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Broadly defined, brandy is distilled fermented fruit, also known as wine.  The word comes from the Dutch term brandeuwijn - which means burnt wine. Naturally, grapes are the most common base.  Aged grape brandy is what you see being sipped from snifters after a Downton Abbey dinner party, or the like.


While just about every country makes their own national version brandy, Cognac - which is a brandy that can only made in the Cognac region of France - is broadly considered to be the premier expression.  Anytime brandy is called for in a cocktail recipe, Cognac is generally the best option.  But this is not to say incredible brandies can't come from elsewhere.  Nor that mediocre brandy can't come from Cognac, they can, and sometimes do.  Merely, because of the rules and traditions in place, when painting with a broad brush, Cognac is the safest bet for a decent when picking a brandy for cocktail use. 


Other prominent grape brandies include Armagnac - also made in France to the south of cognac, Spanish Brandy, American brandy and Pisco - which is an unaged grape brandy made in Peru and Chile.


Brandy made from fruit other than grapes is collectively known as fruit brandy. The most notable where cocktails are concerned is apple brandy, which is made both in the United States - also called applejack, and France, where it's called Calvados. Brandy is also made from pears, apricots, cherries, peaches and plums, just to name a few.  Any of these can be aged.  When a brandy is unaged it’s called eau-de-vie.


What is the difference between Cognac and brandy.
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