Brandy is having a moment. Not only is its rich cultural history gaining a wider understanding, but its flavors and combination of fresh ideas and old-world techniques are garnering appreciation too. Companies like Bertoux and Copper & Kings are leading the brandy parade in the US and getting lots of love in the process.
For those who don’t know, brandy is a spirit made by distilling wine grapes (and sometimes other fruits). Oftentimes referred to as eau de vie (or water of life), the style extends to spirits like cognac, Armagnac, calvados, pisco, obstler, Brandy de Jerez, and a few others. In recent years, pisco, a brandy produced in Chile and Peru, has grown increasingly popular in the US.
Brendan Bartley, head bartender and beverage director at Bathtub Gin in New York City tries his best to turn guests onto the unique flavor notes of this South American brandy.
“I’d really like Pisco to get more notice in the general consumer field,” he says. “As I see a rise in the Latin and South American spirits categories, Pisco should be getting a little more spotlight.”
With the desire to give pisco and other brandy variants a little shine, we asked well-known bartenders for their picks for the best bottles to crack this fall.
Mitchell Cochran, bar manager at Shades Bar & Grill in South Walton, Florida
Hennessy is the best-known brandy for a reason. With a very competitive price point, it is easy to drink neat for a warm feeling going down.
I prefer their VS because of its combination of high-quality and reasonable price.
View this post on Instagram
🇨🇵🥞Crepe Suzette Grand Marnier – sauce orange parfait🍊🍧 __________________________ #adesszertiskész #👩🍳❤️ #crepesuzette #finomillatok #franciadesszert #szívvellélekkel #egyszerudenagyszeru #desszert #szeretet #mutimitkészítettél #palacsinta #narancs #orange #grandmarniersauce #orangeparfait #grandmarnier #france🇫🇷 #homemadepancakes #pancakes🥞 #narancsos #pacojet #pacojeticecream
Marla White, lead bartender at Lona Cocina & Tequilera in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
The best brandy to drink this fall and why? You can’t go wrong with Grand Marnier. Technically a liqueur, it’s a combination of cognac brandy, bitter orange, and sugar. It’s the must-have topper/floater for any hand-crafted margarita.
Martell Cordon Bleu Cognac
Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami
Depending on your intentions for the evening, you can pick any bottle from the Martell portfolio and be in good spirits. The Cordon Bleu is a great bottle that stands out as a bold blend of individually well-produced spirits that come round out into a worthy pour.
Germain-Robin Alembic Brandy
Evgeny Anisimov, bartender at Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa in San Diego
I believe that Germain-Robin Alembic Brandy is one of the best-kept secrets of American brandy. With its silky and rich texture and well-balanced notes of fruit and oak, it is on my list of must-try.
Germain-Robin would be a beautiful way to enjoy spectacular California sunsets this fall.
Hennessy XO Cognac
Molly Safuto, bartender at Mila Rooftop Bar in Glendale, California
An all-time favorite is Hennessy XO, the flavor is rich and interchangeable. If you’re willing to spend the money, it’s definitely worth it.
Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac
View this post on Instagram
Pierre Ferrand 1840 is a pre-phylloxera 3 star style of cognac. The idea was to recreate the taste of young cognac from before the phylloxera crisis. That’s why PF 1840 is a “forte amplitude” blend, mostly aged in a dry cellar. Coming soon @apothekecraftspirits @winedepotph @winewarehouseph . . . #pierreferrand1840 #cognac #grandechampagne #craftspirits #craftcognac 📷: Maison Ferrand
Andy Printy, beverage director at Chao Baan in St. Louis
The best for my money is Pierre Ferrand 1840. With enough complexity to enjoy on its own, but at 90 proof, it has the bones to stand up in any cocktail. Try it with a sidecar, old fashioned or my personal favorite, cognac stinger over some freshly crushed ice.
Caravedo Mosto Verde Pisco
Brendan Bartley, head bartender and beverage director at Bathtub Gin in New York City
I’m a big fan of Caravedo Pisco, in particular the Mosto Verde. Great fall brandy. On the nose, it’s crisp and clean, with notes of honey, apple, melon, and then on the palate, some deeper flavors of baking spice, blossoms, and citrus.
Western Grace Brandy
Max Stampa-Brown, beverage director at Borrachito in New York City
Western Grace Brandy is wildly versatile and special. We have it on the back bar at The Garret’s East Village location and I describe it to guests as “vanilla caramel sunshine in a glass.” Those guys started the company out of an apartment on Avenue C and I’m glad they did. They captured this warmth from La Mancha that is crazy delightful.
Germain-Robin XO Brandy
Gavin Humes, bartender at Scratch | Bar & Restaurant in Encino, California
I’ve got to rep California for this one. Germain-Robin is a really beautiful example of a great brandy company. I love their XO. While all their lines are great, the XO is the perfect combination of price and complexity. I dig sipping some of that whenever I can find the time.
Argonaut Fat Thumb Brandy
Dave Purcell, beverage director at The Waterfront Venice in Venice, California
The brandies of Argonaut represent a very localized expression of the yield of this fruit, focusing on highlighting the grapes from these seasons, and taking a very American approach to the construction of these flavor profiles, rather than classic European sensibilities. The pale golds and auburn colors of these brandies reflect fruit that you rarely find distilled, and the blended combinations tonally represent light and delicate orchard fruits that entirely convey what I’d imagine a California cornucopia would contain.
The Fat Thumb expression is my absolute favorite. It combines high creamy tones in its golden base and finishes with hints of tart red fruit, accented with toasted wood sugar and spice. For its price point, this is a versatile option to have simply neat or with still or sparkling water, but backboned enough to stand up to medium-bodied vermouth or mixed citrus in a cocktail. I usually drink the brandy and read the back label’s blend breakdown — forgetting just enough with each sip to start the cycle over again, resulting in a pleasantly repeating routine that empties the bottle way faster than I ought to.