Brandy 101

Blog, Brandy / Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

brandy 2

Like whiskey and gin, Brandy comes in many varieties, each with its own nuances. It can be subtle, bold, high proof or toned down. Despite popular belief, it doesn’t have to be consumed neat, but works just as well in a cocktail as it does taking center stage.

Brandy is a spirit made by distilling wine or fermented fruit juices. It contains 35 – 60% alcohol by volume and is derived from the Dutch word “brandewijn” meaning burnt wine. Most brandies are made by heat distillation which is heating a liquid to separate components with different boiling points. When heat is applied to wine, it drives out and concentrates the alcohol present. It is this concentrated liquid, with a small amount of water, that composes brandy.

type of brandy

Different Types:

Cognac: Cognac is a type of brandy and the region in France that produces it. It’s an aged, grape-based brandy that usually comes with a tremendous depth of flavor. Most cognac contains a blend of brandies, and is labeled according to the period of time the youngest brandy has spent aging in oak casks.

Here is the labeling scheme:

Very Special/Superior (VS) – Aged for at least two years.

Very Special/Superior Old Pale (VSOP) – Aged for at least four years.

Extra Old (XO) – Aged for at least six years.

Armagnac: Like cognac, armagnac is named after the region of France where it is produced. Fruitier than cognac due to a different distilling process, armagnac transitions into caramel and toffee notes as it ages and takes on more character from the wood.

The labeling system:

VS – Aged for at least two years.

VSOP – aged for at least five years.

XO – Aged for at least six years.

Hors d’age – This roughly translates to “beyond age” and is aged for at least 10 years.

American Brandy – American brandy is similar to cognac in flavor profile and classification system, however it is only a fraction of the price.

Brandy de Jerez – Spanish brandy-making tradition is robust and produces some unique entries, many with subtle flavors of nuts and dried fruit. Brandy de Jerez is made using many of the same grapes and techniques that produce sherry, including the Solera technique, in which older liquids are blended continuously with newer batches to create the final product.

Calvados – Produced in the Normandy region of France, Calvados is a brandy distilled from fresh apples. It has a significant apple scent, but the flavor is delicate with apple notes that combine very well with the traditional wood and caramel flavors that come from oak aging.

Applejack / Apple Brandy – Think of this as Calvados’ unrefined American cousin. Typically apple brandies are distilled and stored in the same manner as Calvados, however, they have a heartier apple flavor.

Pisco – Pisco is a South American pomace (skins and peels of grapes) brandy made in Chile and Peru that is often clear and occasionally light yellow. Peruvian pisco is aged for as little as three months in chemically inert vessels (i.e. glass, metal, etc), thus not having any of the flavors associated with oak aging. Chilean pisco is aged in oak and can be diluted to various strengths before bottling. The longer it’s aged, the more wood flavors it picks up, with long-aged variants coming to resemble French and American brandies with a stronger grape flavor due to the use of grape must in the distillation.

Eaux-de-Vie – This type of brandy has a fruit base and is bottled without aging it in wood at all. Eaux-de-Vie is typically clear and resembles vodka with subtle fruit notes. Common fruits used in production are pears, apples, plums, and peaches.

We offer a wide variety of brandy. Take a look at our selection here.

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