Brandy (from brandywine, derived from Dutch brandewijn—"burnt wine") is a spirit produced by distilling wine. Brandy generally contains 35%–60% alcohol by volume and is typically taken as an after-dinner drink. Some brandies are aged in wooden casks, while some are simply coloured with caramel colouring to imitate the effect of such aging (and some brandies are produced using a combination of both aging and colouring).
Brandy is also produced from fermented fruits other than grapes, but these products are typically called eaux-de-vie.
In some countries, fruit flavouring or some other flavouring may be added to a spirit that is called "brandy".
Brandy may be served neat or on the rocks. It is added to other beverages to make several popular cocktails; these include the Brandy Alexander, the Sidecar, the Brandy Sour, and the Brandy Old Fashioned.
Brandy is traditionally drunk neat at room temperature in western countries from a snifter or a tulip glass. In parts of Asia, it is usually drunk on the rocks. When drunk at room temperature, it is often slightly warmed by holding the glass cupped in the palm or by gently heating it. However, excessive heating of brandy may cause the alcohol vapour to become too strong, to the extent that its aroma can become overpowering. Brandy connoisseurs will ask for the glass to be warmed before the Brandy is added, this causes the aroma to be strong without having to hold the glass, and the flavour to be maximised.
Brandy has a more pleasant aroma at a lower temperature, e.g., 16 °C (61 °F). In most homes, this would imply that brandy should be cooled rather than heated for maximum enjoyment. Furthermore, alcohol (which makes up 40% of a typical brandy) becomes thin when it is heated (and more viscous when cooled). Thus, cool brandy produces a fuller and smoother mouthfeel and less of a "burning" sensation.
- Flavoured brandy is added to desserts, including cake and pie toppings, to enhance their flavour.
- Flavoured brandy is commonly added to apple dishes.
- Brandy is a common deglazing liquid that is used in making pan sauces for steak and other meat.
- Brandy is used to create a more intense flavour in some soups, notably onion soup.
The origins of brandy are clearly tied to the development of distillation. Concentrated alcoholic beverages were known in ancient Greece and Rome. 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. It was also thought that wine was originally distilled to lessen the tax which was assessed by volume. 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 distilled spirit. In addition to removing water, the distillation process leads to the formation and decomposition of numerous aroma compounds, fundamentally altering the composition of the distillate from its source. Non-volatile substances such as pigments, sugars, and salts remain behind in the still. As a result, the taste of the distillate may be quite unlike that of the original source.
A cucurbit was filled half full of the liquor from which brandy was to be drawn and then raised with a little fire until about one sixth part was distilled, or until that which falls into the receiver was entirely flammable. This liquor, distilled only once, was called spirit of wine or brandy. Purified by another distillation (or several more), this was then called spirit of wine rectified. The second distillation was made in balneo mariae and in a glass cucurbit, and the liquor was distilled to about one half the quantity. This was further rectified—as long as the operator thought necessary—to produce brandy.
To shorten these several distillations, which were long and troublesome, a chemical instrument was invented that reduced them to a single distillation. To test the purity of the rectified spirit of wine, a portion was ignited. If the entire contents were consumed without leaving any impurity behind, then the liquor was good. Another, better test involved putting a little gunpowder in the bottom of the spirit. If the gunpowder took fire when the spirit was consumed, then the liquor was good.
As most brandies are distilled from grapes, the regions of the world producing excellent brandies have roughly paralleled those areas producing grapes for viniculture. At the end of the 19th century, the western European market—and by extension their overseas empires—was dominated by French and Spanish brandies, and eastern Europe was dominated by brandies from the Black Sea region, including Bulgaria, the Crimea, and Georgia. In 1880, David Saradjishvili founded his Cognac Factory in Tbilisi, Georgia (then part of the Russian Empire) which was a crossroads for Turkish, Central Asian, and Persian trade routes. Armenian and Georgian brandies (always called cognacs in the era) were considered some of the best in the world, often beating their French competitors at the International Expositions in Paris and Brussels in the early 1900s. The storehouses of the Romanov Court in St. Petersburg were regarded as the largest collections of cognacs and wines in the world—much of it from the Transcaucasus region of Georgia. During the October Revolution of 1917, upon the storming of the Winter Palace, the Bolshevik Revolution actually paused for a week or so as the rioters engorged on the substantial stores of cognac and wines. The Russian market was always a huge brandy-consuming region, and while much of it was home-grown, much was imported. The patterns of bottles follow that of western European norm. Throughout the Soviet era, the production of brandy remained a source of pride for the communist regime, and they continued to produce some excellent varieties—most famously the Jubilee Brandies of 1967, 1977, and 1987. Remaining bottles of these productions are highly sought after, not simply for their quality, but for their historical significance.
