History of: Brandy
Why we love it:
Brandy is a derivative of wine, and it can be quite delicious. We not only enjoy the more traditional types of European brandy, but after a trip to Peru, love the Pisco something fierce as well.
Where to find it (besides the liquor store):
France, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and even the good ole’ U.S. Grape brandies that are different from traditional brandies but still fall under the same umbrella can also be found in Mexico, Germany, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Moldova, Pakistan, Cyprus, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Greece.
What it’s made of:
Brandy is classified as a wine distillate in Europe, and brandy is by definition a spirit made from fermented wine or fruit juice. Therefore, it is by and large made with grapes. But there are several types of brandy made from other fruits, which we will cover later.
American Grape Brandy at this point is synonymous with California, which makes sense as the wine industry in centered mostly in California. However, the Pacific Northwest is also trying its hand. Stay tuned.
Armagnac is made exclusively in France in the Armagnac region. It was the first distilled spirit in France, is still produced in a copper still, and is aged in oak casks from Gascony or Limousin.
Cognac is also made in France, from the, you guessed it, Cognac region. It is distilled twice, in copper stills, and aged in oak for at least three years.
Lourinha is a Portuguese brandy, from the Estremadura region. Only this region, along with Cognac and Armagnac, have appellation status.
South African brandies are made just like Cognac. Interestingly, this is because laws were passed restricting production. Double distilled, and aged in oak for three years, these brandies are of high quality.
Pisco the official spirit of Peru and of Chile (which seems like a strange thing to us) and is a grape brandy. This is a spirit that is dear to us, and it deserves more attention than a side note in the brandy section, so keep your eye out for pisco in our features section!
Other in much the same way pisco is a version of the traditional European brandy, there are other types produced in other countries. Briefly, those countries are: Mexico, Portugal (aguardente), Germany (weinbrand), Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Moldova, Pakistan, Cyprus and Italy (grappa).
These can be delicious libations to be sure. They can be made from any fruit, although there are some that are more common than others. Some of the most common are: Calvados, a French apple brandy; Schnaps (German) or Schnapps; Palinka (Hungarian); Slivovice or Slivovitz, which is plum brandy; and Tuica (Romanian).
Pomace is specifically produced by the fermentation and distillation of grape seeds, stems and skins. These are the remains of the grapes after they are used to make wine. An excellent example is grappa, which in our humble opinion tastes a little like lighter fluid. However, the Italians love it, and similar styles are French marc, Bugarian grozdova, and Georgian chacha.
There is a rating system for brandy, although is doesn’t apply to Fruit or Pomace brandy. Generally speaking, the labels are not required to have ratings on the bottle, but the finer ones will, and they are as follows:
A.C. – Ages two years in wood.
V.S. – “Very Special” or 3-star, aged at least three years in wood.
V.S.O.P. – “Very Special Old Pale” or 5-star, aged at least five years in wood.
X.O. – “Extra Old”, Napoleon, aged at least four years, or Vieille Reserve, aged at least six years.
Vintage – Stored in the cask until the time it is bottled with the label showing the vintage date.
Hors D’age – They are too old to determine the age, although ten years plus is typical, and are usually of great quality.
The name brandy is a shortened version of brandywine, or brandewijn, meaning “burnt wine.” As the named suggests, brandy is a wine distillate. The story goes that as long as wine has been transported, a form of brandy has existed.
See, early shippers of brandy came up with the idea that because wine is largely water, they would take the water out of it, and then add it back in when it reached it’s destination. (Think of those cans of weird orange stuff that you add water to make a pitcher of O.J.). Also, taxes in some areas of the world were assessed by volume, so the concentration of the wine served two purposes.
As you might imagine, the only mode of transportation for liquids in those days were wooden casks. When they reached their destination and opened the casks, what they found wasn’t wine at all… the color, aroma and taste had all been altered. To their delight, it wasn’t half bad either. And thus, brandy was born.
Like most of the other distillation going on in the world, brandy production started in the 12th century, we think. The areas that produced it first (and still do) are wine producing regions, which would explain why the finest brandies come from France, Portugal, South Africa and even the U.S. It appears, however, that wherever wine is made, so is brandy.
Throughout the last few hundred years, different countries have taken the lead on brandy production. At the end of the 19th century, French and Spanish brandies were the most coveted, but in the early 20th, Armenian and Georgian brandies were taking center stage. Russia also has played a large role in both brandy production and consumption, and there are rumors of huge rooms full of brandy in St. Petersburg.
Brandy is made in a variety of ways by a variety of countries. While it has not enjoyed the commercial success of, lets say, vodka, it still does well. Brandy is considered something of a luxury item, and therefore more emphasis on the “special” varieties is being made.