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Brandy (from brandywine, derived from Dutch brandewijn, gebrande wijn or "burned wine") is a spirit produced by distilling wine. Brandy generally contains 35 to 60 percent alcohol by volume (70 to 120 U.S. proof) and is typically taken as an after-dinner drink. Some brandies are aged in wooden casks, some are colored with caramel coloring to imitate the effect of aging, and others are produced using a combination of both aging and coloring. The term brandy also denotes liquors obtained from the wines of other fruits. Apples, cherries, plums, pears and peaches have all been distilled into what are called fruit brandies or eaux-de-vie. Pomace brandy, made using grapes with their stems, skins and seeds, is also very common. There are many types of brandy found across the winemaking regions of the world. Among the most renowned are cognac and Armagnac from France or pisco from Peru and Chile. Brandy is generally rated by age, but the ratings vary widely by country. (It’s generally unregulated in the U.S.) The most common ratings are:

  • 3 star or V.S. (very special): a brandy aged for at least two years; 3 star or V.S. brandies are typically what are mixed into cocktails
  • V.S.O.P. (very superior old pale): a brandy aged for at least four years
  • X.O. (extra old): a brandy aged six-and-a-half years or more
  • Hors d’age or vintage: a brandy usually 10 years or older; vintage brandies will have the year of harvest on the bottle, whereas the age of an hors d’age brandy is unknown

HOW TO DRINK BRANDY: Older brandies are best enjoyed neat. Younger brandies thrive in a wide variety of cocktails. Brandy drinks range from the famous (Hot Toddy, Sidecar, Pisco Sour, etc.) to the more obscure (Brandy Old Fashioned, a.k.a. Wisconsin Old Fashioned; Last Resort The Original Sazerac, etc.).

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