Terminology and legal definitions
If a beverage comes from a particular fruit (or multiple fruits) other than exclusively grapes, or from the must of such fruit, it may be referred to as a "fruit brandy" or "fruit spirit" or using the name of a fruit, such as "peach brandy", rather than just generically as "brandy". If pomace is the raw material, the beverage may be called "pomace brandy", "marc brandy", "grape marc", "fruit marc spirit", or "grape marc spirit". Grape pomace brandy may be designated as "grappa" or "grappa brandy". Apple brandy may be referred to as "applejack". There is also a product called "grain brandy" that is made from grain spirits.
Within particular jurisdictions, there are specific regulatory requirements regarding the labelling of products identified as brandy. For example:
- In the European Union, there are regulations that require products labelled as brandy (except "grain brandy") to be produced exclusively from the distillation or redistillation of (grape-based) wine (or "wine fortified for distillation"), and a minimum of six months of aging in oak is required. Alcoholic beverages imported to the EU from the United States or other non-EC states can be sold within the European Union using labels that refer to them as "fruit brandy" or "pomace brandy", but such a label cannot be used in the EU for products produced in an EC member state.
- In the United States, brandy that has been produced in some way other than using grape wine must be labelled with a clarifying description of the type of brandy production (e.g., "peach brandy", "fruit brandy", "dried fruit brandy", or "pomace brandy"), and brandy that has not been aged in oak for at least two years must be labelled as "immature".
- In Canada, the regulations regarding naming conventions for brandy are basically similar to those the United States (provisions B.02.050–061), the minimum specified aging period is six months in wood (although not necessarily oak, provision B.02.061.2), and caramel, fruit, other botantical substances, flavourings, and flavouring preparations may also be included in a product called brandy (provisions B.02.050–059).
In Poland, brandy is sometimes called winiak, from wino (wine).
There are three main types of brandy. The term "brandy" denotes grape brandy if the type is not otherwise specified.
Grape brandy is produced by the distillation of fermented grapes.
- Albanian grape brandy (Raki e Rushi) is the most popular and traditional alcholic beverage in Albania and the Albanian regions of Eastern Montenegro.
- American grape brandy is almost always from California. Popular brands include Christian Brothers and Korbel.
- Armenian brandy has been produced since the 1880s and comes from the Ararat plain in the southern part of Armenia. It was Winston Churchill's favourite brandy. Bottles on the market are aged anywhere from 3 to 20 years. During the International Exhibition in Paris in 1900, the brandy received the Grand-Prix and the legal right to be called 'cognac', not 'brandy', following a blind degustation.
- Armagnac is made from grapes of the Armagnac region in Southwest of France (Gers, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne). It is single-continuous distilled in a copper still and aged in oak casks from Gascony or Limousin. Armagnac was the first distilled spirit in France. Armagnacs have a specificity: they offer vintage qualities. Popular brands are Darroze, Baron de Sigognac, Larressingle, Delord, Laubade, Gélas and Janneau.
- Cognac comes from the Cognac region in France, and is double distilled using pot stills. Popular brands include Hine, Martell, Camus, Otard, Rémy Martin, Hennessy, Frapin, Delamain and Courvoisier.
- Brandy de Jerez is a brandy that originates from vineyards around Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain. It is used in some sherries and is also available as a separate product. It has a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). The traditional production method has three characteristics:
- Aged in European oak casks with a capacity of 500 litres, previously having contained sherry.
- The use of the traditional aging system of Criaderas and Soleras.
