’s in the low 60s out, balmy, but not cold. I don’t want the crisp, refreshing dryness of the G&T, and the heft of the Scotch and Soda would be just a little overbearing. Enter the Brandy and Soda. A little sweet, but balanced nicely by the bubbles, it goes down smoothly and neither sits heavy nor makes me shiver.
I recommend going a little heavier on the booze than you might with either of the other two. A good 2 to 3 oz pour, over a few cubes of ice, and topped up with maybe 5 oz of soda will do nicely. A bit strong, like Bertie Wooster liked his, but perfectly balanced. Do you have a favorite summer sipper?
Cracking the bottle of Borysfen, the first thing I note is the sweet and pleasant aroma from the bottle. Some liquors can overwhelm, but the first scent of Borysfen is engaging and inviting. Tavria argues that the notes are vanilla and flowers but I recall the caramels of a golden cane syrup.
Poured with a long-pour as prescribed, I use a hefty old fashioned “lowball” crystal tumbler. The Borysfen disappears more quickly than a similarly poured G&T and with more enjoyment than a comparable scotch and soda…and the cocktail seems to shuttle Shevchenko’s fiercely independent sentiments through my blood-stream with vigour. I am enthusiastic.
The Borysfen will hereafter remind me of the yearning for the comforts of “the family of the free” and the warm belonging that comes to me when, enemies absent or vanquished at last, I have rested in my own home.
Update April 2017: having consumed the first bottle of Borysfen in an embarrassingly short period of time. A second bottle is also showing dangerous signs of depletion.