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Brandy (short for brandywine, from Dutch brandewijn fire wine) is a general term for distilled wine, usually 40 60% ethyl alcohol by volume. In addition to wine, this spirit can also be made from grape pomace or fermented fruit juice. Unless specified otherwise, brandy is made from grape wine.
There are three primary types of brandy. Grape brandy is the type that is meant if brandy is used by itself.
Grape brandy is produced by the distillation of fermented grape juice. There are three main subtypes of grape brandies.
- COGNAC comes from the Cognac region in France, and is double distilled using pot stills. Popular brands include Martell, Rmy Martin, Hennessy, and Courvoisier (a favourite drink of Napoleon).
- ARMAGNAC is made from grapes of the Armagnac region in Southwest France (Gers, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne). It is single continuous distilled in a copper stills and is aged in oaken casks from Gascony or Limousin. Armagnac was the first distilled spirit in France. Armagnacs are aged more than Cognacs, usually 12-20 years, but up to 30 years. A popular brand is Marquis de Montesquieu.
- AMERICAN grape brandy is almost always from California, and lighter coloured, but stronger tasting than European brandies.
Grape brandies are best drunk in a snifter, at room temperature or slightly warmed, by holding the glass in the cup of palm or gently heating with candle.
The European Union legally enforces Cognac as the exclusive name for brandy produced and distilled in the Cognac area of France, and Armagnac from the Gascony area of France, using traditional techniques.
Pomace brandy is produced from fermented grape pulp, seeds, and stems that remain after the grapes are pressed for their juice. Examples include the Italian grappa and the French marc.
Fruit brandies are distilled from fruits other than grapes. Apple, plum, peach, cherry, raspberry, blackberry, and apricot are the most commonly used fruit. Fruit brandy is usually clear, 80 to 90 proof, and usually drunk chilled or over ice.
Calvados is an apple brandy from the French region of Lower Normandy. Apple is pressed into cider, fermented with yeast and double distilled.
Kirsch is a fruit brandy made from cherries.
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