We write often about whiskey, whisky, bourbon, rye, rum, vodka, tequila, and gin. But when it comes to brandy, we mostly keep our coverage to the holiday season. Its richer, more syrupy incarnations just feel very Christmas-y.
But brandy — a spirit made from wine or fruits — is more than just a seasonal sipper. Applejack feels very summery, and its a type of brandy. Cognac, Armagnac, pisco, calvados… it’s a big style that deserves your attention all year round.
“I love using brandy in a sidecar, and I love toddies with them too,” says Una Green, a United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) bartender in Los Angeles and a West Coast Whiskey Ambassador. “I love to split base a toddy with brandy and whisky — one part D’Usse to one part Aberfeldy 12. Have fun, get wild, it’s all delicious.”
Green isn’t the only bartender who reps hard for brandy. So we asked a handful of our favorite bartenders to tell us the best brandies to sip and mix with to help make the tail end of winter warmer.
Château de Pellehaut Armagnac Tenareze
Austin Zimmer, bartender at Le Prive in New York City
Château de Pellehaut Armagnac Tenareze; it’s distilled and aged in a traditional way and has an interesting combination of different grapes — creating a pear, peach, mandarin, and chocolate flavor.
Average Price: $46.99
Argonaut Fat Thumb Brandy
Jennifer Akin, general manager at Rumba in Seattle
Argonaut Fat Thumb Brandy: Great for winter, but also year-round, this brandy is basically a winter pie in a spirit. Caramelized pear and baked apple pie with baking spice, oak, coconut, and an amazing richness.
Plus, they have Rita Hansen, a badass female master blender.
Average Price: $49.99
Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami
Laird’s Applejack is my reach in brandy for mixing at home. Split base with any bourbon or rye and great holiday spice awaits in your so preferred cocktail.
Average Price: $20.99
Chateau de Laubade 1999 Armagnac
Brandon “Habi” Habenstein, bartender at The Kitchen & Bar at Bardstown Bourbon Co. in Bardstown, Kentucky
Get a bottle of Chateau de Laubade 1999. This is a single vintage that is a sleeper at liquor stores. You can find this bottle for about $90 and it is possibly the most complex spirit you’ll ever taste.
If you like earthy flavors in your whiskies, you must taste the rustic flavors of a fine Armagnac.
Average Price: $79.99
Cyrano 25 Armagnac
Josh Curtis, lead bartender at Carbon Beach Club in Malibu, California
Cyrano 25 Armagnac is a lovely brandy from Armagnac, France aged 25-40 years in French Oak Barrels. Its brulee-meets-cacao notes make it a lovely after-dinner tasting.
Average Price: $119.99
Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac
Andy Printy, beverage director at Chao Baan in St. Louis
This winter, I recommend the Pierre Ferrand 1840. It’s one of the few over-proofed expressions in the category, but drinks very complex. The nose is light with dry wood and a touch of dry pear. The palate is rich with heat and spice on the front and finishes with light citrus and black pepper.
It’s higher proof and boldness also lends itself to great cocktails such as a sidecar or stinger.
Average Price: $44.99
Copper & Kings Butchertown Brandy
Jack Tillman, mixologist at Rand Tower Hotel in Minneapolis
Copper & Kings Butchertown. Sitting at 124 Proof, the Copper & Kings Butchertown Brandy stands tall and strong. Especially when aided with a bit of water or ice, it reveals some gentle fruit notes under a blanket of oaky proof, provided from being aged in both ex-bourbon barrels and new American oak.
If you’re a fan of bourbon and are curious about making an occasional switch to brandy, this is the place to start.
Average Price: $59.99
Philbert Rare Cask Sherry Finish Cognac
Anastacio Garcia Liley, bartender at Axe and Oak Whiskey House in Colorado Springs, Colorado
My best overall brandy for winter drinking: Philbert Rare Cask Sherry Finish. The oloroso barrels really make this toasty cherry deliciousness. It’s perfect for mixing or sipping neat.
Average Price: $57.88
Kirstin Sabik, mixologist at Sneaky Tiki in Pensacola, Florida
Korbel. This two-time gold medal-winning brandy is produced using 100% of the finest California grapes. With over 130 years of experience, you can indulge in the rich, caramel and toffee taste.
Average Price: $10.99
Kimberly Basnight, lead bartender at Fins Bar in Nashville
Bertoux Brandy is my favorite because it is great for mixing or sipping. You will get hints of apricot and burnt sugar which makes it a perfect blend. There’s a reason it’s one of the most popular brandies on the market.
