Brandy, which comes from the Dutch word brandewijn meaning “burned wine,” is exactly that—in a way. It’s distilled wine, which means the wine is heated to the point of vaporization. Brandy can also refer to a distilled spirit made from fruits like apples, cherries and peaches, but more often than not, it’s distilled from wine made from grapes. And like wine, a heck of a lot of the best stuff comes from France. Whether you like it as an after-dinner digestif, enjoy it in a cocktail like the Sidecar or simply think you look dapper while holding a snifter, brandy is a spirit worthy of any liquor cabinet.
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The History of Brandy
Brandy, like many of the best things in life, was invented by accident. In the early 16th century, enterprising Dutch merchants distilled wine to preserve it during transport and to export higher volumes, intending to add water after reaching their destination. But upon arrival, people found that the distilled spirit (which was transported in wooden casks) tasted just great—no water needed.
Many winemaking countries started distilling their own versions of the spirit. The highest grade and most renowned brandy came from France, although Spain, as well as countries like Bulgaria and Georgia, also contributed some quality bottlings. Spanish missionaries also brought brandy production to California, where it is still produced today.
Fun fact: Aside from being a delicious spirit, brandy was also used in the first thermometer before scientists switched to mercury.
How Is Brandy Made?
Just because you happen to have a bottle of wine and a still doesn’t mean you can make brandy. Brandy is distilled from a base wine made from young grapes, which have higher acidity and lower sugar levels than the grapes from which table wine is made. The juice from these grapes spends two to three weeks fermenting, after which, the juice is ready to be distilled, a process that varies between grades.