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History of Brandy

Brandy is distilled from fruits such as grape, apple, blackberry, apricot and so on. Based on the region and the fruit, brandy can be divided into several categories: Cognac, Armagnac, American Brandies, and fruit brandies. Most brandies are bottled at 80 proof (meaning 40 % of alcohol). Brandy has been enjoyed over the centuries as cocktail and cooking ingredients. Most ordered brandy cocktails at the bar would be the Alexander, the Singer, and the Sidecar.

Long before the 16th century, wine was a popular product for trading in European region. In the early 16th century, a Dutchman trader invented the way to ship more wine in the limited cargo space by removing water from the wine. Then he could add the water back to the concentrated wine at the destination port in Holland. They called it "bradwijn," meaning "burned wine," and later became "brandy."

Cognac was born during the XVIIth century, when the Cognacais began double distillation. Cognac is still produced by double distillation in pot stills and aged in new oak casks for one year. After the distillation, it is transferred to used oak casks for aging. Back then, Brandy was one of the essential French products for their economic growth. It was first exported to Holland and spread to England, Far East, and New World. Cognac is made from while wine, which are produced from whole grape including seeds and skins. Cognac is only produced in Cognac area in France. There are 6 areas in Cognac. Well-known areas are the Champagne and Petite Champagne. The rest are Bois, Fins Bois, Borderies, and Bons Bois.

The major difference between Cognac and Armagnac is the distillation method. Armagnac is distilled once in a continuous copper still. On the other hand, Cognac is double distilled. Armagnac is often aged over 10 years, which is actually longer than Cognac. Most Armagnac brandies which have lived over 30 years could be considered as over-lived brandy. Preferred Armagnac is between is teenage years to mid-20s. Armagnac is produced in Gascony, France. Gascony is located in southwest of Cognac region. Like Cognac area, there are 3 important areas for Armagnac: Bas Armagnac, Haut Armagnac, and Tenareze. Most Armagnac is produced by four kinds of grapes: Baco, Colombard, Folle Balanche, and Ugni Blanc (Grebbiano). Armagnac bottles usually show the region. If the label doesn?t tell the region, it is often blended with more than two regions.

In the New World, brandy was first produced by the Spanish Missions in California. Today, American brandies are mostly distilled in California where the grape grows. According to the U.S. law, American brandies must be aged for at least 2 years in wood. They usually have liter taste than European brandies. Unlike European brandy makers, American brandy makers produce their brands individually, from growing grapes to bottling and marketing.

Fruit brandies are also produced in several other countries other than France and the United States: Germany, Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Australia, and South Africa and more. Fruits brandies are usually bottled at 80 to 90 proof and made from apple, peach, apricots, blackberry, and cherry etc. Applejack, Apple brandies and Calvados are distilled from apple cider. Representative countries producing those brandies are France, Germany and the United States. In the United States, Applejack is produced from fermented apple cider and aged for at least 2 years In the U.S., brandy must be bottled over 70 proof. Applejack can be bottled with or without blending with neutral grain spirits. Calvados is also applejack, but is aged much long than American Applejack, spending over 20 years of aging. Eau de vie, indicating "water of life" in French, refers brandies which are distilled from fruits other than grape. They are often bottled around 100 proof and are colorless.

Brandy has a unique rating system to describe the quality and condition of each brandy by alphabet abbreviations. It usually comes with brand name on the label. V.O. indicates that the brandy was aged at least 4 years. V.S.O.P. means it?s been aged for minimum of 8 years. Napoleon, Extra, Vieille Reserve all mean minimum of 5 years of aging.

  • C = "Cognac"
  • E = "Extra"
  • F = "Fine"
  • O = "Old"
  • P = "Pale"
  • S = "Special"
  • V = "Very Special"

A.C.: two years old, aged in wood.
V.S. : "Very Special", three year in wood. It's often called "Three Star."
V.S.O.P.: "Very Superior Old Pale" Minimum aging, Five year in wood, It's often called, "Five Star."
X.O.: "Extra Old" Minimum aging of Six years. X.O.s include Napoleon and (Vieille) Reserve.
Napoleon: at least 4 years old, mostly much older than 4 years
Varietal: Armagnac, which has a label, showing Varietal means it may be produced by one kind of grape.
Vintage: It must be stored in the cask until the time it's bottled with the label showing the vintage date on.
Hors D'age: It means too old to determine the age.

Preferably brandy should be served at room temperature around 70F in a fine snifter. Thin glasses like snifter allow to hold the stem without warming the glass and evaporating the brandy. Traditionally, brandies have been enjoyed after dinner with desserts such as chocolate or apple desserts. Fruit brandies can be chilled before served and are enjoyed in brandy cocktails.

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