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The word brandy comes from a Dutch word, brandewijn, meaning burnt wine. Brandy usually refers to distilled wine just as whisky is essentially distilled ale. Initially brandy would have been what we would think of as an eaux-de-vie, an unaged spirit, but it was noted how long storage in oak could create something special. Nowadays the word ‘brandy’ usually refers to an aged spirit.

The most famous varieties of brandy both come from France: Cognac to the north of the city of Bordeaux, and Armagnac in the south west of the country.

The other notable brandy superpowers are Spain, most notably with Brandy de Jerez from the sherry region, and South Africa. You will also find fine brandies from Armenia, Italy, Georgia, Germany, America, and Greece in the form of Metaxa which is flavoured with wine and herbs. Wherever wine is made, you will find brandy.

In addition to grape brandies, there are also fruit brandies, the most notable of which is Calvados which is made from apples in Normandy. Many so-called fruit brandies, however, are made from a mixture of fruit, sugar and neutral alcohol rather than distilled from fruit so are labelled as liqueurs. Whichever fruit is used to make the brandy, producers will crush and ferment it to create a wine or cider. Distillation usually takes place in a two-stage batch process as in Cognac but in some regions such as Armagnac a short column is more traditional. Ageing usually takes place in a mixture of old and new barrels so that the wood flavour doesn’t become too strong. Traditionally European oak would be used but some producers are experimenting with American or even Japanese oak as well as cask finishes. Most will be diluted and sometimes sweetened before bottling.

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