- Aged exclusively within the municipal boundaries of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda in the province of Cádiz.
- Pisco is a strong, colorless brandy that comes from Ica Region in Peru made of aromatic and non-aromatic grapes. Chile produces Chilean Pisco which is yellowish-to-amber colored brandy.
- Portugal: Lourinhã, located in western Portugal, is one of the few brandy-making areas, besides Cognac, Armagnac and Jerez, that have received appellation status.
- South African grape brandies are, by law, made almost exactly as in Cognac, using a double-distillation process in copper pot stills followed by aging in oak barrels for a minimum of three years. Because of this, South African brandies are of a very high quality.
- Cyprus brandy differs from other varieties in that its alcohol concentration is only 32% ABV.
- Other countries: Grape brandy is also produced in many other countries, including Bulgaria, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Macedonia, Mexico, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine.
The European Union and some other countries legally enforce the use of the name Cognac as the exclusive name for brandy produced and distilled in the Cognac area of France and the name Armagnac for brandy from the Gascony area of France, made using traditional techniques. Since these are considered PDO, they refer not just to styles of brandy but brandies from a specific region, i.e. a brandy made in California in a manner identical to the method used to make Cognac and which tastes similar to Cognac, cannot be called Cognac in places that restrict the use of that term to products made in the Cognac region of France (such places include Europe, the United States and Canada).
Fruit brandies are distilled from fruits other than grapes. Apples, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries, elderberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are the most commonly used fruits. Fruit brandy usually contains 40% to 45% ABV. It is usually colourless and is customarily drunk chilled or over ice.
- Applejack is an American apple brandy, made from the distillation of hard cider. It was once made by fractional freezing, which would disqualify it as a proper brandy.
- Buchu brandy is South African and flavoured with extracts from Agathosma species.
- Calvados is an apple brandy from the French region of Lower Normandy. It is double distilled from fermented apples.
- Damassine is a prune (the fruit of the Damassinier tree) brandy from the Jura Mountains of Switzerland
- Coconut brandy is a brandy made from the sap of coconut flowers.
- Eau-de-vie is a general French term for fruit brandy (or even grape brandy that is not qualified as Armagnac or Cognac, including pomace brandy).
- German Schnaps is fruit brandy produced in Germany or Austria.
- Kirschwasser is a fruit brandy made from cherries.
- Kukumakranka brandy is South African and flavoured with the ripe fruit of the Kukumakranka.
- Pálenka or "Pálené" or name of fruit with suffix -ica, is common traditional expression for Slovak brandy. It only can be distilled from fruits, forrest or domestificated from Slovakia.
- Pálinka is a traditional Hungarian fruit brandy. It can only be made of fruits from Hungary, such as plums, apricots, peaches, elderberries, pears, apples or cherries.
- Poire Williams (Williamine) is made from Bartlett pears (also known as Williams pears).
- Rakia is a type of fruit brandy produced in Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia; it may be made from plums, apples, quinces, pears, apricots, cherries, mulberries, grapes, or walnuts.
- Slivovice is a strong fruit brandy made from plums. It is produced in Croatia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland.
- Țuică is a clear Romanian fruit brandy made from plums, apples, pears, apricots, mulberries, peaches, quinces, or mixtures of these. Romania and Moldova also produce a grape brandy called vin ars (burnt wine) or divin.
Pomace brandy (also called marc in both English and French) is produced by fermentation and distillation of the grape skins, seeds, and stems that remain after grapes have been pressed to extract their juice (which is then used to make wine). Most pomace brandies are neither aged nor coloured.
Examples of pomace brandy are:
- Albanian Raki e Rushi
- Bulgarian/Macedonian grozdova
- Cretan tsikoudia
- Cypriot zivania 
- French marc
- Georgian chacha
- Greek tsipouro
- Hungarian törkölypálinka
- Italian grappa
- Portuguese aguardente
- Romanian tescovină
- Serbian/Bosnian komovica
- Slovak vinovica
- Slovenian tropinovec
- Spanish orujo
A batch distillation typically works as follows:
Wine with an alcohol concentration of 8% to 12% ABV and high acidity is boiled in a pot still. Vapours of alcohol, water, and numerous aromatic components rise and are collected in a condenser coil, where they become a liquid again. Because alcohol and the aromatic components vaporise at a lower temperature than water, the concentration of alcohol in the condensed liquid (the distillate) is higher than in the original wine.
