AskDefine | Define brandy

Dictionary Definition

brandy n : distilled from wine or fermented fruit juice

User Contributed Dictionary



Shortened form of brandywine, from Dutch brandewijn ("burnt wine").


  • , /ˈbrændi/, /"br

Extensive Definition

Brandy (derived from brandywine, from Dutch brandewijn—'burnt wine') is a spirit produced by means of distilling wine, the wine having first been produced by means of fermenting grapes. Brandy contains 40%–60% alcohol by volume and is normally consumed as an after-dinner drink. It is generally coloured with caramel colouring to imitate the effect of long aging in wooden casks.
Brandy can also be made from fermented fruit (i.e., other than grapes) and from pomace. Pomace and fruit brandies are generally drunk unaged and are usually not coloured.


The origins of brandy are clearly tied to the development of distillation. Concentrated alcoholic beverages were known in ancient Greece and Rome and may have a history going back to ancient Babylon. Brandy, as it is known today, first began to appear in the 12th century and became generally popular in the 14th century.
Initially wine was distilled as a preservation method and as a way to make the wine easier for merchants to transport. It was also thought that wine was originally distilled to lessen the tax which was assessed by volume. The intent was to add the water removed by distillation back to the brandy shortly before consumption. It was discovered that after having been stored in wooden casks, the resulting product had improved over the original distilled spirit.
5. Brandy or Weinbrand (a) Brandy or Weinbrand is a spirit drink: 1) produced from wine spirit, whether or not .….wine distillate has been added, distilled at less than 94,8% vol., provided that that distillate does not exceed a maximum of 50% of the alcoholic content of the finished product, 2) matured for at least one year in oak receptacles or for at least six months in oak casks with a capacity of less than 1 000 litres, 3) containing a quantity of volatile substances equal to or exceeding 125 grams per hectolitre of 100% vol. alcohol, and derived exclusively from the distillation or redistillation of the raw materials used, 4) having a maximum methanol content of 200 grams per hectolitre of 100% vol. alcohol. (b) The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of brandy or Weinbrand shall be 36%. (c) No addition of alcohol as defined in Annex I(5), diluted or not, shall take place. (d) Brandy or Weinbrand shall not be flavoured. This shall not exclude traditional production methods. (e) Brandy or Weinbrand may only contain added caramel as a means to adapt colour.
This definition formally excludes pomace brandy, fruit brandy and even unaged grape brandy. The same EU regulation defines the names of these excluded spirits as grape marc spirit , fruit spirit and wine spirit. The German term Weinbrand is equivalent to the English term brandy, however, outside the German speaking countries, it is only used for brandies from Austria and Germany. In Poland brandy is sometimes called (together with loan word "brandy) "Winiak" (from "wino" - a wine).


Pot vs. tower stills

Cognac and South African pot still brandy are examples of brandy produced in batches using pot stills (batch distillation). Many American brandies use fractional distillation in tower stills to perform their distillation. Special pot stills with a fractionation section on top are used for Armagnac.


Brandy is produced using one of three predominant aging methods:
  • No aging: Many pomace and fruit brandies (cf. eau de vie) are not aged after distillation. The resulting product is typically a clear liquid.
  • Single barrel aging: Brandies that have a golden or brown color have been aged in oak casks.
  • Solera process: Some brandies are aged using the solera system. Brandies from Spain are typical of this variation.

Brandy Labels

Brandy has a rating system to describe its quality and condition, these indicators can usually be found near the brand name on the label. A.C. : aged two years in wood. V.S. : "Very Special" or 3-Star, aged at least three years in wood. V.S.O.P. : "Very Special Old Pale" or 5-Star, aged at least five years in wood. X.O. : "Extra Old", Napoleon or Vieille Reserve, aged at least six years, Napoleon at least four years. Vintage : Stored in the cask until the time it is bottled with the label showing the vintage date. Hors D'age: : These are too old to determine the age, although ten years plus is typical, and are usually of great quality.


