(POSTED: July 29, 2004)
History of Brandy
Brandy is distilled from fruits such as grapes, apples, blackberries, and apricots just to name a few. It is distilled around the globe. Depending on the region of origin and the type of fruit used, brandy can be classified into many different categories: Cognac and Armagnac, both French brandies, Applejack, an American apple brandy, Grappa, a grape brandy, etc. Brandy is, in essence, distilled wine. Most brandies are bottled at eighty proof, meaning forty-percent alcohol content. Brandy has a unique rating system intended to make identification of its many different types and aging categories.
The letters C, E, F, O, P, S, and V are used to describe the different varieties. C means cognac, E means extra, F means fine, O means old, P means pale, S means special, and V means very special. Combinations of these letters are used to distinguish different types of brandy. For example, VSOP is “very special old pale” which is aged for five years in a wood cask and often called five star brandies. There is also other vocabulary that brandy drinkers are familiar with. Napoleon means the brandy is at least four years old, usually much older. Vintage means that the liquor must be kept inside a wooden cask until the time it is bottled, and Hors D’age means the exact age of the brandy is unknown. Brandy is best served at room temperature.
Long before the sixteenth century wine was enjoying its status as one of the most popular drinks in Europe. In 1512 a Dutch trader, searching for a way in which to transport larger quantities of wine, found that by removing the water from the wine he could get more casks of wine onto his ship. He could then add the missing water back to the wine when he reached his destination. This was known as “brandewijn” which meant burnt wine in Dutch and eventually became brandy.
Cognac, one of the more famous and popular brandies, originated in the seventeenth century when the Cognacais family began to double distill their wines. This drink quickly became one of the most essential and profitable exports in France. It was first exported to Holland, the birthplace of the liquor, and was soon expended to England, the Far East, and the New World. In France cognac became the drink of choice for the aristocracy. The King used to partake of its fruity and potent taste with strict regularity. Cognac, both then and to this present day, is produced in the Cognac region of France. Cognac it made from white wine, which is produced from the vineyards of this area.
Brandies saw their introduction into the New World in the late seventeenth century. Spanish monks, who developed a taste for the drink before they left Europe, brought with them to the New World many casks of Brandy. However, when they ran out of it they quickly found that the native grapes that grew in California were a perfect source for brandy. They also found that other fruits could be used to produce the much-loved drink. At this time several other counties were also discovering the cacophony of fruit that brandy could be derived from. Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Australia, and South Africa were all producing fruit brandy by the end of the eighteenth century.
Brandy was discovered on accident. However, this accident has led to an entirely new market. Producers quickly found that brandy could captivate a large, passionate audience. It's many different types offer many different levels of sweetness, bitterness, and smoothness. Brandy is one drink that can be specialized for each and every fan. Brandy truly is a personal drink.
Written by Brian Smith