The origins of Brandy were clearly tied to the development of distillation. While the process was known in classical times, it wasn’t used for significant beverage production until the 15th century.
Initially wine was distilled as a preservation method and as a way to make it easier for merchants to transport. It is also thought that wine was originally distilled to lessen the tax which was assessed by volume. The intent was to add the water removed by distillation back to the brandy shortly before consumption. It was discovered that after having been stored in wooden casks, the resulting product had improved over the original distilled spirit. In addition to removing water, the distillation process led to the formation and decomposition of numerous aromatic compounds, fundamentally altering the composition of the distillate from its source. Non-volatile substances such as pigments, sugars, and salts remained behind in the still. As a result, the taste of the distillate was often quite unlike that of the original source.
Brandy is a spirit produced by distilling wine. Brandy generally contains 35–60% alcohol by volume and is typically drunk as an after-dinner digestif. Quality brandies are aged in wooden casks, others are coloured with caramel colouring to imitate the effect of aging, and some are produced using a combination of both aging and colouring. Varieties of wine brandy can be found across the winemaking world. Among the most renowned are Cognac and Armagnac from southwestern France.
In a broader sense, the term “Brandy” also denotes liquors obtained from the distillation of pomace (yielding pomace brandy) or mash or wine of any other fruit (fruit brandy). These products are also called eau de vie (which translates to “water of life”).
Northern Italy is also noted since the Middle Ages for another type of wine spirit, Grappa, which is generally colourless but has some top-shelf varieties called barrique which are aged in oak casks and achieve the same caramel colour as regular brandies.