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Brandy has an extended history, and is made by the process of distilling wine. It became popular as an export from Europe in the 16th century, while the invention of soda water occurred much later, in the late 18th century. Surprisingly, both were considered healthful drinks. In fact, combining brandy and soda was thought to take advantage of two medicinal favorites, brandy with its calming effects, and soda water, which was considered to be inherently good for people.
You can find references to brandy and soda in journals dating back to the early 19th century. Soda could help cut the taste of inferior brandy, and it was drunk as both a medicinal, and simply for its flavor. Civil war participants write about the amount of this drink consumed, and the drink occurs in numerous examples of Victorian autobiography and fiction. It is often particularly associated with England, where brandy remained more popular than whiskey and soda.
Numerous drinks follow the basic brandy and soda recipe: Scotch and soda, whiskey and soda, bourbon and soda, and the list goes on. Recipes do differ slightly on the amounts of brandy per soda, and occasionally on garnish, although lemon is thought the standard garnish. Most recipes recommend using a tall skinny glass, sometimes called a Collins glass. To this glass, 2 ounces (.06 liters) of brandy are added, then the cup is filled with ice. The brandy is topped with soda water — typically club soda — stired slightly, and garnished with a lemon.
From drinks like brandy and soda, we see numerous other drinks emerge. There are also variants on what types of brandy to use. Some praise using cherry or apricot brandies as opposed to the more traditional grape brandy. Some drink historians suggest that brandy and soda added with bitters was likely one of the first “cocktails” in existence. Though there are many claims as to who and when the first cocktail was made.
Other early combinations with brandy include simple water, tea, and in some cases champagne. The early champagne cocktail or champagne punch may have existed prior to brandy and soda. Trading soda for champagne might have been considered a logical choice given the fizzy nature of both drinks.
Brandy and soda often pop up in Victorian literature, and was probably an acceptable alcoholic drink for ladies, since it was considered "medicinal."
Most of my experience with brandy has been in the form of apricot brandy, used to flavor a pound cake.
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