Brandy is a distilled beverage derived from wine. While most brandy is produced using wine made from grapes, Brandy is also distilled from other fruit wines like apple, plum, whole crushed berries, and pomace (skins, seeds, and stems that remain after grapes have been pressed to extract their juice). It is as such that there are three main categories of Brandy: grape, fruit and pomace.
- Grape Brandy is Brandy distilled from fermented grape juice or crushed but not pressed grape pulp and skin. This spirit is aged in wooden casks (usually oak) which colors it, mellows the palate, and adds additional aromas and flavors.
- Pomace Brandy is Brandy made from the pressed grape pulp, skins, and stems that remain after the grapes are crushed and pressed to extract most of the juice for wine. Italian Grappa and French Marc are the best-known examples.
- Fruit Brandy is the default term for all Brandys that are made from fermenting fruit other than grapes. It should not be confused with Fruit-Flavored Brandy, which is grape Brandy that has been flavored with the extract of another fruit. Fruit Brandys, except those made from berries, are generally distilled from fruit wines. Berries tend to lack enough sugar to make a wine with sufficient alcohol for proper distillation, and are soaked in high-proof spirit to extract their flavor and aroma.
Brandy generally contains 36–60% alcohol by volume and is typically taken as an after-dinner drink. While some brandies are aged in wooden casks, most are coloured with caramel colouring to imitate the effect of such aging.
Unlike grain spirits such as Whisky, Vodka, and Gin, which are made throughout the year from grain that can be harvested and stored, Brandy is dependent on the seasons, the ripening of the base fruit, and the production of the wine from which it is made. Types of Brandies, originally at least, tended to be location-specific. (Cognac, for example, is a town and region in France that gave its name to the local Brandy.) Important Brandy-making regions, particularly in Europe, further differentiate their local spirits by specifying the types of grapes that can be used and the specific areas (appellation) in which the grapes used for making the base wine can be grown.
Brandy has a rating system to describe its quality and condition; these indicators can usually be found near the brand name on the label:
- A.C.: aged two years in wood.
- V.S.: "Very Special" or 3-Star, aged at least three years in wood.
- V.S.O.P.: "Very Superior Old Pale" or 5-Star, aged at least five years in wood.
- X.O.: "Extra Old", Napoleon or Vieille Reserve, aged at least six years, Napoleon at least four years.
- Vintage: Stored in the cask until the time it is bottled with the label showing the vintage date.
- Hors d'age: These are too old to determine the age, although ten years plus is typical, and are usually of great quality.
Our pick: Clear Creek William's Pear Brandy