Brandy is the term used for a wide range of distilled spirits that are made from virtually any fermented fruit or starchy vegetable. The best-known brandies are distilled from grapes and the term covers a wide range of products including Cognac, Armagnac, Grappa, Eau-de-Vie, and Calvados.
To make brandy, a mash of grapes or other suitable sugary or starchy produce is allowed to ferment, converting the natural sugars into alcohol and thus forming a sort of wine. This is then distilled to make a stronger spirit, which will retain some of the flavour characteristics of the original material.
Generally, any region that has an abundance of fruit some form of brandy will be produced from it. Calvados is apple brandy from Normandy, Slivovitz is plum brandy popular in central and eastern Europe, whilst Marc, as in marc de Bourgogne, is a brandy made by further fermenting the skins from grapes after they have been pressed to make wine.
If a beverage comes from a particular fruit (or multiple fruits) other than exclusively grapes, it may be referred to as a "fruit brandy" or "fruit spirit" or named using the specific fruit, such as "cherry brandy", rather than just generically as "brandy". These products are also called eau de vie (which translates to "water of life"). Eau-de-vie is a clear, colourless brandy generally made from a single fruit, such as pear (Poire William is a common example), raspberry (Framboise) or other soft or orchard fruits.
Brandy generally contains 35 - 60% alcohol by volume and is typically drunk as an after-dinner digestif. Some brandies are aged in wooden casks, others are coloured with caramel colouring to imitate the effect of ageing and some are produced using a combination of both ageing and colouring.
Cognac is a distinct type of brandy with a protected name, made exclusively from grapes grown in the Cognac area of France. Armagnac is another superior type of brandy, made in that geographical area of France.