Brandy is a spirit made by distilling grapes to a higher proof than they achieve as wine. Most is made from actual grape wine, though some may also be made from the pulpy mixture of stems and seeds left after grapes are pressed, and some is made from the fermented juices of fruits other than grapes. The name is a shortening of the Dutch word brandewijn, which means “fire wine”.
This spirit has been an extremely popular drink for hundreds of years and is most often enjoyed as an after-dinner drink. It is often suggested that brandy should be warmed slightly, using a candle or small flame, before drinking it. This causes the vapors to become much stronger and the alcohol to become more liquid, an effect many people enjoy. This method, however, tends to overpower many of the subtle tastes and textures of brandy, and so many connoisseurs recommend treating it like any other wine and drinking it at room temperature or slightly cooler.
Brandy is grown throughout the world, since it is an obvious extension of the wine industry and wine grapes are such a massive crop. Some regions produce brandy named specifically for their small growing region, such as Metaxa in Greece and Cognac in France. The spirit produced in the Cognac region of France is by far the most well-known and admired brandy in the world. There are strict requirements dictating its production — at least 90% of the grapes used must be of the Colombard, Ugni Blanc, or Folle Blance varieties, and it must be distilled in a traditional method using copper pots. Famous Cognac varieties include Hennessy, Rémy Martin, and Courvoisier.
Armagnac brandy, though perhaps not as well-known as its Cognac cousin, is another French variety that is usually treated in its own class. It is produced in the Armagnac region of southern France and has similarly strict rules governing its production. Famous varieties include Delord, Laubade, and Baron de Sigognac.
American brandy has become more respected and popular in recent years, with the vast majority coming from the state of California — unsurprising, given the thriving wine industry in California. American varieties also have a set of rules governing their production, though they are not quite as strict as the French procedures.
Some brandy, most notably the Italian variety known as grappa, is made using the seeds, stem, and residue pulp left over from pressing grapes into juice for wine. This mash is then fermented, and the remaining pomace is turned into brandy, which is usually referred to simply as pomace brandy. Brandy may also be made using fruits other than grapes, such as cherry, apricot, plums, and apples. These fruit brandies usually bear a strong flavor of the fruit they represent and are often strengthened using fruit extracts or sweetening syrups. Popular fruit brandies include the cherry-flavored Kirsch from Germany, the apple-flavored Calvados from France, and the plum-flavored Mirabelle from France.