Brandy

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All About Brandy

Contrary to popular opinion, you do not need a library full of leather-bound books to enjoy brandy. Turns out all you need is a bottle of the stuff and a glass. But the smooth taste will make you feel fancy, wherever you happen to be sitting. Brandy is produced by distilling wine, which leads to an ABV typically between 35 and 60 percent. Brandy denotes a spirit made from any distilled wine, so fruit brandies are created from wines made of apples, cherries, plums, pears and more.

Brandy Basics:

Once it's distilled, brandy is usually aged in a wooden cask. If these casks once held other types of liquor, a more complex flavor is the result. This aging process lends brandy its caramel color, though some lower-shelf brands add colorant to lend the illusion of age — sort of like reverse plastic surgery.

Centuries ago, when brandy was first (unintentionally) created, the idea was to remove some of the water from the wine to make it easier and cheaper to transport. Water was to be added back to the elixir once it reached its destination. Folks soon realized that the result of distilling wine was much richer and more complex than the original product. Instead of watering it down, they obtained a library of leather-bound books, a bearskin rug, and a velvet smoking jacket, which took a bit more time but was worth its weight in sophistication.

Even veteran brandy enthusiasts may not know the difference between cognac and brandy. Only those crafted in the Cognac region of France receive that coveted designation, much like only sparkling wine from Champagne should be labeled so. Armagnac is another well-respected brandy sourced only from southwestern France. If you're going to be a brandy know-it-all, it's best to arm yourself with such knowledge.

Check the Rating:

Brandy is generally rated by age, though they can range wildly by country. But this should help you out in most cases

  • VS (Very Special): aged at least three years. This is the type of brandy typically used for mixing cocktails.
  • VSOP (Very Special Old Pale): aged at least four years.
  • XO (Extra Old): aged six and a half years or more.
  • Hors d'age or Vintage: aged ten years or more. Vintage brandies will show the year of harvest on the bottle, while the age of hors d'age is unknown.

How Should You Enjoy Brandy?

Unless it's guzzled from a styrofoam cup, there's no wrong way to enjoy brandy. Older brandies are smoother, with more complex and intriguing flavors, and are best enjoyed neat — sipped straight from a glass, preferably a brandy snifter. You might be wondering, "What's so special about a brandy snifter?" First of all, you get to feel really classy when you say "snifter."

On a more practical level, the shape of a brandy snifter — also called a "balloon" — serves several purposes. Firstly, the increased surface area (when compared to other glasses) helps evaporate the brandy. The wide curved bottom allows you to cup the glass, warming the brandy inside. Finally, the narrow opening at the top serves to trap the haunting aroma. It may be a bit pricier than a styrofoam cup, but it's worth the investment.

Younger brandies, on the other hand, are more at home in a wide variety of cocktails including the hot toddy, sidecar, pisco sour and more. Brandy enthusiasts generally agree that younger brandies should be used for cocktails, since older and finer spirits would be considered a waste if "thrown away" on a metropolitan. There's no such thing as throwing brandy away unless you spill it. Don't do that.