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- For the singer and actress, see Brandy Norwood.
Brandy (short for brandywine, from Dutch brandewijn—burnt wine) is a general term for distilled wine, usually 40–60% ethyl alcohol by volume. In addition to wine, this spirit can also be made from grape pomace or fermented fruit juice. Unless specified otherwise, brandy is made from grape wine.
The origins of brandy are unclear, and tied to the development of distillation. Concentrated alcoholic beverages were known in ancient Greece and Rome and may have a history going back to ancient Babylon. Brandy as it is known today, first began to appear in the 12th century and became generally popular in the 14th century.
Initially wine was distilled as a preservation method and as a way to make the wine easier for merchants to transport. The intent was to add the water removed by distillation back to the brandy shortly before consumption. It was discovered that after having been stored in wooden casks, the resulting product had improved over the original wine.
Types of brandy
There are three primary types of brandy. Grape brandy is the type that is meant if brandy is used by itself.
Grape brandy is produced by the distillation of fermented grape juice. There are three main subtypes of grape brandies.
- COGNAC comes from the Cognac region in France, and is double distilled using pot stills. Popular brands include Martell, Remy Martin , Hennessy, and Courvoisier (a favourite drink of Napoleon).
- ARMAGNAC is made from grapes of the Armagnac region in Southwest France (Gers, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne). It is single continuous distilled in a copper stills and is aged in oaken casks from Gascony or Limousin. Armagnac was the first distilled spirit in France. Armagnacs are aged more than Cognacs, usually 12-20 years, but up to 30 years. A popular brand is Marquis de Montesquiou.
- AMERICAN grape brandy is almost always from California, and lighter coloured, but stronger tasting than European brandies.
Grape brandies are best drunk in a snifter, at room temperature or slighlty warmed, by holding the glass in the cup of palm or gently heating with candle.
The European Union legally enforces Cognac as the exclusive name for brandy produced and distilled in the Cognac area of France, and Armagnac from the Gascony area of France, using traditional techniques.
Fruit brandies are distilled from fruits other than grapes. Apple, plum, peach, cherry, raspberry, blackberry, and apricot are the most commonly used fruit. Fruit brandy is usually clear, 80 to 90 proof, and usually drunk chilled or over ice.
Kirsch is a fruit brandy made from cherries.
Pot vs. tower stills
A brandy can be aged in one of three main ways.
- No aging: Many pomace and fruit brandies are not aged after distillation. The resulting product is typically a clear liquid.
- Solera process: Some brandies are aged using the solera system. Brandies from Spain are typical of this variation.
Hennessy classification of age
A.C: at least 2 years old
V.S.(Very Special): at least 3 years old
Napolean: at least 4 years old
V.S.O.P (Very Superior Old Pale): at least 5 years old
X.O(Extra Old): at least 6 years old
Hors D'age: Too old to determine age
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