How Brandy Is Made | Ingredients & Production
Brandy is a distilled spirit that is commonly consumed as an after-dinner drink. It’s made from grapes but can also be made from a variety of other fruits.
The term brandy comes from the Dutch word brandewijn, meaning “burned wine,” which refers to the heat applied during its production.
Brandy can be produced in three steps: fermentation, distillation, and aging. Fermentation creates the base wine, which is then distilled to give it a higher alcohol content. After distillation, brandy is aged in wooden casks for several years before being bottled.
Fruit is the major ingredient in brandy, most commonly grapes. Some types of brandy, or ones that use berries, may require added sugar during fermentation.
Common ingredients used to make brandy may include:
Brandy production varies slightly depending on the type but likely involves these basic steps:
To begin brandy production, the fruit is mashed and combined with yeast. The yeast creates a chemical reaction that converts the sugar from the fruit into ethanol (alcohol). This creates a base wine with a lower alcohol content than brandy.
The fermented fruit juice contains ethanol, water, and congeners, which are chemical compounds created during fermentation. Congeners add flavor to alcohol but can be harmful and many are filtered out during distillation.
Distillation increases the alcohol content in the liquid through the application of heat. This process is completed in a copper pot still or column still in a distillery.
When heated, the alcohol creates a vapor that contains a high percentage of ethanol and a lower percentage of water and impurities. The vapor is cooled and converted back into a liquid with between 35% and 60% alcohol by volume (ABV).
The finished product can be transferred to oak barrels and aged for several years, which helps mellow its flavor. The oak barrels also give the brandy a distinct flavor profile and may darken the color of the alcohol.
Types Of Brandy
There are several types of brandy, depending on where it is produced and what type of fruit it is made from. Brandy must specify the type of fruit it is made from on its label unless it is made from grapes.
Some types of brandy have other notations on the label that specify how long it has been aged, including:
- VS (very special), which means it has been aged at least two years
- VSOP (very superior old pale), which means it has been aged at least four years
- XO (extra old), which means it has been aged at least six years but often more than 20 years
This grape brandy is produced in the Cognac region of France. It must be distilled twice and aged for a minimum of two years. Popular brands of cognac include Hennessy and Remy Martin.
This is a type of French brandy made from specific grape varieties and produced in the Armagnac region of southwest France. It is only distilled once, which produces a bolder taste compared to cognac.
This type of grape brandy is produced in both Chile and Peru. Chilean pisco must be distilled multiple times and aged for two months before being bottled. Peruvian pisco is only distilled once and aged in non-wooden casks for at least three months.
Applejack is a type of American brandy made from distilled and fermented apple cider. New Jersey produced the first American version of apple brandy in 1698.
Grappa is made from pulp and other remains after producing wine, known as pomace brandy. This type of brandy is typically distilled once, which maintains most of the flavor from the grapes.
Calvados is a type of apple brandy produced in Normandy, France. This type of brandy is commonly added to classic cocktails, like the Manhattan.
Eau De Vie
Eau De Vie, which translates to “water of life”, describes any type of fruit brandy other than grape brandy. This type of brandy is usually unaged and can be enjoyed chilled as an after-dinner drink.
Since grape brandy is most often aged in oak barrels, it is not ideal for home distilling. Aging is not necessary for other types of fruit brandy, including peach, pears, or apples. Homemade brandy requires small-scale distillery equipment and fruit wine.
As an alcoholic beverage, brandy poses a risk for developing alcohol dependence or addiction. If you would like more information about alcohol addiction treatment, please contact us today to speak with a specialist.
How Much Does Brandy Cost?
The price of brandy depends on the type, brand, and age.
In general, as the age of brandy increases, so does the price. Most brands signal a drink’s age using the labels VS, VSOP, and XO:
- A 750ml bottle of VS costs between $10 and $50 depending on the brand.
- A 750ml bottle of VSOP costs between $10 and $200.
- A 750ml bottle of XO costs between $20 and $1,000.
Learn more about Brandy Prices & Brands
How Much Alcohol Is In Brandy?
Brandy is at least 40% alcohol in U.S. products. Many types of brandy exist, which are made from grapes, apples, and other fruits. These brandy types are at least 40% ABV, though some bottles may have a higher alcohol content.
Learn more about Brand Alcohol Content
Are There Benefits To Drinking Brandy?
Brandy has antioxidant properties and may benefit illness, bodily inflammation, high blood pressure, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, and help improve your long-term cognition and weight control.
However, these beneficial effects only occur with light to moderate alcohol use. Heavy drinking is likely to reverse any possible benefits.
To learn more, read Is Brandy Good For You?
What Does Brandy Taste Like?
Brandy is made by using fermented fruit juice which is aged in oak barrels or oak casks for long periods of time. Because of this, brandy tastes a bit fruity, sweet, and even has a hint of oak flavor. It is served at room temperature and is likely consumed after a meal.
To learn more, read What Does Brandy Taste Like?
Is It Risky To Drink Brandy Every Day?
It can be risky to drink brandy every day. Even moderate drinking every day can come with an increased risk of brain damage, high cholesterol, alcohol addiction, and a weakened immune system.
Learn more about Drinking Brandy Every Day
What’s The Difference Between Cognac & Brandy?
Cognac is a type of brandy, whereas brandy is any distilled spirit that uses fermented fruit mash from grapes, apples, pears, or other sweet fruits. For a brandy to be considered cognac, the alcohol must be produced with white grapes from the Cognac region of France.
Learn more about Cognac Vs Brandy
National Center For Biotechnology Information (NCBI) - Biotechnology for Production of Fruits, Wines, and Alcohol
North Carolina Historic Sites - Brandy
Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority - Buying Guide For Brandy
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - Wines And Brandy
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