Brandy found its origins in the need to distill wine, both to lessen the tax on wine (levied by volume) and as a means of preservation. It soon flourished as a drink all of its own, and came to parallel the growth and popularity of wine. The best brandy comes from the countries that make the best wine like France, Portugal, the U.S., and South Africa. Although not as popular as other distilled drinks Brandy has survived as a premium alcoholic beverage, carving a wide niche in the hearts of alcohol enthusiasts the world over.

If there is any drink that maintains a regal charm and an elite status, this is it. The mere mention of it conjures images of gentlemen in their early 50s, seated in a luxurious armchair, a smoking pipe in one hand and a glass of brandy being swirled around as the gramophone churns out the best music from the vinyl.

Brandies and Cognacs enjoy that status even though both may be the same and yet be different. All Cognacs are brandies but all brandies are not Cognacs. What’s common is that both are produced by carrying out further distillation to usual wine creation.

Types of Brandy
Brandy is classified on the basis of the material used for creating it. The three main types of it are:

Brandy that is produced from the fermentation of grapes.
Brandy that is produced from the fermentation of fruits other than grapes. These include apples, plums, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.
Brandy that is produced from the fermentation of grape skins, seeds and stems that remain after the grapes have been used in wine production.

Cognac, on the other hand, is classified on the basis of the region where the grapes come from. Since true Cognacs only come from the Cognac region of France, the grapes grown in specific types of soils give each cognac a definitive taste. Cognacs are, hence, classified as:

    Grande Champagne: Central region of Cognac.
    Petite Champagne: Areas south of Central Cognac.
    Borderies: A small region north-west of Central Cognac.
    Fins Bois: The spread of land surrounding Central Cognac.
    Bons Bois: The entire area encompassing the rest of the region.
    Bois Ordinaire: The entire region north-west of Bons Bois.

Brandy: Distillation process is initiated from wine. The alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage is around 8-12%. This wine is taken to a pot still and heated. The vapours that arise after heating are collected in a condenser and liquefied. These vapours consist of alcohol, the fragrant components and water as well. But since, water boils at a higher temperature than the rest; these can be separated from it. Therefore, the condensed liquid has an ABV percentage higher than the actual wine. This liquid is then distilled again. The first and the last of the vapours have an unpleasant odour. Hence, they are separated away and sent to be distilled with the next batch. The heart of the vapours are collected which becomes a part of the brandy.

Due to these numerous distillations, the final ABV of the brandy reaches up to 70%. Apart from increasing the alcohol content, the heat and the material of the stills react with the distillate. This gives rise to even more aromas and modifies the existing ones, ultimately making a different alcoholic beverage.

Certain fruit brandies and grape brandies with natural golden brown colour are aged in oak casks. Some may have caramel colouring added to them to appear as aged. Pomace brandy is usually bottled without aging it. Certain brandies from Spain are subjected to aging via fractional blending, called as solera.

Cognac: The process for cognac is much more rigid and catering to strict guidelines. White wine is used for the distillation process and, that too, made from only specific varieties of grapes. The wine should be very acidic, dry and thin. Though this makes it unfit for consumption, it serves as best for distillation and further processes.

Since the wine is low on alcohol, the wine to cognac production ratio is 10:1. As soon as the grapes are pressed, they are left to ferment naturally. This is then taken ahead for distillation. Double distillation, in fact. The stills and the containers are all made from copper since it has a catalyzing effect and does not mess with the flavour of the liquid. Post The first distillation takes place by boiling the unfiltered wine. The liquid that is obtained after this distillation has an ABV of around 28-32%. This liquid is cloudy in colour which is then redistilled. This second distillation takes only the crux of the vapours and circumvents the remaining ones for further distillations.

Cognac has to be aged in the best of the oak casks. Made in the traditional way by burning wood and bending into casks, it is ensured to be water-tight, hard and porous only for the alcohol. The cognac is allowed to mature for at least two years. Since the humidity and atmosphere affects the flavour, cognac producers are known to move casks from one location to another for the best combination and taste.

What truly makes cognac a rarity is the final stage. Blending a cognac is a masterful art carried out by the extremely experienced blenders. Cognac consists of a mixture of distillations of various ages and various locations, too. It is like a fiercely guarded formula as to which combination in what proportion yields the best cognac.

Brandy and cognac are basically alcoholic spirits without any additives. Due to multiple distillations, they are absent of any other substance. In a 30ml of shot of either brandy or cognac, there is just about 64 calories of energy. Carbohydrates and fats are not present at all.

Preferred Brands in India
McDowell’s No. 1: United Spirits brought forth their variant of brandy which established this extremely popular name. Launched in 1963-64, this brandy was the first McDowell’s No. 1 product which then later became an umbrella for many other drinks and encompassed them within it. It is the largest selling brandy in the world by volume.

Hennessy: When it comes to Cognacs, Hennessy is the emperor of them all. Founded by Richard Hennessy and now, a part of the conglomerate LVMH, this is the biggest selling Cognac brand in the world. It is also credited to coining the term VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) when it comes to Cognacs. The blend of Cognacs produced by Hennessy are highly revered and sought after

Old Admiral: In a country known for loving whisky, this brandy by Radico Khaitan has received an overwhelming response. It has continued to grow year after year. The Old Admiral brandy has also won a silver medal at the 2008 Monde Selection held at Belgium. This was awarded to it for its overall quality.

RémyMartin: As French as it does sound, Rémy Martin is the heart of Cognac located at the heart of Cognac, too. Brewing using grapes that come only from the soils of central Cognac region, Rémy Martin is widely popular for maturing its Cognacs for a period of around 10 to 37 years. It has a distinctive centaur logo on the bottle. They still resort to the classical methods of distillation giving their Cognacs intense depth and flavour.

Courvoisier: Owned by Beam Suntory, Courvoisier comes from the Charente region of France. Their Paradis cellars house Cognacs which date back to the times of Napoleon with hand-made barrels crafted to precision. Courvoisier offers a wide range of selection in their inventory with two being 12 year old and 21 year old as well. This cognac is famously used in television, film and media making it a part of pop culture.



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