WHAT IS BRANDY

Brandy is a distilled spirit produced from fermented fruit. Grapes are most common (essentially making brandy distilled wine), though brandies are also derived from apples, apricots, peaches, and other fruits. Brandy can be made anywhere in the world, and there are regional styles like cognac, Armagnac, grappa, and pisco. Often enjoyed straight, brandy is the foundation of several classic cocktails, and drinkers in Brazil, Germany, India, Russia, and the Philippines drink the most brandy today.

What Is Brandy Made From?
Brandy derives its name from the Dutch word brandewijn, meaning “burned wine.” It is a liquor distilled from fermented fruit juice, pulp, or pomace (the remnants of grape wine production). Traditional brandy is made from grapes. Other fruits fall into two categories: pome brandy comes from fruits like apples and pears, while stone fruit brandies use apricots, cherries, peaches, and plums.

There are no global regulations regarding brandy production, though some regions are known for a specific style that must meet certain standards. While the process to make brandy varies from one variety and distillery to another, there are four basic steps in its production:

The fruit is fermented into wine by introducing yeast to the fruit mash, which converts the natural sugars into alcohol.
The wine is distilled into a strong, concentrated alcohol. Copper pot stills are traditional and very common, though some distillers use continuous column stills.
Brandy’s often aged in wood barrels (French and American oak are typical) for at least a few years or up to 30 years. In the barrels, the clear distillate mellows, picks up oak flavors, and develops an amber color. Unaged brandies are typically classified as eau-de-vie; some may rest in stainless steel tanks or a similar vessel for a short time to mellow.
The final step is to blend several barrels of brandy and water to reach the desired taste and bottling strength.
The majority of brandies are bottled at 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV, 80 proof).

What Does Brandy Taste Like?
In general, brandy is sweet and fruity. It has the alcohol punch and oak nuances of whiskey mixed with the softness of sweet wine. The longer a brandy is aged, the more mellow and oaky its flavor becomes. Additionally, other fruit brandies and particular styles will have different flavors from standard grape-based brandy.

How to Drink Brandy
Brandy is often enjoyed straight. Well-aged and higher-end brandies, cognac, and Armagnac are particularly well-suited to sipping from a brandy snifter. The specialized glass with an oversized bowl wonderfully captures the aroma of room-temperature brandy and makes the experience more enjoyable. Nearly all brandies, including chilled eau-de-vie and room-temp grappa, make a nice digestif to enjoy after dinner. Grappa is also commonly served in or alongside hot espresso in Italy.

Brandy is an excellent cocktail ingredient. It is one of the most common base spirits for classic cocktails and it’s often lightly enhanced with just a few other ingredients. Sangria and mulled wines are some of the more elaborate mixes that traditionally include brandy. You’ll find many old recipes that feature apple, apricot, cherry, and peach brandies as well. Spanish brandy works well in mixed drinks, and pisco is famously used in a pisco sour but finding its way into a number of modern drink recipes as well.

Reading Brandy Labels
Traditional brandy has a rating system to describe its quality and age. These indicators are most often used for French brandies and typically near the brand name on the label. The star rating is older and generally no longer used but sometimes referenced for comparisons. American brandy can carry these designations without minimum requirements.

VS: “Very Special” or 3-star. For cognac, the youngest brandy in the blend must be aged at least three years in wood; for Armagnac, the minimum is one year.
VSOP: “Very Superior Old Pale” or 5-star. Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados must be aged at least four years in oak.
Napoleon: Used for some French brandies aged in wood for at least six years.
XO: “Extra Old.” Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados must be aged at least ten years.
Hors d’age: Traditionally used for brandy too old to determine the age. Today, it’s used for cognac and Calvados at least six years old, and Armagnac that’s 10 years old. Brandies with this label typically exceed the minimum by several years.
Vintage: Designates brandy stored in the cask until it is bottled with the label showing the vintage date.
Cooking With Brandy
In food, brandy is often used similar to a cooking wine. Brandy is added to savory and sweet sauces and incorporated into desserts. It’s also used to make brandied fruit.