After one distillation, the distillate, called "low wine," will contain roughly 30% alcohol (ethanol) by volume. The low wine is then distilled a second time. The first 1% or so of distillate that is produced, called the "head," has an alcohol concentration of about 83% and an unpleasant odour, so it is discarded (generally, mixed with another batch of low wine, thereby entering the distillation cycle again). The distillation process continues, yielding a distillate of approximately 70% alcohol (called the "heart"), which is what will be consumed as brandy. The portion of low wine that remains after distillation, called the "tail," will be mixed into another batch of low wine (so that the tail enters the distillation cycle again, as does the head).
Distillation does not simply enhance the alcohol content of wine. The heat under which the product is distilled and the material of the still (usually copper) cause chemical reactions to take place during distillation. This leads to the formation of numerous new volatile aroma components, changes in relative amounts of aroma components in the wine, and the hydrolysis of components such as esters.
Brandy is produced using one of three aging methods:
- No aging: Most pomace brandy and some fruit brandy is not aged before bottling. The resulting product is typically clear and colourless.
- Single barrel aging: Brandies with a natural golden or brown colour are aged in oak casks. Some brandies have caramel colour added to simulate the appearance of barrel aging.
- Solera process: Some brandies, particularly those from Spain, are aged using the solera system.
- A.C.: aged two years in wood.
- V.S.: "Very Special" or 3-Star, aged at least three years in wood.
- V.S.O.P.: "Very Superior Old Pale" or 5-Star, aged at least five years in wood.
- X.O.: "Extra Old", Napoleon or Vieille Reserve, aged at least six years, Napoleon at least four years.
- Vintage: Stored in the cask until the time it is bottled with the label showing the vintage date.
- Hors d'age: These are too old to determine the age, although ten years plus is typical, and are usually of great quality.
In the case of Brandy de Jerez, the Consejo Regulador de la Denominacion Brandy de Jerez classifies it according to:
- Brandy de Jerez Solera – one year old.
- Brandy de Jerez Solera Reserva – three years old.
- Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva – ten years old.
Pot stills vs. tower stills
Cognac and South African pot still brandy are examples of brandy produced in batches using pot stills (batch distillation). Many American brandies use fractional distillation in tower stills to perform their distillation. Special pot stills with a fractionation section on top are used for Armagnac.
- ^ Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 1989.
- ^ "Cognac glasses: The two basic types and their differences". http://blog.cognac-expert.com/the-two-basic-cognac-glasses-and-their-differences/. Retrieved March 4, 2011.
- ^ The History of Brandy
- ^ a b c d e f g h Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.. 2007.
- ^ a b This article incorporates content from the 1728 Cyclopaedia, a publication in the public domain.
- ^ a b c "Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, Title 27 Code of Federal Regulations, Pt. 5.22". http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2008/aprqtr/pdf/27cfr5.22.pdf. Retrieved 2011-03-03.
- ^ EC regulation No. 110/2008, Annex II, nn 3.
- ^ Cfr. Regulation (EC) No. 110/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 January 2008 "on the definition, description, presentation, labelling and the protection of spirit drinks"
- ^ EC regulation No. 110/2008, Annex II, nn 3-9.
- ^ Food and Drug Regulations, C.R.C., c. 870
- ^ Lichine, Alexis. Alexis Lichine’s New Encyclopedia of Wines & Spirits, 5th edition, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987). Page 464.
- ^ Bulk Brandy Producer, Rudolf Prehn GmbH
- ^ Pisco definition in Concise Oxford Dictionary, Wordreference.com.
- ^ MAIN SPECIFICATIONS OF THE TECHNICAL FILE FOR 'PISCO', http://eur-lex.europa.eu.
- ^ SICE - Free Trade Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Chile
- ^ South Africa wins Best Brandy in the World
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