If you’re an aficionado, you likely feel like fall is the whiskey-drinking season. Though we tend to agree, this is no excuse to sleep on other aged spirits. Because autumn is also the best time of year to sip on cognac and brandy. These grape-based spirits (also known as eaux-de-vie) are perfectly suited for slow sipping on a cool evening around a fire or in a classic cocktail like the Sazerac or the French 75. They also work well mixed into hot cider (and other hot cocktails) instead of bourbon or Scotch.
“I love the apple and pear notes at play,” says Dave Whitton, co-owner of Prank in Los Angeles. “they make for a great hot drink.”
“They have a balanced body that isn’t overly sweet or viscous,” adds Jenghis Manning-Pettit, lead bartender at B&O American Brasserie in Baltimore, “making brandy and cognac the perfect wingmen for most traditional fall spices.”
With the weather taking a hard turn over the past two weeks, we decided to ask some of our favorite bartenders to tell us their go-to cognacs and brandies for fall sipping and mixing.
Gautier VS Cognac
Allie Torres, bartender at Refinery Rooftop in New York City
Absolutely loving Gautier VS Cognac right now. This golden-colored beauty has been popping up on my radar more and more this year due to its price point and flavor profile. Its extensive aging process in French oak barrels delivers a spicy yet fruity aroma that plays well in citrus-forward cocktails and is divine in a Sidecar.
Camus VSOP Cognac
Emmanuel “Manny” Pressley, bartender at Brabo Brasserie in Alexandria, Virginia
A good reasonably priced Cognac is the Camus VSOP line. They have a few different selections of this variation, and I love the Elegance and the Borderies lines. The Elegance has that after-dinner sweetness. The Borderies is a standout in cocktails.
Available for $30, its taste rivals much more expensive products.
Torres 15 Reserva Brandy
Cameron Shaw, head bartender at The Lookup in New York City
Honestly, when I’m looking for an excellent aged brandy at an approachable price point, I don’t usually reach for cognac. While there are a ton of excellent cognacs out there and the style is iconic and carries a certain guarantee of quality, in the fall I tend to reach for Torres 15 Reserva brandy. It’s a bit more robust, retails at a price point lower than ever Pierre Ferrand 1840, and will play well in all of your favorite cognac cocktails.
Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac
Lauren Mathews, lead bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC
One of my favorite and well-priced cognacs is Pierre Ferrand 1840. The grapes used are from a premier region in the Cognac area of France. It has a beautiful floral nose with a nice, warm and fruity palate. It’s great in a Cognac French 75.
Remy Martin 1738 Cognac
Nikki McCutcheon, beverage director at Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge in New York City
Remy Martin 1738 is a great value cognac, retailing for under $60, and brings characteristics of both a VSOP and XO. It has full-bodied, smooth characters, with notes of fig, plum and baking spices, which make it the perfect sipping cognac in the fall.
Hine VSOP Cognac
Cole Battaglia, bartender Orange Hill in Orange, California
My go-to Cognac is Hine. This is because it’s simple, classy, and full of flavors like bright apricot and white pepper.
Paul Giraud XO Cognac
Brittany Villafane, mixologist at db bistro moderne in New York City
My favorite is Paul Giraud XO. It is produced in the Grand Champagne region and never blended with other years. Aged for 10 years instead of 6, it’s a great product that far exceeds the price.
Camus VS Cognac
Alexis Brown, founder of Causing a Stir in Chicago
My favorite reasonably-priced cognac for fall drinking is Camus VS Cognac. Some of the larger houses get more attention but this offering from Camus stands up against them all.
Hennessy VS Cognac
Hemant Pathak, head mixologist at Junoon in New York City
My go-to Cognac is Hennessy VS. It works great in a sidecar, adding balance to this sour category cocktail. If you want a taste of liquid sunshine, this ought to work nicely for me.
Pierre Ferrand Réserve Cognac
Daniel Carrillo, bartender at STK Steakhouse in Nashville
Pierre Ferrand Réserve. It doesn’t receive a lot of the attention that many other cognacs on the market do, but it’s a well-balanced cognac perfect for cocktails or even sipping neat.
Hennessy VSOP Cognac
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Brian Krux, bartender at Topnotch Resort in Stowe, Vermont
Hennessy VSOP. Hanging in the $40 range this cognac delivers rich flavors while staying super smooth. Side note, one’s street credit goes up a few notches when ordering a Hennessey & Coke or a Hennessey Sidecar.
Cardenal Mendoza Clásico Brandy
David Bliszcz, bartender at The Franklin in New Orleans
Forget the cognac. My absolute favorite reasonably-priced brandy for fall is from Spain. Cardenal Mendoza Clásico – Brandy Solera Gran Reserva is an exceptional Brandy de Jerez, aged for an average of 15 years in Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez Sherry Wine casks. Its appearance is a bright, transparent dark mahogany with glints of copper. The flavor is reminiscent of Madeira with hints of raisin and a long, smooth finish. Everything about this brandy is elegant: the appearance, the nose, the bottle. This bottle would be a beautiful addition to any home bar for the very reasonable cost of $50-60.
Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège Cognac
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Mariel Burns, Head Bartender at Trademark Taste + Grind in New York City
I really like the Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège. Distilled from grapes and aged at least 4 years in the eaux-de-vie style it picks up rich notes of baking spice, vanilla, and baked apple.
Martell VS Cognac
Samantha Barton, brand ambassador at Tequila Avión
I like to drink Martell VS. It’s an undeniably smooth cognac with hints of caramel. It tastes luxurious but doesn’t break the bank.
Courvoisier VS Cognac
Brandon Lockman, lead bartender at Red Star Tavern in Portland, Oregon
I’m still surprised how relatively inexpensive Courvoisier is. I like using cognac in my Vieux Carre. It’s a better-quality substitute for brandy.