Brandy: What is it and How is it Made?
For a spirit so often associated with the highest of high class, it’s interesting to note that brandy’s name actually comes from the Dutch word meaning burnt wine – referring to the distillation process that creates it.
The origins of brandy can be traced back to a Muslim heritage in the 8th century, when Arab alchemists experimented with distilling grapes and other fruits to create local medicine.
The technique quickly spread beyond Islamic borders. European merchants would attempt to preserve wine for shipments by distilling or vaporizing it, with the intention of adding water on the receiving end to the original flavour. Unknowingly, they stumbled upon the secret to making great brandy – distilling wine and storing it in wooden casks.
These days most brandy is aged in oak casks for at least three or four years to enhance both the colour and the taste. XO (or Extra Old) brandy is aged even longer and offers a very distinguished taste.
Brandy production, like wine, is dependent on the season, since it requires ripe ingredients – whether grapes or other fruit bases. Some brandy is even made from marc – the leftover residue from the wine press – which results in an extremely potent (albeit inferior quality) brandy.
Brandy is most often served in a tulip-shaped glass known as a snifter – a short-stemmed glass with a wide-bottomed vessel and a relatively narrow top. The surface area helps release the brandy’s flavour, while the narrow top traps the aroma inside and the rounded bottom allows your hand to warm the brandy. Connoisseurs will be quick to tell you that their sacred after dinner digestif is best enjoyed warm and they only add ice or mixers with lower grade brandies.