Brandy is distilled wine - wine with most of the water removed - which changes
the taste and makes the alcohol content higher.
The wine regions of Cognac and Armagnac in France produce the best known brandies,
With their fine pedigree, French brandy is still the go-to choice for many brandy consumers, although very fine brandies are made around the world. Brandy can be made from grapes, berries, or other fruit. Slivovitz is made from plums and Kir from cherries.
Brandy is usually served straight from the bottle and poured into the iconic round brandy snifter. The shape allows the glass to be cupped by the hand. This helps warm the contents to better release brandy's smoky flavor and aroma. Brandy is also used in traditional cocktails such as the Brandy Alexander and the Sidecar.
What sets brandy apart is its traditional age designations. So the answer to the burning question "What exactly does the designation VSOP mean?" lies in how long its been around. For example, VS stands for Very Special. VSOP stands for Very Special Old Pale, and XO is Extra Old.
Brandy designated VS must be at least two to two-and-a-half years old. To earn VSOP designation, the brandy must have been aged at least 4 years. And, finally, XO or Extra Old must meet a requirement of at least 6 years of age.
Brandy history and fun facts
Although Cognac is almost synonymous with brandy, Armagnac was actually of the first brandies to be produced in France beginning in the 13th century. That's when medieval monasteries began promoting brandy as the miracle cure for everything from gout to senility.
Since then, brandy has been prescribed to greater or lesser degrees by doctors as a natural sedative, to treat high blood pressure as well as hypothermia. Today, hunters and fisherman still swear by brandy's warming effect, and carry a flask with them to ward off the cold on early morning expeditions. Even up until the 20th century, brandy was still being prescribed as a cure for pneumonia before antibiotics eclipsed brandy's use by most of the medical community.
By the early 21st century, brandy was enjoying a huge revival in the US due mainly to Busta Rhymes' mega-hit “Pass the Courvoisier” that has since catapulted Cognac's popularity within the hip-hop community.
Today, another of brandy's major growing markets is China, where French Cognac is considered a status symbol and given as business gifts or served at special banquets.
Fun fact: The French are not all that crazy about brandy (they really prefer scotch). Only about three percent of brandy is actually consumed in France. The rest is exported.
More about brandy around the Web:
Around the Web, find out more about how brandy is aged, its medicinal uses, along with brandy cocktails, history, and a bit of brandy trivia...
Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac - The home page of the Cognac region, available in French and in English, provides a history of cognac, lots of nice graphs to explain vintages and names, a glossary and more will give you a good understanding of the drink, how to taste it, serve it and appreciate it. The cognac cocktail of the week gives recipes for mixing for those who prefer not to drink it neat.
About French Brandy - A very nice history and regional guide to brandy supplemented by reviews of Armagnac, Cognac, Calvados, Grappa,
Eau de Vie and other brandy varieties. Also provides recipes for 3 brandy based drinks: Sidecar, Stinger and Brandy Alexander.
Beverage Testing Institute's site is a treasure trove of alcohol related information and has a shop for picking up what they've
The South African Brandy Foundation - This site is delightful. Visit the myths section for medicinal remedies based on brandy... a glass an hour for 'Just any pain'. It's understandable that the pain would be duller! A nice section on how brandy is made in the What is Brandy section and many other good sections. Skip the order online section unless you are able to phone a South African cellar.
The Art that is Brandy - From the physics department of an Australian university this 'shrine to spirits' page focuses on
the rather extensive list of brandies that these physicists have sampled. This site uses a simple rating system of 1 to 5 stars.
Each of the tasters gives independent ratings which explains the letters next to the stars.