Brandy is essentially a spirit made by distilling wine. Generally containing between 35% to 60% alcohol by volume, brandies are popular as after-dinner drinks. There are different types of brandies available: grape, pomace, and fruit. Where not mentioned, the default type is grape. It got its name from the Dutch word brandewijn. When translated, this is a term for wine that is burnt in a distillation process that lets alcohol evaporate and condense into liquid as it cools.
To make brandy, the distillation process is very important, keeping in mind that the slower and gentler method is more effective in letting out the aromatic elements of the raw materials in the wine. Think of it like stewing fruit: with lower flames, more intense aromas are let out and better residue drainage is achieved. Those from Cognac often describe the distillation process for the brandy drink to be similar to evaporation speeded up.
Like many spirits, best brandy is aged. Taste some that just been distilled and they will taste unappetizing, oily, and raw. How brandies taste in the end though depends on how long they were stored in oak casks. Why oak is used in the standard casks is actually a matter of coincidence–oak was the most abundant tree around that the original distillers could use for casks. But aside from proximity, oak also has properties that work well with wines and other grape products (brandies are made from wines that are then made from grapes) so the coincidence proved to be most beneficial. There are different types of oaks so different types of brandies achieve different kinds of flavors so signatures depend mostly on local traditions.
Did you know?
Spain produces the most amount of brandy than any other country in Europe. And from whatever Spain produces, about 95% come from the Andaluca area in the south, particularly Jerez de la Frontera.