Brandy snifter with liquid swirl splash

For Brandy and Cognac Lovers: Why It’s Called Brandy

Brandy is One of the Oldest Liquors in the World

Brandy was first distilled in France around the 1313 as a form of medicine, with physicians proclaiming the new elixir, the “water of life” or the French “eau de vie.” But the truth be told, we should actually be thanking Dutch traders for Cognac brandy’s creation, popularity and surname. 

The Dutch Solution to Undrinkable Wine from Cognac 

Whenever there was room, Dutch merchants would fill their hulls with wines from France. But there was a problem. They soon discovered the fermented grapes would spoil over the long sea voyage. The wines would become acidic and unpalatable,  before long turning into a vinegary mess that was worth little to nothing. 


Dutch traders turned to an ancient process that would eliminate the problem––and a whole lot more! 


The Dutch word brandywine or burnt wine refers to the process of distillation and why we now refer to this wine-grape distilled spirit as brandy. The alembic copper pot still, invented in the Middle East, was the equipment used (and still employed today) for distilling spirits from fruits and grains.

Line art drawing of a copper pot alembic still

There are a several reasons why Cognac Brandy is world famous and Cognac wine is virtually non-existent. First, Cognac wine is pretty awful to drink. The white wine-like liquid used in making Cognac is very dry, acidic and is virtually undrinkable, if it weren’t for distillation. 

Second, Location! The Cognac region and its vineyards are located conveniently close to French ports. Dutch traders favored the more stable, twice-distilled wine (or brandewijn) as it was called by their fellow Netherlanders. The word brandy originally comes from the Dutch word brandewijn, which literally means “burnt wine”. 

Three, the French version of Brandy (known as Cognac) follows the strict regulations for cultivation and production set forth by the Cognac Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or AOC—an area extending from the banks of France’s scenic Charente River to the shores of the Atlantic OceanCognac AOC.

French Cognac brandy must be made from either 90% Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche or Colombard grapes. Another list of approved grapes can make up the remainder.

In addition, Cognac grapes must be harvested in the month of October and only distilled from November 1st to March 31st. 

Strict French regulations, disruptions in the supply chain and Climate Change are all having a major impact on the availability of your favorite Cognac brandy. As prices soar, there are few new options you might want to consider.

Cognac-inspired artisanal brandy, made in California



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