Brandy is the anglicized version of the Dutch word brandewijn (burnt wine) referring to the distillation of fermented grapes. Brandy as it is known today, first appeared in the 12th century, and became popular in the 14th century. Initially the wine was distilled as a preservation method, to make it easier for wine merchants to transport.
As with other distillations, all impurities are not removed, and it is these which help to give brandies their distinctive character. Wine with an alcohol concentration between 8-12% is boiled in large pot stills, and the resulting vapours are collected in a condensor coil.
The condensed liquid (distillate) known as ‘low wine’ is then re-distilled. The first 1% of distillate, called the ‘head’ is discarded because it contains ‘dirty’ alcohols, then follows the ‘heart’ with an alcohol concentration around 70%. The heart is the basis for brandy, while the remaining distillate containing higher levels of water, known as the ‘tail’ can be re-distilled.
Distillation not only enhances the alcohol content, but also causes chemical reactions, which create new aroma and flavour components.
Brandy is assumed to be made from grapes, although many ‘brandies’ can be made from fruit, using similar processes. These fruit brandies include Calvados (distilled from fermented apples); Slivovitz (made from plums); Kirschwasser (cherries); and Raki (made from a variety of fruits, mulberries or walnuts).
Among the best known grape brandies are:
Brandy can be used in a variety of ways for cooking: as a flavour enhancer in desserts, particularly apple dishes; as a deglazing liquid when making pan sauces for meat and other dishes; and to create more intense flavour in some soups or consommés.
More commonly brandy is enjoyed as a drink: neat, on ice, or in cocktails such as Brandy Alexander, Old Fashioned or Sidecar. Whichever way it is used, brandy is a spirit of great history and character.
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