Spirits & Liqueurs Cognac & Other Brandy

The 14 Best Brandies to Drink in 2021

For your next Sidecar or to sip and savor solo.

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Brandy, put simply, is a spirit distilled from fruit. And, like most major categories of spirits, there are a variety of different styles to choose from. From unaged eaux-de-vie to the long-aged Armagnacs and cognacs, “the production methods, flavor profiles, provenances and base materials are so varied,” says certified cognac expert Ms. Franky Marshall. “I’d say it’s the most diverse category out there."

For general parameters, think seasonally: “In winter, you might want to cozy up to a brandy with some age and a fuller body; whereas the summer months might call for something youthful, lively and more floral,” says Marshall. With bottles from artisan producers to world-renowned brands, here are the best brandies to drink right now.

Best Overall: Philbert Rare Cask Sherry Finish

Philbert Rare Cask Sherry Finish Grande Champagne Cognac

Region: Cognac, France | ABV: 41.5% | Tasting Notes:  Toasted almonds, Orange blossom, Tropical fruit finish

“I prefer cognacs that have no additives, or at least used judiciously, to let the true artistry of the cellar master and the integrity of the distillate shine,” says Marshall.

This is one such bottle whose flavor profile impresses her. Philbert's rare cask finish cognac is the handiwork of brothers Xavier and Pierre-Olivier Précigout, who Marshall describes as “grower-producers striving to innovate by making eaux-de-vie their own way.” They were the first in the Cognac region to age their eaux-de-vie in sherry casks, and the oloroso barrels add nutty, cherry-rich roundness to their excellent, terroir-driven brandy. “They also have a sauternes-cask finish that’s worth seeking out as well,” says Marshall. 

Runner-up Best Overall: Hennessy X.O.

Hennessy XO

Region: Cognac, France | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes:  Candied orange, Peppery spices, Dark chocolate

Created in 1870 by Maurice Hennessy, this brandy is the world’s most popular XO or very old cognac. It is a blend of over 100 eaux-de-vie, aged for up to 30 years in young barrels, which impart their oak character to the spirit.

Candied orange, cherry and dark chocolate notes mingle with the vanilla and peppery spice of the casks, which are present in the long, warm finish. Though Hennessy suggests trying the brandy over ice, it’s also lovely in a snifter with just a few drops of water to open up the aromas. 

Best Armagnac: Darroze 40 Year Les Grand Assemblages

Darroze 40 Year Les Grand Assemblages

Region: Gascony, France | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes:  Nutty, Fruit forward, Bright citrus, Endless finish

Distilled once in a simple column still and less diluted, Gascony’s artisanal brandy is richer, more rustic, more textural—and less industrial—than its better-known competitor, cognac. It also often aged much longer, and as Desoblin points out, “you can get something really old made in small quantities by real people who are also the farmers, for the fraction of the price of a cognac.”

This 40-year-old Armagnac offers “very long and intense flavors: nutty, fruity, and citrusy with a rich, seemingly everlasting finish.” At less than $200 a bottle, it’s “an amazing gift to yourself,” says Desoblin, so go ahead and splurge. 

Best Cognac: HINE Homage

HINE Homage

Region: Cognac, France | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes:  Intensely floral, Cedar, Coconut

This multi-vintage tribute to Hine's founder, Thomas Hine, reflects the days when barrels were shipped from sunny France to chilly, wet England, where slower aging brought depth to the spirit. To create it, the master blender combined a very old, or XO cognac aged in France with other vintage cognacs pulled from “early landed” barrels that had been resting in England. The result? “A sipper for relaxation time,” says Desoblin. Intensely floral and delicate with notes of cedar and coconut, “it’s very refined, for contemplative moments that most of us don’t have enough of," he says.

Read Next: The Best Cognacs

Best for Summer: Augier L’Océanique

Augier L’Océanique

Region: Cognac, France | ABV: 40.1% | Tasting Notes:  Ripe citrus, Delicate spices, Grapefruit, Saline

You’d be hard-pressed to find a kinship between this brisk, seaside bottle and the rich, walnut-hued brandies further within France’s Cognac region. Still, this one comes from four-centuries-old distillery Augier in the Cognac area, which ranges out into the Atlantic Ocean, encompassing the island of Oléron. Blonde in color and snappy, spicy and salty in flavor, it will even appeal to tequila fans and is perfect for summer sipping.

