People can get a little snobby about their liquor of choice. We get it, we love nerding out about spirits. But we also recognize that sometimes perceptions about price or a name hold people back from discovering some delicious drinks. For instance, the best bottle of brandy is just as good as the best bottle of cognac. The two styles of booze are born from the same foundation. Cognac just has to be from a specific region of France with specific requirements, brandy is a little looser and comes from every corner of the world. Both can be pretty spectacular when handled well.
The balance of fruit-forward (grape) distillate with long aging processes equates to booze that’s easy-to-drink while still complex enough to talk about. The barrel-aged, white wine elixir is worth taking a deep dive into. There’s a lot of nuance in the differences between cognacs from France and other brandies from France, but really, less when looking at brandies from Germany, Spain, America, Russia, and beyond.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of five great brandies to have on hand at your next party. This is a journey through the world of brandy, cognac, and Armagnac where the regionals styles are paramount. Let’s start that journey!
Hennessy Cognac VS — The Welcome Drink
What to talk about: Old Henny had a long history of being the go-to cognac at the liquor store long before Kanye took a bottle to the 2009 MTV Movie Awards. For one, this bottle won’t break the bank. Moreover, it’s a delight to drink. Maison Hennessy has been making this stuff for over 200 years in Cognac, France. This is an old school expression that works perfectly as a gateway to brandy and your party.
Tasting Notes: Fruit is the main presence here. There’s a clear sweet, white wine grape rush up front that has a very slight sour note. There are hints of the barrel left on the backend with a very mild dry spiciness. This is the bottle of cognac you drink when you’re not sure if you’re going to like brandies. Make sure to have some Yeezus playing in the background when pouring.
Buy A Bottle Here For $29.99
Korbel Brandy VSOP — The Pre-dinner Cocktail Hour
What to talk about: California’s Korbel is a unique brandy that works as a sipper but really works as a cocktail base. The Brandy Old Fashioned was designed around the Sonoma brandy. Korbel uses white and red wine grapes (most European brandies only use white) and is aged in charred American oak. This process helps to make the brandy a decent substitute for whiskey in your next cocktail.
Tasting Notes: Nothing is overwhelming here. There are clear notes of oak vanilla, mild spice, and almost sour fruitiness. Then, on the sip, a nice, sweet, fruity nature takes over with the mildest of alcohol burns (in a good way). Hints of citrus bounce around in the background. At this price point, don’t be afraid to mix this into an equally spicy and sweet old fashioned.
Cardenal Mendoza Brandy — With Dinner
What to talk about: Okay, we’ve had a nice hit of Henny and a cocktail. Now, it’s time for a heavy-hitting brandy to take your party to the next level. You’re pairing with food — so nobody is going to hit the floor here. Cardenal Mendoza has created one of the better Spanish brandies out there today. The booze is made from Airen grapes (grown in La Mancha), aged in old sherry casks for up to 15 years (in Jerez), and blended perfectly.
Tasting Notes: There’s a fascinating note of dark roasted coffee bitterness to this one. Then a rush of bright orange zest, oaky vanilla, and Christmas cake spices come into play. There’s a slightly creamy nature to counterpoint those bitter notes with a clear almond nuttiness. Overall, this a complex sip that feels like it’s somehow captured the Spanish sun in a bottle.
Asbach Uralt — For Dessert
What to talk about: Germany’s Asbach is the closest you’ll get to cognac outside of France. The brandy was designated “weinbrand,” wine brandy, after the French dialed in their appellation designations for cognac and prohibited anyone outside the region from using that term for their brandy back in 1892. The grape distillate is made from German grown grapes but aged in French Limousin oak (like cognac) for up to three years. The end result is a blend of two to three-year-old brandies.
Tasting Notes: Aspach starts off with nice oaky vanilla, buttery caramel, and ripe notes of apricot. Then a warm pepper spiciness comes into play with a rush of dark, sweet fruits. The end is heavy on the alcohol with a slightly creamy edge. It’s complex and bridges the worlds of cognac and non-French brandies.
Delord 25 Ans D’Age Armagnac — For Lingering After-Dinner Conversation
What to talk about: Armagnac is the “other” brandy from France. Produced in the Armagnac region of Gascony in southern France, this brandy has a lovely level of nuance that makes it worth seeking out. This is also booze that people may have heard of but not quite know what it is, making it the perfect place to end the night.
Delord is a single house operation where grapes are grown organically and sustainably by a family. The grapes are pressed and twice distilled before going into the barrel for long resting periods of up to 25 years. This is the good stuff, folks.
Tasting Notes: Where Henny is an introduction to what brandy is, Delord 25 is an introduction to the heights brandy can reach. There’s a deep oak nature to this one. That vanilla spice is supported by bright orange zest, sweet prunes, old bouquets of dried wildflowers, and whispers of allspice. Next, a rush of ripe fruit comes into play. Grapes, cherries, plums, peaches, and oranges all play a role here. It feels like you’re sipping from a fruit orchard in full bloom on a warm summer day in France.