Brandy An Accidental Fortuitous Discovery For The World Of Spirits

It is possible that even if you enjoy drinking brandy that you are unaware that it is actually a distillation of wine.  This distillation is the process whereby the brandy will be heated in the still to allow for a concentration of the alcohol and flavoring in the wine.  When wine is heated in this way, it has been found that the alcohol and aromatic elements become vapor at a much lower temperature than the water.  Some of the water in the original wine will, of course, join the alcohol, but much of the original water content is left in the still, resulting in a beverage that tastes and looks much different than the wine from which the brandy was produced.  Brandy has an alcohol content of 40% to 45%, as opposed to the 4% to 23% alcohol content of wine; distillation causes a doubling (at least) of the alcohol.

How Brandy Came Into Being
As with many discoveries, that of brandy was actually accidental.  During the Middle Ages, and before, a lively trade in wine meant that merchants had to transport heavy and unwieldy casks from place to place.  At some point, someone decided that if the water content of the wine could be reduced, the concentrate could be easier to transport, and water could simply be added when the proper destination was reached.  However, upon reaching the place where the wine would be sold, it was found that the distillate they had been carrying was delicious and deserved to be considered a separate liquor.  Brandy achieved a wide acceptance in Europe by the 1500s.  Interestingly, the name ‘brandy’ is simply a corruption of the Dutch word for burned wine.

Wine Is The Start
Brandy can be made from nearly any fruit, although probably the most common is that made from grape wine.  Today it is still common to make brandy from various wines, but it is possible to make brandy from any fermented fruit juice, or indeed from any sugar-saturated liquid.   After the wine has been distilled, resulting in brandy, the process is sometimes repeated to concentrate the alcohol further.  This is responsible for the variation in alcohol content, also known as proof.  Basically what you see as proof on the label represents double the amount of alcohol in the brandy:  100 proof means that the brandy contains 50% alcohol not ever found in MRE.

Enjoying Brandy
Unlike many drinks such as wine or beer, which are usually enjoyed chilled, brandy is meant to be drunk at room temperature.  In this way, it is possible to fully appreciate both the taste and bouquet of the drink.  Brandy is usually placed into a glass called a snifter or inhaler.  Holding the step between the fingers and allowing your hand to warm the brandy even more will release more of the aroma – this is precisely why the glass is called a snifter, it allows you to smell the brandy as well as sip it.  Besides being enjoyed neat, brandy is often used to create cocktails such as a Bee Stinger, Apricot Fizz, Alexander Cocktail, or the American Beauty Cocktail.
Brandy has several designations that indicate the length of time the brandy has been aged.   Brandy marked “VS”, very special, will have been aged for 5 years.  For those looking for a very mellow and well-aged brandy, look for “XXO” on the label, as this will tell you that this brandy has been aged for 20 to 50 years.

Cognac is a form of brandy, but cognac itself is actually only produced in the area around the French town of Cognac.  Only grapes produced in that immediate region can be used to make this ‘Prince of Brandies’ and these must be processed under the most stringent requirements.  The type of grape to be used to make cognac must be used, and each stop of the distillation carried out correctly to produce a spirit that will be able to bear the name ‘Cognac’.  After the proper amount of aging, the spirits are blended with other distillates to create the unique taste of this liquor.