food humorfood humor Eat, Drink and Really Be Merry
Welcome to an amusing look at the world of food and drink. Nothing escapes parody; not the lobster, the potato, the turnip or the green vegetable. Dining out is covered too, as well as drinking for fun and profit.


Article archive

A book related to each article

Links you may enjoy

Cookbooks! Cookbooks!
Treat yourself.

Link to us

Visit these other humorous sites by the same author:

Middle Age and
Other Mistakes

Home Is Where
the Dirt Is

Pop Goes the Culture

Don't Tech Me In

What's New, Emu?

Laughing Matters Ink

I Was Absent

Copyright © 2001-2007
All rights reserved.
brandy testingBrandy: How Did It Come To Be?
by Marjorie Dorfman

What is it about brandy that sets it apart from all other drinks? Where did it come from anyway? Read on for some sobering although light-hearted answers.

Claret is the liquor for boys, port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy. – Samuel Johnson

What is it about brandy that sets it apart from all other drinks? Where did it come from anyway? Read on for some sobering although light-hearted answers.

Brandy’s history dates back to ancient Greece and Rome where it was used both as an antiseptic and an anesthetic. One can only suppose that "drinking for medicinal purposes" may have originated at this time. It is known, however, that Arab alchemists in the 7th and 8th centuries experimented with distilling grapes and other fruits in order to create medicinal spirits. Their knowledge and techniques quickly spread beyond Islam’s borders, with grape Brandy production appearing in Spain and Ireland (via missionary monks) by the end of the 8th century.

cognacIt was not until the 17th century, however, that brandy became recognized throughout the world. The word itself derives from the Dutch brandewijn (burnt wine), which is how the Dutch traders who introduced the drink to Northern Europe from Southern France and Spain described wine that had been burnt or boiled in order to distill it. It seems the process evolved somewhat by accident (like penicillin, Carvel ice cream, champagne and other wonders). It was a means to save space in the ship’s hold. Wines were boiled to reduce their volume by evaporation and then, reconstituted with water. It was observed that although this process had no visible effect on the traders themselves, some wines actually benefited from it.

Cognac, one of the more famous and popular brandies made from white wine, originated in the 17th century when the Cognacais family began to double distill their wines. It soon became one of France’s most popular and profitable exports and the drink of choice for the aristocracy. First it traveled to Holland, then to England, the Far East and finally to the New World via Spanish monks. At first dismayed when the many casks they had transported to the New World were soon gone, the monks discovered that native California grapes were a perfect source for their favorite libation (and possibly the realization that God really was good). They also found that other fruits could be used to produce brandy as well. This knowledge spread to Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Australia and South Africa, where by the end of the 18th century, fruit brandy was being produced in large quantities.

Fruit Brandy is a term that refers to all brandies made from fermenting fruit other than grapes. It should not be confused with fruit-flavored brandy, which is grape brandy that has been flavored with the extract of another fruit. Fruit Brandies, except those made from berries, are generally distilled from fruit wines. Berries tend to lack enough sugar to make a wine with sufficient alcohol for proper distillation, and thus are soaked in high-proof spirit to extract their flavor and aroma. This extract is then distilled once at a low proof. Calvados, the Apple Brandy from the Normandy region of Northwestern France, is probably the best known of this type. Eau-de-vie (water of life) is a term, which refers to spirits in general and specifically to colorless fruit brandy from the Alsace region of France and from California, (imbibed, no doubt, by colorless and thirsty phantoms and specters).

Depending upon the region and the fruit, brandy is divided into four main categories: fruit brandies, American brandies, armagnac and cognac. Fruit brandies are clear, generally 80 to 90 proof and are distilled directly from the fruit itself. They are made from many fruits, including pears, apples, raspberries, blackberries, peaches, apricots, plums and cherries. They are served chilled or over ice. Almost all American brandy is distilled in California by individual firms, and is lighter and smoother than European brandy, which tends to possess a stronger taste. Armagnac is similar to cognac with the most substantial difference being the method of distillation. Armagnac is generally aged longer than cognac with its best years between the teens to mid-twenties (aren’t we all?). Anything over thirty years is considered over aged. (Thank God these distinctions are for just grapes and fruits! Can you imagine an adult being old at 30?)

brandy caskCognac is the best known brandy in the world, a benchmark by which most other brandies are judged. The Cognac region is located on the west central Atlantic coast of France, just north of Bordeaux. The region is further subdivided into six growing zones: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Bois Ordinaires, Borderies, Fins Bois and Bons Bois. The first of these regions produces the best cognac and will frequently be so designated on bottle labels. Cognacs labeled Fine Champagne are a blend of Petite and Grand Champagnes (for the taller among us). The primary grapes used in making cognac are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Columbard. These grapes produce wines that are thin, tart and low in alcohol; poor qualities for table wines, but oddly enough, perfect for making brandy. Cognac is double distilled in pot stills and then aged in oaken casks. All cognacs begin in new oak to mellow their fiery spirit and render their color. Batches that are chosen for long-term aging are, after a few years, transferred to "seasoned" casks.

A special offer:

Save over 25% on Weight Watchers Online

Really works!!
Special page about Weight Watchers here.

food humor"Britain is the only country where the food is more dangerous than the sex."
Jackie Mason

"I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage."
Erma Bombeck

Don't miss this excellent book:

The Seductive Saga of the World's Most Coveted Spirit

by Kyle Jarrard


It's fitting that a Paris-based novelist and International Herald Tribune editor should chronicle the history of the famously refined French brandy. And Jarrard does a nice job of it, offering a thorough, well-researched and objective history of cognac. Jarrard brings the story to the present, examining the various brands dominating the market today, including Hennessy, Rémy-Martin and Courvoisier. It's a must for aficionados.

Click to print
Click for a printer friendly version of this article.