We have reached the final leg of our tour of the six major spirits, and it is time to look at brandy. Strictly speaking, the term ‘brandy’ applies to any grape-based spirit distilled from wine. The word comes from the Dutch term ‘brandewjin’, which means ‘burned wine’. In the 16th Century, Dutch traders had sailed from Spain with barrels of wine. They discovered they could lighten their load by boiling or ‘burning’ the cargo. At some point, the French took over the production of most of the brandy in the world, and especially one in particular, produced in the Cognac region of France. Cognac has become the most popular form of brandy.
Most cognac is made from a white grape called Ugni Blanc. The relative qualities of cognacs depend from the length of time they have been aged. The bottom rung of cognac, V.S. (Very Superior), has a blend of brandies that have been in the barrel for at least two years, though 4 years is more common. V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) has been aged from 4-6 years, and the rarest and most expensive, X.O. (Extra Old) is at least 6, but usually about 20 years old. Hennessy is one of the more famous brands of cognac, but others are Courvoiser, Martell and Remy Martin.
Brandy is produced in other parts of the world besides France. Spain would be second in terms of total brandy production. Other producers include the United States, Germany, Greece and a number of countries in South America.
Though there are some cocktails that utilize brandy (the Brandy Alexander) and cognac (the Sidecar), many drinkers prefer these spirits neat, and often in a snifter, to allow the liquor to breathe. If you really want to be fancy, some people like to drink brandy or cognac warmed, but you need to be careful in attempting this. Any way you choose to enjoy it, what was once known as ‘burned wine’ is a nice way to imbibe. Until next time, cheers!