Brandy is a spirit which is distilled from fruits like grape, apple, blackberry, apricot and the like. It is categorized by the region from where it originates and the fruit that formed it. Some of the most common types are Cognac, Armagnac, American brandies and fruit brandies. It serves as an important ingredient in the kitchen to create some of the most delightful dishes. Its capability to blend with other spirits to create fine cocktails is also impressive. Some of the most common cocktails that use brandy are Alexander, the Singer and the Sidecar. Let us look at some interesting aspects of brandy that you may not have known before.
Wine has been one of the most common drinks for centuries. Many places of the world depended on wine regions to produce and transport wine so that they can taste the affluent spirit. Wine was distilled as a method of preservation as well as making it easier for traders to transport it. The distillation of wine was also done by the merchants to reduce the taxes levied on wine.
In the early 16th century, the transportation of wine was increasing while cargo space in ships remained limited. So a Dutch trader devised a way to transport more wine by removing the water content from the wine and later adding water to it when he reached his destination port – Holland.
It was discovered that once the distilled wines spent a considerable period of time in wooden casks, they improved from the original distilled spirit. The formation as well as decomposition of certain aromatic compounds changed the inherent composition of the wine which meant that the distillate ended up tasting very different from the wine that was originally created.
This is where brandy found its humble beginnings. The Dutch called it ‘bradjwin’ which stands for burned wine. Eventually, the world came to know this spirit by the name of brandy.
The distillation process became more streamlined when brandy started building its own followers. Many tedious distillation processes were used to perfect the spirit. As technology advanced, people wanted to make the process of producing easier which led to the reduction of the distillation processes to just a single distillation with the help of a chemical instrument.
Strategies to test the purity of the spirit involved setting a small portion of brandy to fire. If the fire consumed the entire liquor without leaving behind any impurities then it was good. Another testing method used gunpowder which was placed at the bottom of the portion of the spirit that was being tested and if it ignited, after the spirit was consumed by fire then it passed its purity test.
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In America, Spanish missions in California were the pioneers of brandy. Even today, most of America’s brandy comes from California which has a climate perfect for the growing grapes for the brandies.
How is it made?
The production of brandy is often unique to the region or the producer. There are a lot of different grapes and fruits that can be utilized which is why the entire process depends on what the base is. It utilizes a base wine which is slightly different from the table wine. The distillation of brandy from this base wine happens in two phases. The entire process of distillation enhances the character of the base wine into brandy with the formation of new volatile aroma components and the hydrolysis of components like esters.
Once the distillation process completes, brandy is placed in oak barrels where the spirit matures. The period of aging also varies largely on the producer and the style, class and legal requirements. After the brandy matures, distilled water is mixed before it is bottled.
Uses of brandy
Serving: Brandy is usually served at room temperature and is poured into a snifter or a wine glass or a tulip glass. It is often warmed when the person drinking it cups the glass with their palm or by gently heating it. It can get over-powering if it is over-heated. It is often in cocktails too.
Culinary uses: Pan sauces for steak and other types of meat use brandy as a deglazing liquid. It is also added in soups for an added flavour. It is also used in a lot of traditional Christmas dishes like Christmas cakes, brandy butter and Christmas pudding. Chefs often use brandy to flambé dishes like crepe Suzette.
Brandy was an accidental finding but has evolved a lot since it first made its appearance in the 16th century. It takes an important spot in established pubs and bars because of its ability to be used in creating some of the most delightful cocktails.