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Brandy

The Art that is Brandy

Brandies are distilled wines. Brandy can be used either specifically to refer to distillates of grape wines, or, more generally, to spirits distilled from any fermented fruit. Another generic term that can be used is eau de vie (French for water of life). Some fruit liqueurs are labelled as brandies, but, not being distilled from fruit, aren't true brandies. The word brandy comes the Dutch word brandewijn, meaning burnt wine. Brandy is often made from thin, harsh, acidic wine; bad wine can make good brandy.

Many varieties of brandies have their own specific names:
Applejack - apple brandy
Armagnac - grape brandy from the Pays de Gascogne in south-west France
Calvados - apple brandy from Normandy
Cognac - grape brandy from a region in western France consisting of the départements of Charente and Charente-Maritime
Grappa - made from grape skins, stems, seeds etc., the residue of wine-making (Italian)
Marc - made from grape skins, stems, seeds etc., the residue of wine-making (French)
Metaxa - Greek grape brandy
Pisco - clear grape brandy from South America

Some useful brandy terms:
V.S. - minimum age of any brandy in the blend is 3 years, also known as three-star
V.S.O.P. - five years old; also *****
X.O. - six years and older

And the list:

Ararat ***:
Three year old Armenian brandy, from Yerevan. Lightly aromatic, with a fairly sharp, mild taste with a touch of fruit.
T ***

Boulard Grand Solage:
This Calvados Pas d'Auge is a lively deep orange-brown colour, with a well-balanced heavy-duty lightly fruity nose. A fairly relaxed and laid-back drink, but far from lifeless. Smooth, easy to drink.
T ****

Carpenè Malvolti Finissima Grappa Bianca:
This Finest White Grappa has a rather alarming streak of squid in the nose. Luckily this fish-market aroma is not evident in the taste, which is well-balanced and harmonious, though restrained and rather dour. 40% alcohol, distilled in steam-heated copper alembics.
T **

Chatelle Napoleon: 700 ml bottle
French brandy. Looks like brandy, tastes like brandy. Cheap and drinkable, but not particularly good. A good brandy to cook with, OK for mixing.
T ** G *

Chateau Tanundra Brandy:
This "fine matured" brandy from South Australia doesn't smell too promising. Harsh, and vaguely unpleasant. Not a very strong flavour, either, so it's not so good for cooking with. Cheap, and quite nasty. 37.2% alcohol.
T *

Chemineaud:
A basic brandy by Chemineaud Frères (ex-Paris, now Montréal, Canada). Respectably smooth and easy to drink. Perhaps too mild for cooking or even mixing. Average. 40% alcohol.
T **

Clés des Ducs V.S.O.P. Armagnac:
From what must have been very harsh wine comes this fine French brandy. Very easily drinkable, this is smooth and fairly light in taste, with a very pleasant aroma. Very good, and easy to see why it is claimed to be the number one armagnac in France and worldwide. 40% alcohol.
T ***** S **

Control Pisco Especial:
In the way of pisco, this brandy is clear and tastes and smells very fruity. Pleasantly drinkable, with an earthy grappa-like flavour. Different, but one can get used to it. It has quite a bite, despite being a lightweight at 35% alcohol. From Chile.
T *** S ***

Control Pisco Reservado:
Almost clear, with just enough colour to be seen. Less overtly fruity than the younger Especial, it's still robustly fresh and earthy. 40% alcohol, from Chile.
T ***

Courvoisier Cognac V.S.O.P. Fine Champagne:
Pungent, and tasty. Respectable, with enough flavour and smoothness to be pleasant enough to drink, but hardly impressive. Very poor value for money. 40% alcohol.
T ***

Daron Calvados du Pays d'Auge:
Lively apple aroma, not overdone. Fresh cider foretaste, which degenerates into an unpleasantish sour aftertaste. Nice and balanced, but could be better.
T ***

Fantinel Grappa Friulana:
Robust in flavour, with a healthy earthy aroma. Long-lasting aftertaste, nice flavour. From Italy, 41% alcohol. Your keyboard will never be the same again if you spill this through it.
T ***

Godet Fine Champagne Cognac X.O.:
Light bodied, but still flavourful. Delightfully aromatic, and very pleasant drinking. A little biting on the aftertaste, but definitely one of the better cognacs that we've tried. 40% alcohol.
T **** S ***

Hardys Black Bottle Brandy:
From South Australia, this is a cheap, decently smooth and drinkable brandy. Seems harmless enough. 37.1% alcohol.
T ***

Jacquin's Apricot Flavored Brandy: 200 ml bottle
66 proof and smells strongly of apricots. This is made by America's oldest cordial producer. Strangely enough, I found this to be quite pleasant despite not liking apricots. A fruity nectar of the gods if you like them. Glen says it's beautiful. A low-end product, but tasty all the same.
T *** G *****

Jacquin's Blackberry Flavored Brandy:
Now I am a big fan of the blackberry but this stuff doesn't seem to cut it and is a poor cousin of the Apricot Jacquin's. I suppose a 70 proof fruit drink may stray quite a way from it's original flavour and I've been told this stuff is a good mixer with club soda/seltzer. Mixing isn't our game but to be fair, we'll give it a try one day.
G **

