In the world of spirits there’s no other “style” that covers as many countries as brandy does. Countries that we showcase such as Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Spain, Italy, Portugal have been producing brandy for centuries. Brandy comes in many styles, from un-aged clear spirits like Pisco and Singani , as well as traditional aged brandies from the old continent.
For those of you interested in spreading your wings in the world of spirits, and by extension, cocktails, we highly suggest learning more about brandy. Good bottles are heavenly, and there are myriad styles to choose from.
First, what is brandy? We talked about it in passing in our piece on pisco, but in a nutshell, brandy is distilled from fermented fruit. Technically, any fruit. The most common are grapes, by far, and apples, though if you look hard enough, you’ll find brandy made from just about any fruit. Apricot and Pear brandy are also fairly common, for instance.
It can be bottled clear, like pisco and most grappa. But for the purposes of this piece, we will focus on barrel aged brandy. It has more applications in cocktails, and far more producers barrel age it.
The most famous brandies are French. Cognac, a region north of Bordeaux, makes delicate, aromatic, silky brandies from grapes. Armagnac, a region south of Bordeaux, makes brandy with more spice and structure. Another popular French brandy is calvados made using apples in Normandy, France.
For barrel aged brandies, we love Spanish brandy, particularly those from Jerez, where Sherry is made. Though the vast majority of the brandy they produce goes into sherry itself to fortify it, examples with the complexity and beauty of anything from France also exist. Often, these brandies get a final run in sherry barrels to soften them up and round them out.
So, how do you use brandy? As with all good spirits, you should start out by pouring two fingers worth into a rocks glass and get to know all the nuances. From there, we suggest swapping out whiskey for brandy in your favorite whiskey-based cocktail. We find that brandy often improves such cocktails because it’s flavor is more focused than whiskey, because fruit spirits in general tend to be less complex than grain whiskey. This means that other ingredients in the cocktail, such as a fantastic vermouth, have more space to shine. Good brandy is often more affordable than comparable whiskey, allowing you to splurge on other ingredients.
Like whiskey, a significant portion of the flavor profile comes from barrel aging. The length of time in the barrel, type used, and the toast level all impact the flavor. Common flavors include baking spices, vanilla, cloves, and chocolate. Whatever base spirit it’s made with will impart aromas and flavors as well. Grape tends toward berries and floral tones. Other fruits tend toward notes inherent to themselves - an apple brandy tastes quite obviously like it’s made from apples.
So grab a bottle and start experimenting! We have a cocktail below that we came up with that highlights brandy’s ability to play well with others.
Floating down the Brandywine
2 oz Torres Brandy
¾ oz Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
½ oz Borschi Liqueur (Amaro)
4 dashes Lavender Bitters
Lime wedge (garnish)
Bar mixing glass
Muddle apple and orange in mixing glass. Add brandy, vermouth, bitter liqueur and bitters along with ice. Mix well for 15 to 20 seconds, then let sit so the flavors intertwine. Strain into rocks glass over ice, making sure to press as much of the juice out of the muddled fruit through the strainer. Garnish with lime wedge and serve.