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The origins of Brandy can be traced back to the expanding Moslem Mediterranean states in the 7th and 8th centuries. Arab alchemists experimented with distilling grapes and other fruits in order to make medicinal spirits. Their knowledge and techniques soon spread beyond the borders of Islam, with grape Brandy production appearing in Spain and probably Ireland (via missionary monks) by the end of the 8th century. Brandy, in its broadest definition, is a spirit made from fruit juice or fruit pulp and skin. The origins of brandy were clearly tied to the development of distillation. While the process was known in the classical times, it wasn’t used for significant beverage production up until the 15th century.
Brandy has a traditional age grading system, although its use is unregulated outside of Cognac and Armagnac. These indicators can usually be found on the label near the brand name:
V.S. (“very special”) or ✯✯✯ (three stars) designates a blend in which the youngest brandy has been stored for at least two years in a cask.
V.S.O.P. (“very superior old pale”), Reserve or ✯✯✯✯✯ (five stars) designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is stored for at least four years in a cask.
XO (“extra old”) or Napoléon designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is stored for at least six years.
Hors d’âge (“beyond age”) is a designation which is formally equal to XO for Cognac.
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