A batch distillation typically works as follows: Wine with an alcohol concentration of 8% to 12% v/v and high acidity is boiled in a pot still. Vapours of ethanol, water, and the numerous aroma components rise upward and are collected in a condenser coil where it becomes a liquid again. Because ethanol and various aroma components vaporize at a lower temperature than does water, the concentration of alcohol in the condensed product (the distillate) is higher than in the original wine.
After one distillation, the distillate, called "low wine," will contain roughly 30% alcohol (ethanol) by volume. The low wine is then distilled a second time. The first 1% or so of distillate that's produced, called the "head," has an alcohol concentration of about 83% and an unpleasant odor, so it is discarded (generally, mixed in with another batch of low wine for future use). The distillation process continues, yielding a distillate of approximately 70% alcohol (called the "heart"), which is what will be consumed as brandy. The portion of low wine that remains after distillation, called the "tail," will be mixed into another batch of low wine for future use.
Distillation does not simply enhance the alcohol content of wine. The heat under which the product is distilled and the material of the still (usually copper) cause chemical reactions to take place during distillation. This leads to the formation of numerous new volatile aroma components, changes in relative amounts of aroma components in the wine, and the hydrolysis of components such as esters.

Historical production

As described in the 1728 edition of Cyclopaedia, the following method was used to distill brandy: A cucurbit was filled half full of the liquor from which brandy was to be drawn and then raised with a little fire until about one sixth part was distilled, or until that which falls into the receiver was entirely flammable. This liquor, distilled only once, was called spirit of wine or brandy. Purified by another distillation (or several more), this was then called spirit of wine rectified. The second distillation was made in balneo mariae and in a glass cucurbit, and the liquor was distilled to about one half the quantity. This was further rectified—as long as the operator thought necessary—to produce brandy.
To abridge these several distillations, which were long and troublesome, a chemical instrument was invented, whereby the rectification of spirit of wine was performed in a single distillation. To test the purity of the rectified spirit of wine, a portion was ignited. If the entire contents were consumed without leaving any impurity behind, then the liquor was good. Another, better test involved putting a little gunpowder in the bottom of the spirit. If the gunpowder took fire when the spirit was consumed, then the liquor was good.
Brandies follow Distillation Technology - Wherever the Grape
As most brandies are distilled from grapes, the regions of the world producing excellent brandies have roughly paralleled those areas producing grapes for viniculture. At the end of the 19th Century, the western European market—and by extension their overseas empires—was dominated by French and Spanish brandies, and eastern Europe was dominated by brandies from the Black Sea region, including Bulgaria, the Crimea, and Georgia. In 1880, David Saradjishvili founded his Cognac Factory in Tbilisi, Georgia (then part of the Russian Empire) which was a crossroads for Turkish, Central Asian, and Persian traderoutes. Armenian and Georgian brandies (always called cognacs in the era) were considered some of the best in the world, often beating their French competitors at the International Expositions in Paris and Brussels in the early 1900s. The storehouses of the Romanov Court in St. Petersburg were regarded as the largest collections of cognacs and wines in the world—much of it from the Transcaucasus region of Georgia. During the October Revolution of 1917, upon the storming of the Winter Palace, the Bolshevik Revolution actually paused for a week or so as the rioters engorged on the substantial stores of cognac and wines. The Russian market was always a huge brandy-consuming region, and while much of it was homegrown, much was imported. The patterns of bottles follow that of western European norm. Throughout the Soviet era, the production of brandy remained a source of pride for the communist regime, and they continued to produce some excellent varieties - most famously the Jubilee Brandies of 1967, 1977, and 1987. Remaining bottles of these productions are highly sought after, not simply for their quality, but for their historical significance.

See also


brandy in Afrikaans: Brandewyn
brandy in Catalan: Brandi
brandy in Czech: Brandy
brandy in German: Brandy
brandy in Estonian: Brändi
brandy in Spanish: Brandy
brandy in Persian: براندی
brandy in French: Brandy (alcool)
brandy in Scottish Gaelic: Branndaidh
brandy in Galician: Brandy
brandy in Indonesian: Brendi
brandy in Italian: Brandy
brandy in Hebrew: ברנדי
brandy in Lithuanian: Brendis
brandy in Maltese: Brendi
brandy in Dutch: Brandewijn (drank)
brandy in Japanese: ブランデー
brandy in Norwegian: Brandy
brandy in Polish: Brandy
brandy in Portuguese: Conhaque
brandy in Russian: Бренди
brandy in Serbian: Вињак
brandy in Finnish: Brandy
brandy in Swedish: Brandy (spritdryck)
brandy in Thai: บรั่นดี
brandy in Turkish: Kanyak
brandy in Ukrainian: Бренді
brandy in Chinese: 白兰地
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