By , December 1, 2009 8:00 am

Spanish_reconquistaBrandy is made from distilling wine.  Its proliferation started when the Moors left the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century.  The persecution and forced conversion to Catholicism of the Muslim population during the time of the Reconquista in the second part of the 15th century caused a mass exodus of Muslims.  In their hasty exodus of what is now Spain, they left behind the stills they used to distill their alcohol.  The Spaniards were skilled wine makers and it did not take them long to start using those stills to turn their wine into what would later be called Brandy.  Within 100 years, distilled wine or Brandy, had made its way all across Europe.

vineyardsAs the knowledge of how to use this Arabic technology to distill alcohol spread across Europe the term brandywijn was coined by the Dutch.  The term brandywijn means burnt wine which is basically what brandy is, distilled wine.  Armagnac, a region in France, is where the process of making brandy was perfected.  The term Armagnac can also be thought of synonym for brandy.  This is very similar to Armagnac’s cousin drink Cognac.  Cognac is also a region in France and the name of a spirit.  The main difference between Armagnac and Cognac is that Cognac is distilled twice whereas Armagnac is distilled once.

The process of making Armagnac has not changed much since its perfection by the French in the 17th century.  The basic process is the distillation of wine that produces a spirit that is aged in oak barrels.  Armagnac is pretty harsh immediately after distillation.  By aging it in oak barrels, the taste is softened, the color is enriched, and more complex flavors start to develop.  Armagnac is sold under different classifications related to how long it has aged in an oak barrel.  Below are the most general classifications:

armagnac oak barrelsA.C.: aged two years
V.S. : “Very Special” aged three years.  Often called “Three Star”
V.S.O.P.: “Very Superior Old Pale” aged a minimum of five years.  Often called, “Five Star.”
X.O.: “Extra Old” aged a minimum of six years. X.O.s include Napoleon and Vieille reserve.
Napoleon: aged at least four years, yet mostly much older than 4 years

In America, brandy was first made on the Spanish missions in California in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Today most all American brandy is made in California.  American law requires that brandy be aged for a minimum of two years.  The DaddyBlog recommended best buy is E&J out of Modesto, California in the V.S classification.  For price / value, there’s not a better deal.  You can buy a fifth for around ten dollars.

1975-ej-brandyIf you read about how to drink brandy, you’ll most likely find that you’re supposed to drink it at room temperature in a snifter with a stem.  Thereby allowing you to hold the stem and not affect the room temperature of the brandy.  I, however, recommend drinking it from a tumbler with just a couple of cubes of ice which would be considered heresy by many.  Like any drink you mix with ice, you will have a potency change as the ice melts.  This, for me, is one of the best parts of a drink on ice.  The flavor of the drink is good the whole way through but peaks at a certain point where the flavor is unbeatable.  In that peak moment you can savor this drink and be thankful for the history that led us to today.

Brandy is also considered a desert drink that’s best enjoyed with chocolate deserts and apple pies.  I will not disagree with this but tend to have brandy as an after dinner drink as the desert itself.  It is my father’s belief that good brandy aids in the digestive process after a meal.  This being a DaddyBlog, who am I to disagree with the sage advice of my own father.

Remember – always drink responsibly.

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