Jaloviina Ädelbrännvin:
A blend of cognac and neutral spirit, this is a traditional Finnish ``noble drink,'' and it's a little sharp, but quite nice and drinkable. Probably an improvement on the original cognac. A cheap and tasty substitute, 40%, made since 1932.
T *** Kaj ****

Janneau Armagnac X.O.:
More characterful than the Janneau V.S.O.P. (see below), this is a smooth and undemanding fine spirit. Quite light and airy - not exactly delicate, but muscular in its own way. Very good, but perhaps not well-placed on the price-quality curve. 80 proof.
T ****

Janneau Grand Armagnac V.S.O.P.:
Without doubt, a fine drink. Silky smooth, it goes down very easily. Lacking in backbone and character, it fails to really stand out, but is seductively pleasant. Rather like a good Canadian whisky of brandies.
T **** S ****

Marquis de Montdidier V.S.O.P. Fine Bourgogne:
This Eau-de-Vie de Vin de Bourgogne (water-of-life of grapes from Bourgogne) is a fine French brandy. It's smooth and decently-aged, and slightly fruity, much fruitier than a typical armagnac or cognac. Very nicely drinkable and tasty, if you can find it for a reasonable price. 80 proof.
T ***** S ***

Marquis de Montesquiou XO Impérial Armagnac:
Immaculate and elegant, this a pleasant and polite gentleman of a drink. Smooth, and very easy to drink. Perhaps conservative, but lively enough; it doesn't slip into blandness at all. 40% alcohol.
T *****

Massanez Calvados Vieux:
French apple brandy, from Normandy. Smells like very intense cider on steroids. The flavour is less intense, and this drink goes down smoothly and easily. Very easily, in fact. Drink it from a brandy balloon so you get the aroma too. "In France they drink Massenez very cold straight up or over ice in a liqueur glass." 80 proof.
T ****

Père Magloire Fine Calvados:
This is French apple brandy, made at Pont-l'Évêque in the heart of Normandy. A lovely golden colour, it falls down somewhat with a rather bland and flat aroma. It has a pleasant fruity taste, a little bit dry and woody. Nice enough, but hardly a "jewel of French gastronomy." 80 proof.
T *** S ***

Rémy Martin V.S.O.P. Fine Champagne Cognac: 30 ml bottle
We found this to be reasonably good, but not exceptional. A little harsh even. Given the stiff price, we'd hoped for a bit more. Nice enough, but there must be better things to spend the money on instead.
T *** J *** G **

St. Agnes Brandy:
Australian *** pot still brandy by Angoves, it's pleasant, not-too-heavy, smooth, tasty, and cheap. Not as good as it's older stablemate, but a fine easy-drinking (even in large quantities) drop. 37.1% alcohol.
T ***

St. Agnes Very Old Brandy:
Australian brandy, by Angoves, Renmark. Double-distilled in pot stills, followed by twenty years in oak. It's smooth, balanced, lightly fruity up front, rolling up into a mellow, rounded taste. An elegant brandy with some class. 37.1% alcohol.
T *****

Supreme Grappa Essence Flavour:
Synthetic grappa, sold for cooking purposes. Very industrial packaging for a very industrial product. It doesn't taste particularly convincingly grappa-like, but might pass casual examination, and the flavouring readily masks any deficiencies in the base spirit. Somewhere between 40 and 45% alcohol.
T **

Valdoglio Liquore a Base di Grappa e Mirtillo:
A grappa-based blueberry liqueur. Fruity blueberry aroma overpowers the base grappa. Nice, not overpoweringly flavoured or too sweet, a very mild grappa taste in the background, dominated by blueberries. Good stuff. 25% alcohol. Not too fruity either, so I like it a lot despite fruitphobia. Comes in a skinny conical blue bottle.
T **** Arne **** T+ ***

Vilmos Körte Pálinka:
Hungarian Williams pear brandy; this has a pleasant aroma of pears, and a powerful, powerful flavour, with a strength usually attained through artificial means. Anyway, this brandy makes you know you've tasted it. Pleasant, uplifting, and refreshing - an ideal Spring picnic drink. 40% alcohol.
T ***

Winkelhausen Weinbrand:
German brandy, by Berentzen. At least, I think it's brandy; really, it smells more like aged mezcal. Slightly sweet, and very mild, and only very slightly fruity. Drinkable, but strange. An easy-drinking 36% alcohol.
T **

Yalumba Old Pot Still Brandy:
An Australian 20 year old brandy, this is a fine brandy. Very smooth and mellow, with a fruity flavour with a touch of wood, and an apple aftertaste. Very Australian in flavour when compared to French brandies. I liked this a lot, and found it to be much better and smoother than much more expensive Cognacs. It would probably give you a killer hangover if you drank more than a half-bottle. 75 proof. This must be one of the best Australian spirits! Not as elegant as St. Agnes, but livelier and more intense; and I think better.
T *****