Brandy is a favourite digestive to end a meal. Most Spanish brandy is produced in Jerez, where it has a protected trademark, Brandy de Jerez. The production process involves the solera system, also used to mature sherry, where maturing takes place in rows of barrels stacked on top of each other, the lowest being the oldest and closest to the floor, which is suelo in Spanish, from where the name solera comes. Brandy is aged in casks that were once used to mature sherry, the oloroso (full-bodied) type in particular. This imbues the brandy with a similar distinctive nutty taste. According to EU regulations, for a spirit to be officially recognised as a brandy, it has to be matured for at least six months and to derive from grapes.
There are three varieties of brandy, classified according to the time they have matured. Solera is matured in the barrel for at least six months, while Solera Reserva has aged for at least a year. The best brandy is Solera Gran Reserva, which has matured for at least three years in a barrel, although these have often aged for at least 15 years.
Some of the best brandies classed as Solera Gran Reserva are Carlos I produced by Pedro Domeq, Conde de Osborne produced by Osborne and Cardenal Mendoza, from Sánchez Romate. When asking in a bar or restaurant, you can say brandy or coñac in Spanish.
Another national passion is aguardiente de anís or anisado, a clear aniseed-flavoured liqueur that is invariably very strong - with an alcohol content between 30 and 50 degrees - and comes in sweet (dulce), semi-seco (medium dry) or dry (seco). You´ll often see it being drunk in the morning by people in bars, served neat or mixed with water. A quintessential Andalucian drink is sol y sombra made from mixing anís and brandy, giving a layered effect of the dark brandy (sombra) and the clear anís (sol).
Anís is produced in a number of towns in Andalucia, the most famous being those made in Rute, in Cordoba province, and Cazalla de la Sierra in Seville province, where there is an interesting variant, aguardiente de cereza made from cherries. Miura in Cazalla also make cherry brandy. It´s also produced in Zalamea and Cortegana in Huelva province.
Pacharán is popular throughout Spain as an aperitive or digestive and is an aniseed-flavoured liqueur made with blue-black sloe berries with an alcohol content of around 20 to 30 degrees. It is best drunk well chilled, with no ice so the liqueur is undiluted, although you can mix it with juice.