Brandy is a liquor that is distilled from wine or other fermented fruit juice. It was apparently discovered by serendipity in the sixteenth century. At that time wine was an important trade good for many shippers, who brought cheap Portuguese wines to Britain to be sold at a profit. Wanting to maximize his cargo, a Dutch trader hit on the idea of boiling the water out of the wine before loading it, adding the water back in when they reached their destination. But he, or someone else, tasted the distilled liquid, and realized that this product tasted even better without the extra water. Thus brandewijn, which is Dutch for burned (distilled) wine, was born. In the seventeenth century this new product, brandy, began to be introduced into wine; it was added to give wine a longer life on sea voyages, thus giving rise to fortified wines like sherry and port.
There are many kinds of brandy. Brandies made from grapes and apples are generally aged in wood, which gives them a strong flavour and golden colour. Those made from other fruits are less likely to be aged in wood and tend to be colourless; they are also known as eaux de vie or aqua vitae.
Cognac is one of the most famous and finest brandies; it's made in the Cognac area of France, north of Bordeaux, from white wine. Cognacs, like many brandies, are rated by age: AC is aged in wood for two years; VS is aged for three years and often called three star; VSOP is "very special old pale", aged for five years, and also called five star; XO is aged for six years, and every brandy maker has its own name for this level - 'reserve', 'extra', 'paradis', and so on. Armagnac is another famous fine French brandy; it's made in Gascony, south of Cognac. It's fermented at a lower alcohol level than cognac, and often needs longer aging than a cognac. Armagnac Hors d'age must be aged ten years before release. Other types of brandy include grappa, calvados and applejack (made from apples), kirsch (cherries), framboise (raspberries), ouzo, pisco, and metaxa.
Store brandy bottles upright; the high alcohol could begin to break down the cork if brandy is stored on its side, like wine. Brandy is typically drunk after a meal, at room temperature, in a short glass with a wide bowl, called a snifter, or sometimes in a smaller tulip-shaped glass. To correctly pour your brandy into a snifter, lay the glass on its side, with the base and the bowl touching the table; pour the brandy till it just reaches the rim.