Brandy is an aromatic distilled spirit and knowing how to drink different types of brandy can enhance your enjoyment of this warm, fragrant, and delicious liquor. Brandy is made from wine (fermented fruit juice), whether from grapes or another fruit wine. For example, Cognac and Armagnac are both French brandies made from grape wine, while Calvados is a French brandy made from apple wine. There are various ways you can drink brandy to show it at its most enjoyable, from a simple neat brandy to brandy-based cocktails.
Drink Brandy Neat
The most classic way to drink brandy is in a special cocktail glass called a brandy snifter. The snifter has a bowl and rim shape that directs the brandy to the appropriate part of your tongue and delivers the aromas to your nose.
Drink at Room Temperature
Drink brandy at room temperature, which makes the most of the flavors and aromatics in the spirit. Bring the brandy to room temperature by leaving the bottle out on the counter for about an hour.
Pour It Into a Snifter
Pour the brandy into the snifter without ice (neat). The proper serving amount for brandy is 1.5 ounces.
Use Your Hand to Warm the Brandy
Hold the bowl of the snifter in the palm of your hand to warm the brandy gently.
Sniff the Brandy - Carefully
Do not put your nose in the snifter and sniff. Instead, hold the snifter at around chest height and take a gentle sniff from above the rim of the glass. This will deliver the aromas of the brandy to your nose without singeing the inside of your nose with alcohol fumes. Move it closer - to about even with your chin - and sniff again to get a different set of aromatics of the brandy. You will also smell the aromas from a closer range as you sip the brandy from the snifter, but don't take super deep inhales through your nose as you drink.
Take Small Sips
As you drink, take very small sips. Allow the brandy to roll around on your tongue before you swallow it.
Some people warm brandy by gently holding the bowl of the snifter above a candle for a moment or two. You can even purchase a serving set that has a candle and a snifter. However, warming the brandy over a candle isn't necessary and can even over warm the brandy, releasing some of the harsher alcohol aromas. It's best to simply warm the brandy by holding the snifter bowl with your hands as opposed to heating the brandy with a candle. Never microwave or heat brandy on the stovetop.
Brandy Designations and Types and How to Drink Them
Drink high-quality brandy neat. This includes brandies such as Armagnac and Cognac, along with high-quality fruit brandies such as a nice apple brandy, some quality American brandies, and eau de vie. Brandies often have quality designations on them, and this can help you decide whether they're best neat, or if you may be better off enjoying them in a cocktail.
AC brandy is the lowest brandy quality designation, so many of these brandies are best consumed in cocktails. AC brandies are barrel-aged for about two years. Taste the brandy and see how you like it. If it tastes good to you, feel free to drink it neat. However, these brandies are often best with a little help from some other cocktail ingredients. Try AC brandy in a sidecar cocktail.
VS stands for "very special". These brandies are barrel-aged for a minimum of three years, so they've had time to mellow and take on some interesting flavor qualities from the barrel. VS brandies can be used in cocktails, such as a brandy alexander, with a splash of soda, or, if you like the flavor of the brandy by itself, neat.
VSOP stands for "very special old pale," and brandies with this designation have been barrel-aged for at least five years. The age and barrel aging mellows the brandy, and VSOP brandies are often perfect for sipping neat, although they are also good in minimalist cocktails such as an old-fashioned made with brandy in place of the whiskey.
XO stands for "extra old," so brandies with this designation have been barrel aged for a minimum of six years. You may also see these brandies labeled as Vieille Reserve or Napoleon. These brandies are best neat.
This is old brandy. It's aged at least six years, but most of them have been aged for decades, so these tend to be the highest quality brandies. Drink these neat. Don't heat them. Don't mix them. Just savor them.
Vintage brandies (those marked with a year) are typically only made from the best years, so these tend to be fairly high-quality brandies. Drink neat.
Types of Brandy
Perhaps the best known types of brandy come from France and are named after the regions where they are produced.
Cognac is France's most famous brandy. It's made from grape wine and is produced in the Cognac region of France. Remy Martin, Courvoisier, and Hennessy are all well-known Cognac brands. Many Cognacs are best neat or in simple cocktails such as with a splash of soda.
Armagnac isn't as well known as Cognac, but it is another quality French brandy made from grape wine. It has a delicious, warm flavor and tends to be slightly more affordable than Cognac. Jollite is a well-known brand of Armagnac. Try Argmagnac neat or in a simple brandy cocktail such as an old-fashioned.
Calvados is a French apple brandy that comes from the Normandy region. It's a deeply flavored brandy with notes of apple and wood from the barrels it is aged in. Try it neat or in a sidecar made with calvados for a slightly different flavor profile from the classic.
Brandy de Jerez is a Spanish grape wine brandy that is aged similarly to Sherry in Sherry casks. Drink it neat.
Pisco is South American brandy made from grapes. Enjoy it in a Pisco sour.
Grappa comes from category of brandies called pomace brandies. These brandies are made from materials left-over from the winemaking process, and Grappa is Italy's most well-known pomace brandy. Drink grappa neat at room temperature.
Fruit brandies include flavors like apple, cherry, and pear. You can mix these in cocktails in place of other brandies to add interesting flavor profiles or sip them neat at room temperature just like you would any other brandy. If the flavors and aromas are too strong, add an ice cube and a splash of soda.
Eau-de-vie is a light brandy that is clear and colorless. It can be made from various fruits of varying quality levels. It's basically an unaged brandy, so the fruit flavors and aromas are more forward than in other brandies. Enjoy eau-de-vie neat at room temperature, on the rocks with a splash of soda, or in a craft cocktail.
Whether you savor a high-quality brandy neat or enjoy it in a delicious cocktail or with a splash of soda, brandy is a tasty and satisfying spirit. So, try drinking different types of brandy to see which you like and how you like to drink them.