11 Jan The Basics of Brandy

Brandy is a beverage that over the years has become something of an elite’s drink. Something that you can only imagine the upper classes and perhaps war veterans or cigar smoking grandads to be drinking. In fact, you’d be excused for not even knowing what it is, I can’t picture many people heading down to their local and ordering a glass of cognac with a pork pie or a bag of crisps if I’m honest. Most of us enjoy trying something new but a drink like brandy can be somewhat intimidating, with its la-de-da French sub categories like “Armagnac” and “Cognac” its even hard to know what to order. Well let’s try and bring a snifter of clarity to the subject and discover just what brandy really is.

Before we go into detail lets talk about exactly what brandy is, simply put it’s a spirit that is traditionally distilled using fruit (specifically grapes), though it can be made from pretty much anything that will ferment such as honey, corn, rice, sugar cane and even milk, though fruit is likely your best option. The finest brandies will retain the concentrated flavour of the underlying fruit. Often the brandy is also aged in wooden barrels which adds new flavours similar to that found in whisky.

Using wooden barrels to age the brandy is a technique that is usually used when it comes to making cognac, a version named after the Cognac region of France where it was first made. Essentially the difference here is that cognac is distilled twice, a method that heightens the percentage of the alcohol. It is done so using copper pot stills then aged in the aforementioned wooden barrels for a minimum of two years, though most will often spend far longer “on the wood” as they say in the biz.

Armagnac is produced to a slightly different method, using column stills instead of pot stills in order to distil the spirit. Again, this named after the region of France in which it is created, armagnac however is made on a much smaller scale than cognac and as such is quite a rare find outside of Europe. It’s usually made by small producers unlike cognac, a drink that tends to be dominated by big brands like Hennessey and Courvoisier, a fact that will only add to its exclusivity.

Though brandy is made from wine the tastes are completely different. Yes, you will be able to pick up on undertones of the main ingredients however thanks to its aging process and distilling brandy has a taste of its own. It’s a spirit and shares qualities with whisky, not something you’ll be polishing a bottle of off with your dinner, more something you enjoy a tulip shaped glass of (named a snifter) over ice after dinner. Brandy can be used in several cocktails but if you’re really looking forward to enjoying the true flavours of this drink why not simply add a touch of sugar and the oils of a lemon or orange peel? You’ll be drinking with the elites in no time at all.