Brandy is a generic term which describes a spirit distilled from a fruit. In most cases this is grapes and perhaps the finest and best known of them all is cognac. It is distilled twice and must be made in accordance with many regulations to maintain quality. The other well-known French brandies are armagnac and calvados. Armagnac is produced on a continuous still as a single distillation and is quite fruity in flavour. Calvados on the other hand, is made from apples and can have quite a pear drop flavour as it is necessary to add pears for greater acidity to help the distillation. However, there are other French brandies too. One is from Alsace which is traditionally made from their Gurwüztraminer grapes and of course there is Marc, made in the Burgundy region usually from the heavy lees which include the skins and , pips. A little less known is Champagne Marc which is distilled from champagne grapes which are pressed whole and distilled. It is quite fruity and distilled at a low rate of about 52 degrees. Other French Brandies come from the Cote-du-Rhône, Provence and Jura where there is a long tradition.
Next best known is Spanish brandy. This is made in the solera fashion which is a top-up system of ageing. Producers can take up to 20% off the bottom of the barrel and replace it with new eau de vie on the top. Spanish brandies are also aged in casks that have contained other drinks, usually sherry. They are said to be the oldest brandies in the world using traditions passed on by the Arabs. The Italian brandies are relatively tightly controlled, and only specific wines can be used. They are distilled at quite low alcohol ranges to preserve the fruitiness of the brandy. Italian brandies are not to be confused with Grappa, often referred to as the peasant’s drink. Grappa was traditionally taken with coffee and used for all sorts of medicinal purposes, even disinfectant. German brandies are made from grapes imported from either France or Germany, they often contain macerated fruits as well as caramel and sugar syrups. Probably the best known is Asbach. Brandy is produced in many other different countries too including America, Australia, Argentina and South Africa. Each has their own style and methods since there are few, if any, laws to govern their production.
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