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Best Budget: Deau VS Cognac

Deau VS

Region: Cognac, France | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes:  Toasty bread, Ripe oranges, Peppery spices

"[Deau VS Cognac] is straight to the point," says Desoblin. That’s what you want from a VS (“very special") cognac whose youngest brandy in the blend is two years old. This cognac is clean and smooth, like orange sherbet, with a bit of spice and bracing heat at the end.

Need a suggestion on how to use it? “A great way to drink brandy right now is in a highball,” says Marshall. “With a VS cognac, I love a bit of fizz: a quality tonic, ginger ale, sparkling wine or sparkling water. Add a bar spoon of a fruit-based syrup if you’d like, then garnish it with a slice of your favorite citrus, and maybe add some herbs if you're feeling fancy.”

Read Next: The Best Tonic Waters

Best Under $50: Bertoux Brandy

Bertoux Brandy

Region: California, USA | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes:  Burnt sugar, Floral, dried apricots

Made by bartenders for bartenders, this copper pot-distilled brandy is excellent for sipping and mixing. Jeff Bell of New York's PDT and Thomas Pastuszak, wine director at Nomad, blended this California elixir from distillate aged up to seven years in French and American barrels.

Gliding over the palate with a burnt-sugar charisma that resolves in an apricot-bright finish, it recalls the early days of classic cocktails when brandy was the complex base spirit. Try it mixed into a Sidecar or, better yet, a Vieux Carré where this brandy melds very nicely with the rye whiskey, Benedictine liqueur and sweet vermouth.

Best for Sipping: Camus XO Borderies

Camus XO Borderies

Region: Cognac, France | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes:  Floral aromas, Figs, Walnuts, Fruit zest, Velvety

Perhaps the greatest cru, or vineyard area, for growing the grapes that are distilled for French brandy is Borderies, an area of the Cognac region. “Camus has always specialized in Borderies cru," says Flavien Desoblin, owner of New York’s The Brandy Library. "And this brand flagship is the benchmark for the cru.”

Bright, floral aromas come through in this brandy, but the palate is far more wintery, fruity, round and mellow. Notes of fig and walnuts balance out the zest. Desoblin, who also describes the texture as “quite velvety," says it's “ideal for sipping without breaking the bank.”

Best Apple Brandy: Osocalis Apple Brandy

Osocalis

Region: California, USA | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes:  Crushed apple, Orange zest, Vanilla bean

Some apple brandies can be cloying, while some too tart. But this bottle from distiller Dan Farber is the perfect balance between the two. An American brandy pioneer, Farber studied in Cognac and other regions back in the 1980s before he founded Osocalis Distillery in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Desoblin describes this bottle as having a “very, very calvados-like” nature. “In a blind tasting, you would think this is a 20-year-old brandy from Normandy,” he says. He likes its blending of richness with “vibrant, fruity, crushed-apple aromas,” and the “many-layered complexity” that comes in waves of apple expression.

Best South American: Singani 63

Singani 63

Region: Bolivia | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes:  White flowers, Fresh fruit, Herbal, Bright

“In South American brandy, there’s a battle between Peruvian and Chilean pisco,” says Desoblin. But for something “unique,” he prefers singani, a spirit from Bolivia. Produced by a family that has been distilling since 1530, the brandy’s base is the aromatic muscat of Alexandria grape, grown high up in the Andes and naturally fermented for a wildly perfumed nose. It’s twice-distilled in copper pots, as in Cognac, then rested in stainless steel for eight months where it mellows.

This line of singani in particular was created by filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. “Fruity and exuberant with a nose of white flowers, it makes great cocktails,” says Desoblin. Swap it in for the pisco in a pisco sour.

Best for Sangria: Cognac Park VSOP

Cognac Park VSOP

Region: Cognac, France | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes:  Ripe citrus, Salted caramel, Stone fruit

VSOP, or “very superior old pale,” refers to cognac in which the youngest brandy in the blend is at least four years old. This one from fourth-generation master blenders Lilian and Jérôme Tessendier has the orangey flavor that meshes with citrus and other fruit in a classic Spanish punch. It’s not too creamy or cumbersome. Instead, it’s lithe and zingy, which is just the flavor profile you want when you're making a pitcher of Sangria. Plus, the cognac is flavorful enough that a little goes a long way.

