Brandy is one of the more refined spirits on the market. The distillation of wine — or champagne in the case of cognac — results in a subtle drink that feels akin to sunshine in a glass. It’s super easy to sip, which is a bit of a punch in the gut since this stuff isn’t cheap. Brandy needs to age in oak for a long, long time to achieve those heavenly levels of smoothness. That aging means a big expense for the distillers and that means we have to pay a premium for the good stuff.
Dropping serious cash on booze is always a nerve-racking experience. There are a lot of options out there and that leads to easy misfires. A fine brandy should have a little oak that’s slightly sweet, spicy, and earthy — without anything overpowering. Then, depending on where it’s made, the brown elixir will have a mix of fruit orchards, nuttiness, and bursts of warmth that’ll transport you to a sunny day on a vineyard. It’s a complex drink and hits that sweet spot of almost-too-easy-to-drink. Seriously, don’t be afraid to swig this stuff straight from the bottle like a boss.
To help you drop your cash on the right bottle, we thought we’d put forth ten bottles of brandy that hit our high standards. Let’s dive right in!
Hennessy VSOP Privilege
Ol’ Henney is always a solid choice. Hennessy’s Privilege VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) is a big step up from the standard bottles. It has a little more nuance and character built in. Plus, this is a classic label and vibe all around.
The French cognac has a distinct honey note that gives way to a fruit orchard on a sunny day. Right at the end, you’ll get a hint of oakiness that ties the whole drink together nicely. It’s straightforward and always goes down easy.
Germain-Robin Fine Alambic
Out in California, Germain-Robin is bottling some of the best brandies in the world. Their small craft batch Fine Alambic is a stunning example of the spirit and 100 percent worth tracking down.
This sip is a complex drink that leans into the raisins, ripe figs, and lush pears. Then you get a rush of creamy creme brûlée followed by subtle spice and leather. Lastly, there are small echoes of dark cocoa and even dried orange peels. This is American brandy at its best.
Over in Spain, brandy dominates from Veterano to Carlos I to 1866. Problem is, Spanish brandy hasn’t really caught on in the U.S. market the way the French brandies have. It is what it is. Still, if you’re looking to expand your horizons from the French masters, Cardenal Mendoza is the perfect place to start.
After spending at least 15 years aging, this mahogany elixir bursts from the glass like a ray of sun on a bright day on the plains of Spain. There’s a svelte texture up front that hinges on dried stone fruits, roasted nuttiness, and allspice earthiness. Then there’s the slightest whisper sweetness from the sherry casks the brandy spent so much time in. At $50-$70 per bottle, this one will truly you rethinking all that cash you’re spending on the French stuff.
Pierre Ferrand Reserve
Pierre Ferrand makes damn fine brandy in Cognac, France. Their Reserve is a huge step up from their (already really good) lower-priced bottles. The extra time in the barrel adds a massive amount of smoothness and complexity without costing you more than $100.
The Reserve is a very deep cognac. It starts out with dark oak and walnut tree hints. Then a rush sweet and ripe fruit alongside acidic apple skins hits. Finally, a subtle dark roasted coffee ends the sip. The earthiness of the walnut and sweetness of the fruit is washed away with a bitter subtly that’s just flat-out delicious.
Remy Martin XO
Remy is a classic, full stop. Their XO (Extra Old) is one of the finer cognacs you can buy. Granted this one is going to set you back a C-Note but everybody will you know you’re a motherfucking baller.
Once you pour a snifter and give it a moment to open up, you’ll get a rush of orange zest followed by cinnamon and maybe a distant hint of jasmine. Then you sip and all that oaky vanilla and honey hit your tongue. It’s lush and slightly spicy and might take you to a bakery that just pulled an order of creamy danishes out of the oven.
In the end, Remy XO will always leave you warm and happy.
Delamain Pale & Dry XO
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Delamain is a classic cognac house. They’re best known for making unique cognacs that are as fascinating to drink as they are delectable. This, of course, remains true with their very fun Pale & Dry XO.
The beauty of this cognac is in its subtly. Right up front, there are hits of plump cherries, crunchy apples, and spicy orange tea. That leads right into orchards of fruit and echoes of spice before the wood of the oak sets in with a refreshingly dry finish. This one never overpowers but it still gives you big ideas in every sip.
De Luze Cognac Xo
De Luze has mastered the art of crafting champagne grapes into cognac. Each of their bottles is a gift from the alcohol gods that keeps on giving. Their XO is probably one of the smoothest on this list and worth the (high) cost.
The XO hits you up front with big dried grape, apricot, and prune notes. Under that, there’s a walnut earthiness that anchors the glass. The dried fruit notes carry through with a very slight sweetness that immediately goes warm and mildly spicy right at the end. When combined, it equals one great glass of brandy.
Martell Cognac Cordon Bleu
Martell remains the cognac lovers cognac. Their Cordon Bleu is often considered one of the best bottles of brandy you will ever find on the retail consumer market and, damn, if this isn’t some of the finest stuff there is.
Cordon Bleu opens bold with earthy nutmeg adding a velvet texture with a nice smooth prune edge. Then comes the orange zest to brighten everything up along with echoes of juicy pineapple. Finally, a dark chocolate essence takes over before an ever-so-slight dry Earl Grey tea leaf comes into play. It’s fascinatingly complex and almost too easy to drink, considering the price tag.
Hennessy Cognac XO
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Yeah, we have to include another Hennessy. As much as we love the Privilege, there’s just no beating their XO. Plus, we all have room for two bottles of Henney on our shelves, right?
XO starts out bold with a spiciness that’s mellowed by lush prunes. Then a sharp and earthen cinnamon gives way to slightly sweet dried apricots coming into balance everything. Lastly, there’s a wash of dark and almost creamy chocolate at the end with the ever-so-distant thought of black pepper. This one warms the bottom of your soul while putting a smile on your face (as well it should for $15 a glass).
D’Usse Cognac XO
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Jay Z’s premiere cognac is the best bottle you can buy if money isn’t an option — well, before you get into the $1,000 bottles. D’Usse is all about living the H to the Izzo lifestyle.
This is a money bottle of brandy. There’s a complex mix of nuttiness, dark chocolate, and caramel right out front. That’s followed by dried fruits, cloves, and plenty of oakiness. Right at the end, this one shines with plump apricots, more dark chocolate, and a whisper of black pepper. It’s a strong finish to a great cognac.