Average Price: $42.99
Ciroc VS French Brandy
Sire Negri, lead mixologist at Havana Beach Bar & Grill in Rosemary Beach, Florida
Trending in the brandy world is a newer release from Ciroc, Ciroc VS French Brandy. This release from Ciroc is distilled from French grapes, creating a delicious result. Strong notes of sweet caramel are a perfect accompaniment in a classic cocktail, such as the sidecar or in a modern-style mixed drink.
Average Price: $36.74
Remy Martin VSOP Cognac
Stephen Lasaten, food and beverage manager at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands
If you’re looking for an affordable high-end brandy: Remy Martin VSOP. But it needs to be done right: in a heated glass, served warm. Velvety and sweet on the palate with a warm and strong finish. It’s a nice warm hug to your soul and gives you the feeling of classiness when sipping it from a baccarat snifter.
Average Price: $34.99
Somerset Cider Brandy
Jim Wrigley, beverage manager at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa in the Cayman Islands
Keeping with the Calvados-vibe, but with another wild card, the English cider brandy from the Somerset Cider Brandy Co. is a delicious slice of boozy home-baked apple pie, complete with a biscuit nose and a spicy finish that will give many more expensive cognacs a run for their money… if you can find it.
Average Price: $50
Michele Gargiulo, front of house manager and sommelier at Hampton’s Restaurant in Sumter, South Carolina
Hopefully, someone else is buying this one for me this winter: Hennessy XO.
This is the ultimate cognac, aged for sophisticated nights. Milk chocolate, candied plums, coffee beans, and a hint of jasmine are the dominant flavors. It is exceptional served neat, but also can benefit from being put on the rock — one large is best — which helps to open it up and showcase more delicate floral aromas and whispers of peach and walnuts. I love to drink it while eating dark chocolate and candied walnuts.
Average Price: $199.99
Andres Rairan, lead bartender at The Social Club in Miami
I’m going to go a little off the “brandy grid” here and say that Singani 63 is my favorite brandy for winter. I worked with this spirit last year and fell in love with it. It comes from Bolivia, so the flavors are very unique and completely different from any traditional brandy you’re thinking about.
Because it is clear, working with it in a cocktail is extremely easy. I used a rosemary syrup and added a touch of passion fruit puree to create a beautiful martini last winter and it was one of my top sellers for the season.
Average Price: $32.99
Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac
Mark Phelan, director of beverage operations at 16” on Center in Chicago
Many bartenders love Pierre Ferrand Cognac and I’m no exception. Their Ambre bottling is my favorite: a lean, dry Cognac with a long, delicate, almost floral finish that is a work of magic. Old enough to be an X.O., it carries the same complexity, but a youthful profile and friendly price point make it perfect for sipping and mixing.
Average Price: $46.99
Martell Blue Swift Cognac
Jane Danger, national mixologist for Pernod-Ricard USA
Martell Blue Swift is my go-to. It is finished in ex-bourbon barrels to give you the best of both spirits. Cognac shines with fruit and spice, bourbon brings vanilla, caramel, and oak. A bit Martell Blue Swift neat with a winter beer is the new nightcap for the long chilly evenings.
Average Price: $45.99
Remy Martin Louis XIII Cognac
Sarah Rexwinkle, key bartender at The Grand Marlin in Pensacola, Florida
Remy Martin Louis XIII Cognac is a traditional Cognac from the central region of France that everyone should try at least once in their lifetime. It opens on the palate with floral, fruit, and spice aromas.
Average Price: $3,500
Lepanto PX Solera Gran
Allen Lancaster, master cocktail Craftsman at The Bar at The Spectator Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina
I’ve had the good fortune to visit Jerez de la Frontera in Spain and truly gained an appreciation for Sherry brandies. My current favorite is Lapanto PX Solera Gran Reserva and it generally costs around sixty dollars. Apricot, papaya, and marzipan stand out for this nutty, mildly sweet, and elegant brandy.
Average Price: $74.99
Christian Drouhin Calvados VSOP
Ilan Chartor, head bartender at MILA in Miami
Christian Drouhin Calvados VSOP. Hands down, no doubt. I’ve been drinking this a lot lately. Maybe too much. It’s elegant and fruity with great hints of spice and velvety mouthfeel. A dram of that and a lit fire seems like a match made in heaven.
Average Price: $74.99