Monday, 7 March 2011 | Tags: ,

Typically an after dinner drink meant to be consumed at room temperature from a snifter, brandy is distilled wine from fermented grapes thatís left to age in oak barrels. The longer it ages the less alcohol it has and the smoother it becomes. More about brandy...


  • Initially discovered by accident in the 12th century, winemakers began making the spirit on purpose in the 16th century.

  • Wine was preserved through distillation so that merchants would have an easier time transporting it. The distillation process removed water from the wine, and was then supposed to be added back into the beverage before it can be consumed, but the drink was found to have an improved taste, and was even more drinkable if left to age for a few years in oak casks.

  • Today, brandies typically have an alcohol content ranging between 35-45% depending on what they are made from and how long they are aged in oak casks.

  • The more time a brandy spends in oak barrels, the less alcohol it contains, which is part of the reason very old brandies tend to be smoother than un-aged ones.

  • Though the better brandies are often consumed as a digestif after a meal, they can also be served chilled, over ice, or in a mixed drink.

  • There are three varieties of brandies available today: Grape, Pulp or Pomace, and Fruit.

    • Grape brandy is produced by distilling fermented grapes and is 40-45% alcohol. If the a brandy label doesn’t identify the mix, assume it is grape since others must be identified on the label. Amagnac and Cognac are both popular brandies made in France. Metaxa from Greece and Pisco from South America are also popular clear grape brandies.

    • Pulp or Pomace brandy is made by fermenting and distilling the stems, skins, seeds, and leftovers from wine pressings, and has 35-45% alcohol. This type is not usually aged very long, if at all. Grappa from Italy, Marc from France, and Orujo from Spain are all pomace brandies.

    • Fruit brandies are made the same way as grape brandy but use fruits like peaches, plums, cherries, apples, or blackberries. They are usually 40-45% alcohol and usually clear, but colouring may be added. Little or no aging is done. Enjoyed chilled or over ice, Calvados is an apple brandy from France, Applejack is an apple brandy from the USA, Kirschwasser is a German brandy made with cherries, Rakija is from the Balkans of Western Europe, where fruit brandies are made with plums, pears, figs, apricots, and quince.

  • Brandy can be aged, or not aged at all.

    • Unaged brandy includes most fruit brandies and pomaces, and are typically clear and colourless.

    • Single barrel aged brandy, aged in oak casks, develops a natural golden, amber, or brown color. (Note: less expensive varieties often have caramel colour added to simulate an aged appearance!)

    • The solera process mixes brandies of several different vintages. This helps age the younger ones, and refresh the older ones.

  • A universal rating system doesn’t exist for brandies since they’re produced around the world, but some makers have adopted the Cognac rating system to help describe the condition and quality of a brandy based on how long it was aged.

    • V.S. means Very Special, a 3-star cognac that has been aged in wooden casks for at least 2.5 years before bottling.

    • V.S.O.P., Very Special Old Pale, is a 5-star cognac that has been aged for at least 4.5 years.

    • X.O. means Extra Old, having been aged in wooden casks for a minimum of 6.5 years before bottling.

    • Vintage cognacs have been aged for at least 10 years. The label usually includes the vintage date.

    • Hors D’age, meaning “without age” is a brandy so old, the date cannot be determined. These smooth spirits are the crème-de-la-crème of brandy.


We took to the slopes in Whistler, British Columbia and talked some après-skiers into warming their bones and helping us with a brandy taste test. We tried:

  • St. Remy VSOP Brandy: $26
  • Courvoisier VSOP Cognac: $84
  • Remy Martin VSOP Cognac: $90
  • Saint Vivant VSOP Armagnac: $74

Tasting Notes

  • Courvoisier was preferred by some over the St. Remy and earned 22% of the vote

  • St. Remy: had a sweeter finish than the other three and earned 44% of the vote

  • Remy Martin: doesn’t taste as strong, a good option for a brandy newbie, and earned 20% of the vote.

  • Saint Vivant: had a sweet finish, with an oak-ier flavour, and earned 18% of the vote.


Since we were using our brandy choice for a pudding recipe, we decided to go with the most popular and least expensive brandy, the St. Remy ($26). However, as with most wines and spirits of this type, it comes down to personal taste. Don’t be afraid to try different kinds to find the one you like.

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  • Cate

    Thank you for all your tips and tips. I admire you insight and fabulous take on your shows. This show has given me guidelines to help choose a brandy this festive season. Cheers cate