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A Sip Through Time: The Fascinating History of Brandy

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There are so many different types of alcohol you can have nowadays! From a good, old whiskey to gin, vodka, brandy, and rum, all the way to different varieties of wine, herbal spirits, and many more. Everyone can find something to taste. 

In the large library of articles we have on our website, you can find a lot of useful information about different alcoholic drinks. So far, however, we have not talked about brandy, the unique history of brandy, the many health benefits of brandy, and serving it in bars and restaurants. 

To lift up the curtain and invite you into the world of brandies, we’ve decided to start from the history of brandy. Let’s see how this popular drink came to be!

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The History of Brandy 

This spirit, loved by many, originates from France. This is where it was first distilled in the Middle Ages, probably around the year 1313. As a matter of fact, this was done for medicinal purposes and the name brandy is actually a shortened version of the original “brandywine.” The original name comes from Dutch and the word means “burnt wine.” 

This spirit possesses marvelous strengthening and sanitary powers. Because of that, physicians named it “the water of life” and used it a lot in their practice. 

In America, commercial distilling began in 1797 and was done by George Washington. He became one of the largest distillers in young America and had 5 copper stills working 12 months a year. The abundance of fruit at the time, mainly apples, made it easy to produce larger quantities. 

Key Takeaway: Brandy is a popular drink that was first created many years ago. It’s made of fruit and can be had on its own, it can be used to create cocktails, and you can even use it to cook tasty meals. Bars and restaurants can definitely benefit from serving a variety of brandy because of their popularity and versatility. 

Production of Brandy

One of the biggest questions here is "How is brandy made?" There are some major producers of brandy that people and businesses can purchase almost anywhere. Smaller producers, however, have different production methods and you can try various brandies in certain regions. Wine brandy is made with a variety of grape cultivars. Using special selections of wine provides unique aromas and distinct character to high-quality brandy. 

Cheaper brandies, on the other hand, are created with whichever wine is available at the moment. In either case, brandy is made with so-called base wine, which is not the wine we typically drink at home, at wineries, or in restaurants. The base wine is made with early grapes in order to get a higher acid concentration and lower sugar levels. 

Brandy is distilled in two phases. During the first phase, a large amount of water and solids are removed from the base. This gives “low wine” which is concentrated wine with about 28 to 30% ABV. The second phase is distilling low wine into brandy. The liquid comes out in three phases called “heads”, “heart”, and “tails.”  

The heating process that wine goes through to create brandy pulls out new aromas and flavors, making a different type of liquor with a higher alcohol percentage.

Aging of Brandy

Once the distillation process is completed, the unaged brandy is put into oak barrels. This is where it’s supposed to mature before consumption. The brandies that have golden or brown color are aged in oak casks but this is not the only option available.

Spanish brandy, for example, is aged using a solera system, where the producer of the brandy changes the barrels every year. After the aging period is done (which depends on the desired end results), the brandy is mixed with distilled water to lower the alcohol percentage. This is when the brandy gets bottled. 

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How to Serve Brandy

Brandy is an alcoholic beverage served at room temperature. The glassware that’s traditionally used to serve brandy is a snifter, a tulip glass, or a wine glass. Brandy can be warmed up with the palms of the drinker's hands by holding the glass for a while before drinking it.

Another option is to warm up the glass before serving the brandy. Keep in mind that excessive warming of the liquor can lead to the alcohol becoming too strong and this can cause the aroma to become too overpowering. 

Brandy can also be added to cocktail drinks. Some of the most famous brandy cocktails are Brandy Sour, Brandy Old Fashioned, Brandy Alexander, Sidecar, and Brandy Daisy. 

Using Brandy in the Kitchen

Brandy is more than just a nice alcohol to have with your dinner. It can actually be used to make pan sauces for steak and other meats. In some soups, you can create a more intense flavor with the help of some brandy. 

Common English Christmas dishes include brandy. The most popular ones are Christmas cake, brandy butter, and Christmas pudding. Let’s not forget it’s also commonly used in holiday drinks like eggnog and mulled wine. 

Brandy can also be used to flambé certain dishes, which makes it a real must-have for many restaurants. 

Serving Brandy at Your Bar or Restaurant

Brandy is a great drink to offer at your bar or restaurant. There are people who enjoy drinking it plain, while others love a good brandy cocktail. Either way, especially if you are running a restaurant, there are some great drink and food pairings you can offer. Brandy pairings are diverse, delicious, and worth the attention.

If you are looking to upgrade your permanent or seasonal menu, check your beverage inventory tracking software stats first. This way you will be able to identify drinks and specific offers that may need to be phased out. Once you decide what’s going to be removed, you can work on adding new items like brandy cocktails. 

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Frequently Asked Questions about Brandy

Curious to know more about this famous drink? We got you covered! Below, we have answered to some commonly asked questions and can learn something new. 

Which Are the Different Types of Brandy?

Brandy comes in various types. They include Cognac, Armagnac, American brandies, fruit brandies (like apple or pear brandy), and more. Each type has its unique characteristics based on its production region and the distillation methods.

There are some major producers of brandy that ship all over the world, but there are typically local producers that offer their unique bottles, too. If you are a brandy lover, it’s worth trying what a specific region has to offer. 

What’s the Ideal Serving Temperature for Brandy?

Serving temperatures for brandy vary depending on the type. Cognac and Armagnac, for example, are served at around 65-70°F (18-21°C), while fruit brandy may be served slightly cooler.

It also depends on whether you are using the brandy as an ingredient in a cocktail. If so, the temperature depends on the recipe you are using or the customer’s preference. Regardless of the drink you are making, brandy storage needs to be away from direct sunlight or fluctuating temperatures.

Is Brandy Gluten-Free?

Brandy, which is made from fruit, is naturally gluten-free. However, it's essential to check the labeling and production methods to ensure they are in fact gluten-free.

If you are running a bar or restaurant and you are curating vegan and gluten-free offers, for example, make sure to mark them on the food and beverage menu so people with dietary restrictions or different lifestyles can easily find something to drink. 

How Is Brandy Produced?

Brandy is produced through a process of fermentation and distillation. The fruit juice or wine is fermented to convert sugars into alcohol, creating a low-alcohol wine. The wine is then distilled to concentrate the alcohol content, resulting in a higher-proof spirit. The distilled spirit is then aged in wooden barrels to develop its flavors and character before being bottled and sold.

What Is the Difference between Cognac and Brandy?

Cognac is a type of brandy that is specifically produced in the Cognac region of France, following strict regulations and quality standards. It is made from specific grape varieties, primarily Ugni Blanc, and must be distilled twice in copper pot stills. Cognac is aged in French oak barrels for a minimum of two years, resulting in a smooth and refined spirit with distinct flavors of fruit, oak, and spice.

Does Brandy Improve with Age?

Yes. Brandy typically improves with age as it matures in oak barrels. The aging process allows the spirit to develop more complex flavors, mellowing out harsh edges and enhancing its smoothness. However, not all brandies benefit from extensive aging, and the optimal aging period can vary depending on factors such as the base fruit used, distillation method, and barrel aging conditions.

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