Hello friends! Henry is thrilled and is meowing so excitedly because it’s time for another #WhatTheHeckWithHenry, where our extremely handsome and photogenic cat, Henry, explains what the heck this ingredient is (as translated from meows and purrs by us).
Today we’re talking about brandy! No, not the singer/actress, nor the song about the fine girl — we mean the beverage made from distilled wine or fermented fruit juices. Brandy is a wide category, not unlike whiskey, that encompasses many varieties of spirits. Also like whiskey, it is a spirit, meaning that a fermented beverage (in the case of whiskey, that’s basically beer, made from fermented grains — and a fermented fruit juice for brandy) is run through a still, thereby collecting the alcohol and making a more concentrated and potent product than the original. Brandies are also typically aged in casks or barrels in order to impart additional flavors, aromas, and colors.
The term “brandy” comes to us from the Dutch word brandewijn, meaning “burnt wine” and referring to the heat used in this distillation process. There are records of the commercial production of brandy all the way back in the 16th century.
Like much of alcohol history, the origins of this spirit category are hazy and questionable. One legend states that a Dutch sailor distilled wine to turn it into a concentrate so that it would survive a sea voyage. He intended to add water upon arrival, but people were so into it as-is that it stuck. Whether or not that’s true, humans have been distilling wine and other fermented fruit juices for a loooooong time, across many cultures, so you can find brandies all over the world.
Brandies taste slightly sweet, not from any added sugars or sweeteners, but from the natural sweetness of their fruit ingredients. They also pick up the lovely flavors of the wooden barrels in which they rest, in the same way that whiskey does. If you’re a whiskey drinker looking to diversify your palate, give brandy a go!
Brandy, as a stand-alone word, typically refers to a spirit distilled from fermented grape juice (i.e., wine). Brandy made from other juices will include its namesake fruit in its description — for example, peach brandy, apricot brandy, etc. There are also types of brandies with specific names, usually a protected product of a geographic region. We don’t have the time today to get into the many, many, many brandies in the world, but here’s a (non-exhaustive) overview of some of the major styles:
American brandy - grape brandy made here in the States
Applejack - apple brandy originally popular in American colonial times, made by freezing apple cider outside and removing the ice from the top, turning the cider into a potent spirit (it's not made that way anymore, but that's still pretty cool!)
Armagnac - French grape brandy, produced in the Armagnac region of the country
Brandy de Jerez (aka Spanish brandy) - aged in ex-sherry casks through the solera process (as old brandy is removed from the bottom of a cask, new brandy is added to fill the space - resulting in a blend of all different ages and creating consistency in flavors)
Calvados - apple brandy produced in Normandy, France
Cognac - grape brandy produced in the Cognac region of France
Eau-de-vie - meaning “water of life,” these are unaged brandies made from fruit other than grapes
Grappa - brandy produced in Italy from pomace (the leftover grape skins, stems, pulp, and seeds from the winemaking process)
Kirschwasser - German cherry brandy
Pisco - grape brandy produced in Peru and Chile
How do you drink your brandy? Do you have a favorite style or flavor? Remember, sharing is caring - we want to hear all about what you’re sipping! Cheers!