Best Spanish: Lepanto Brandy Solera Gran Reserva

Lepanto Brandy Solera Gran Reserva

Wine chateau

Region: Jerez, Spain | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes:  Dried fruit, Toasted nuts, Dark cocoa

To be called a Brandy de Jerez, a spirit must be made in the Jerez area of Andalusia’s famed “Sherry Triangle," aged in American oak that previously held sherry, and matured via a solera system. This bottle is made using wine from estate-grown palomino fino grapes distilled in centuries-old copper alembic pots, then aged for a minimum of 12 years.

Dan Nicolaescu, beverage manager at New York's Copper and Oak, describes it as “concentrated and alluring with a rich mahogany color with golden sparkles, intoxicating flavors of nuts, dried fruit and cocoa, and a long, fulfilling finish.” He says the Lepanto brandy works well in stirred drinks like an Old Fashioned, where it plays beautifully with the Angostura bitters. 

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Best Californian: Germain Robin California Alambic

Germain Robin California Alambic

Region: California, USA | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes:  Meyer lemon, Grapefruit, Baking spices, Luscious finish

California is an emergent region for the spirit nowadays, but Germain Robin has been making luscious brandy there for nearly 40 years, since the day when one of the founders picked the other one up hitchhiking.

This bottle, with its citrus-salad panache—Meyer lemon, tangerine, grapefruit peel—bespeaks the sunny state in which it’s produced. Distilled in traditional alembic stills from California varieties like pinot noir and aged seven years, it is “California craft brandy at its finest,” says Kim Stodel, bar director at Los Angeles’ Providence. Stodel loves it in a Sazerac, where its “spicy nose and rich body really compliment the cocktail.” 

Best for a Brandy Old Fashioned: Martell Blue Swift

Martell Blue Swift

Courtesy of Total Wine

Region: Cognac, France | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Baked apple, Vanilla, Oak

What brandy could be a better stand-in for whiskey in an Old Fashioned than a brandy that’s been aged in whiskey barrels? Back in 1783, Martell was the first producer in Cognac to ship brandy to the United States. Now the house gets even cozier with the U.S. by finishing its VSOP in Kentucky bourbon barrels. The result is a dark-hued, smooth-bodied spirit with cognac’s characteristic stone fruit flavor overlaid by vanilla-sweet whiskey notes. It adds dimension to an Old Fashioned.

Final Verdict

The best brandy can feel like a once-in-a-lifetime sip. With its hand-crafted rusticity and long aging, Darroze 40 Year Les Grand Assemblages (view at TheWhiskeyExchange.com) offers a transporting, unicorn experience.

FAQs

What is brandy?

Brandy is a spirit distilled from fruit. Grapes, apples, pears, berries of all kinds—There is a wide variety of raw materials to choose from. Some brandies are left unaged. They are clear, intense distillates that show the character of fresh fruit. Many others are barrel-aged, where they transform into mellow, golden elixirs over time.

What's the difference between cognac and brandy? 

All cognac is brandy, but not all brandies are cognacs. The aged brandy known as cognac is produced from grapes grown in the Cognac region of France, where brandy has an illustrious history. There, the grape varieties and growing areas, the minimum 30 months of aging, the French oak barrels, copper pot stills, and the winter distillation are all strictly enforced. 

How is brandy made? 

Fruit for brandy is fermented into a wine, which is then distilled to produce a spirit. For aged brandy, the distillate is rested in oak barrels, and several barrels’ contents are blended together to create the final product.

What's the best way to drink it?

There’s no one way to drink brandy. Though brandy is often thought of—and greatly enjoyed—as an old-school after-dinner drink, to sip neat from a snifter as you smoked your cigar, the spirit has a long history as a staple ingredient in classic cocktails. Today, many VS brandies are made with an eye toward mixology. 

Why Trust Liquor.com?

Betsy Andrews has been writing about wine and spirits for two decades. She’s been fascinated with both aged and unaged brandies since she was a kid, when her father’s bar contained a bottle of Poire William with the pear inside it, and her mother’s drink of choice was the Brandy Alexander. Having spent much time reporting in New Orleans, Betsy’s own favorite brandy-based cocktail is a Vieux Carré, but she’d rather drink a good brandy in a snifter with just a few drops of water to open it up.

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