Brandy (from brandywine, derived from Dutch brandewijn, "burnt wine") is a spirit produced by distilling wine. Brandy generally contains 35–60% alcohol by volume (70–120 US proof) and is typically taken as an after-dinner drink. Some brandies are aged in wooden casks, some are coloured with caramel colouring to imitate the effect of 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 named eaux-de-vie, especially in France.
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 (over ice cubes). It may be added to other beverages to make several popular cocktails; these include the Brandy Sour, the Brandy Alexander, the Sidecar, the Brandy Daisy, and the Brandy Old Fashioned.
In western countries, brandy is traditionally drunk neat at room temperature 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 gentle heating. Excessive heating of brandy may cause the alcohol vapour to become too strong, causing its aroma to become overpowering. Brandy drinkers who like their brandy warmed may ask for the glass to be heated before the brandy is poured.
- Flavoured brandy is added to enhance the flavour of desserts, including cake and pie toppings.
- Flavoured brandy is commonly added to apple dishes.
- Brandy is a common deglazing liquid 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.
- Brandy is used to flambé the Crêpe Suzette while serving.
The origins of brandy were clearly tied to the development of distillation. Concentrated alcoholic beverages were known in ancient Greece and Rome. Brandy, as it is known today, 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 it easier for merchants to transport. It is 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 led to the formation and decomposition of numerous aromatic compounds, fundamentally altering the composition of the distillate from its source. Non-volatile substances such as pigments, sugars, and salts remained behind in the still. As a result, the taste of the distillate was often 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 impurities 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 have been 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 markets, including by extension their overseas empires, were 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, a crossroads for Turkish, Central Asian, and Persian trade routes and a part of the Russian Empire at the time. Armenian and Georgian brandies, called cognacs in the era, were considered some of the best in the world and often beat 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 with 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 participants gorged on the substantial stores of cognac and wines. The Russian market was always a huge brandy-consuming region in which home-grown varieties were common but much of it was imported. The patterns of bottles followed that of the western European norm. Throughout the Soviet era, the production of brandy was a source of pride for the communist regime as they continued to produce some excellent varieties, especially the most famous 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 named using the specific 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 grape-based "wine fortified for distillation" and aged a minimum of six months in oak. 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 US, brandy that has been produced from other than grape wine must be labelled with a clarifying description of the type of brandy production such as "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 similar to those of the US (provisions B.02.050–061). The minimum specified aging period is six months in wood, although not necessarily oak (provision B.02.061.2). Caramel, fruit, other botanical substances, flavourings, and flavouring preparations may also be included in a product called brandy (provisions B.02.050–059).
Within the European Union, the German term Weinbrand is legally equivalent to the English term "brandy", but outside the German-speaking countries it is particularly used to designate brandy from Austria and Germany. 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 (Rakia e Rrushit) is the most popular and traditional alcoholic beverage in Albania and the Albanian regions of Eastern Montenegro.
- Lazova rakija in Macedonia, Lozovača in Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia, Muskatova or Grozdova in Bulgaria are well known grape brandies in the Balkans. Some of these brandies are aged and some are non-aged. Balkan folks call this type of brandy Rakia, Rakija or Raki.
- 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. Bottles on the market are aged anywhere from 3 to 20 years.
- Armagnac is made from grapes of the Armagnac region in the southwest of France, Gers, Landes and 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.
- Metaxa, the first alcoholic drink consumed in space, is a Greek distilled spirit invented by Spyros Metaxas in 1888, continuing the tradition of making distilled wines since Classical antiquity. Mature distillates are made from sun-dried Savatiano, Sultana and Black Corinth grape varieties blended with an aged Muscat wine from the Greek islands of Samos and Lemnos then aged for 3 to 80 years. The "12 stars dry" and "Grand Reserve" varieties have no added Muscat wine. Metaxa's varieties range from the 3 stars, 5 stars, 7 stars, 12 stars, and the12 stars Grand Olympian Reserve (dry) to the Private Reserve, aged for at least 30 years, and the METAXA AEN that is aged for 80 years in the No1 cask of Spyros Metaxas. The number of stars represents the number of years the blend is matured. Metaxa cellars are in Kifissia, an affluent suburb of Athens, Greece. In the past, Metaxa was considered a 'cognac', but now only brandies from the Cognac region of France can be called cognacs. Metaxa has been a sponsor of major sporting events including the World Cup and FA Cup. Metaxa is exported to over 60 countries and is the most popular brandy in travel retail worldwide.
- Cognac comes from the Cognac region of 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 (132 US gal; 110 imp gal), 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.
- Kanyak is a variety from Turkey whose name is a variation of "cognac" and also mean "burn blood" in Turkish, a reference to its use in cold weather.
- Pisco is a strong, colorless to amber coloured brandy produced in specific regions of Chile and Peru. The name Pisco derives from the Peruvian port of the same name. Pisco is still made in Peru and Chile but the right to produce and market it is subject to disputes between both countries.
- South African grape brandies are, by law, made almost exactly as 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 a very high quality.
- Cyprus brandy differs from other varieties in that its alcohol concentration is only 32% ABV (64 US proof).
- Bejois Brandy is a grape brandy produced in India and most popular in the southern states.
- 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. Both must also be made using traditional techniques. Since these are considered PDO, a brandy made elsewhere 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 other parts of 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 (80 to 90 US proof). It is often colourless. Fruit brandy is customarily drunk chilled or over ice, but is occasionally mixed. For example, blackberry brandy and Coca-Cola are mixed to make a popular New England drink called "the blackbird".
- 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 brandy is made with the prune fruit of the Damassinier tree in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland
- Coconut brandy is a brandy made from the sap of coconut flowers.
- Eau de vie is a French term for colorless fruit brandy. This term is also applied to grape-based brandy other than armagnac and cognac.
- 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" is a common traditional description for Slovak brandy. It must be distilled from Slovakian wild or domestic fruits whose native name ends in -ica.
- Pálinka is a traditional Hungarian fruit brandy. It can only be made with fruits from Hungary, such as plums, apricots, peaches, elderberries, pears, apples or cherries.
- Poire Williams is made from the Williams pear, also known as the Bartlett pear.
- 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.
- Slivovitz 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 for making wine. Most pomace brandies are neither aged nor coloured.
Examples of pomace brandy are:
- Albanian Raki e Rushi
- Bulgarian джиброва
- Macedonian комова
- Cretan tsikoudia
- Croatian tropica
- Cypriot zivania
- French marc
- Georgian chacha
- German Tresterbrand
- Greek tsipouro
- Hungarian törkölypálinka
- Italian grappa
- Portuguese aguardente, Bagaceira
- 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 (16 to 24 US proof) 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 by volume (60 US proof). 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% (166 US proof) 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 (140 US proof) (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.
Pot stills vs. column 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 column stills to perform their distillation.
Special pot stills with a fractionating section on top are used for Armagnac.
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" aged at least six years in wood.
- 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.
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.
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- Batch distillation
- Cut brandy
- Dutch brandy
- Fortified wine
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