Wine is considered to be one of the oldest and tastiest drinks and it used to have no rivals till centuries ago its derivative product - brandy - was produced. There are different suggestions as to where brandy drinks originated from. Some historians say it was the Chinese, who first worked out the technique of distilling water from wine; the others claim that the Egyptians were the inventors. However, there is no doubt that in Europe the recipes of the production of brandy were brought by the Moors, who occupied Spain in the 8th-15th centuries. Thus, the Spaniards started to make brandy drinks from fermented grapes, using the pot stills that the Moors had left.
The process of distillation is based on different temperatures of boiling the water (100°C) and alcohol (78.3°C). Therefore, while heating a fermented liquid, the steam containing alcohol evaporates first. It can be collected, cooled and condensed to turn into an alcoholic liquid of another quality.
The Arabs at first used the process of distillation for producing medicine and, only then, the drinkable qualities of the alcoholic liquid were discovered. However, the technique of its production was very imperfect at that time and the taste of the result drink left much to be desired. Improvements came in the 16th century, when an appropriate raw material - sharp white wine, made in the town of Cognac in western France, was found. After it was twice passed through the still, savory brandy was produced. It became even tastier, when held in oak casks for a couple of years. Although, this wood was chosen accidentally, it really has some qualities, making it valuable for the brandy drinks. The porosity of the oak provides a constant and limited contact of the drink with the oxygen, necessary for its maturity.
There are some other secrets of the brandy drinks production used nowadays. Wine should be distilled as slow as possible for its aromatic elements to be detached effectively. Moreover, during the process of distillation, a few phases should be observed: the first, "head" vapors, containing some harmful chemical elements, are removed, and then, after almost all the wine has been distilled, the "tails" are also removed.
The most famous brandy drinks are cognac brandy and Armagnac brandy. Cognac is produced only in the Cognac region of France. It is fine smooth brandy with a strong scent. There are various kinds of them: Three Star or VS (Very Strong) cognac is made of brandy, aged from two years; VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) cognac is produced from the blends of not less then four year mature; and XO cognac is Extra Old. The Armagnac is produced in the Armagnac region of France. This brandy drink has a richer taste than that of cognac.
Of course, France is not the only producer of brandy. American brandy drinks, mostly made in California, are light and smooth. Unlike in France, in the USA brandy is produced by individual firms, having their own brand names. Germany also brandies both in pot and continuous stills, even though the country is located at the northernmost limit of the wine production.
Fruit brandies are made from fruit: blackberries, raspberries, peaches, apricots, cherries and the others.
Brandy should be drunk after a meal - either on their own or with nut or apple desserts. They are served in snifters, bowl-shaped glasses, which you hold by the stem. Brandy does not need to be heated, otherwise, its fine aromas will evaporate.