two glasses of brandy on barrels

How to Drink Brandy: Your Expert Guide

No liquor conjures images of sophistication quite like brandy. It brings to mind the kind of person who has a study full of first editions, a box of fine cigars, and a crystal decanter. Brandy, however, is a category of liquor that has a lot of variation.

Cognac is one of the most famous styles of brandy and the type that goes best with the fine cigar image, but it’s not the only kind of brandy. Armagnac, Grappa, Pisco, and Calvados are some other regional styles of brandy that all have their own delicious character.

In this guide, we’ll let you in on the secrets of this unique liquor and help you find the best way to enjoy it.

What Is Brandy?

Brandy is a distilled wine. This wine can be made from grapes or other fruits (such as apples in Calvados and Applejack). The fermented liquid is distilled, concentrating its alcohol content and flavors. The distillation process also means that it is no longer a wine, but a spirit or liquor.

Since brandy can be made from many different wines, this style of liquor is very diverse in flavor, aroma, and even color.

The word brandy comes from the Dutch word “brandewijn,” but France produces some of the most beloved regional brandies. Italy, Cyprus, and Greece are famous for their brandy offerings as well. It’s important to remember that there are excellent brandies available from across Europe and the Americas.

What Is the Alcohol Content of Brandy?

While most wines have an alcohol content ranging between 11% and 13%, brandy is much stronger. According to US law, brandy sold in America must have an ABV of at least 40%. Some brandies can have an ABV as high as 60%, and some European varieties can be as low as 35%.

The famous Cognac sits at 40% ABV, while some Grappas can be a little lower.

How to Serve Brandy?

Brandy is generally considered to be a digestive, sipped after a meal, such as in the case of Grappa. Turkish Raki will sometimes be served alongside your meal, mixed with water or ice to give it a cloudy, milky appearance.

When served as a digestive, the liquor will be served in small glasses, usually fluted. Despite their small size, you aren’t meant to take it as a shot. Instead, enjoy the complex flavors by slowly sipping it.

For brandies like Cognac, the classic snifter glass is often used for serving. This short, round-bottomed glass is slightly tapered toward the top and with a short stem. The shape of the glass makes it perfect for cradling in your hand, gently warming the liquor. That, combined with swirling it, releases the aromas and flavors of your brandy.

Strong brandy with an ABV on the higher side can be enjoyed on the rocks, like whiskey. There are also a few classic cocktails that make brandy the main character.

What Is a Serving Size of Brandy

Like most liquors, a shot is considered a serving size of brandy. Shots are l.5 ounces or a little over 44 mL. If you have a cocktail jigger, you can get a perfect 1.5-ounce shot every time.

Can You Drink Brandy Straight?

Brandy is perfectly happy to be the bell of the ball. Delicious and complex, many cultures serve their local brandy on its own, especially after a meal. However, liquor should be enjoyed, and if you don’t like drinking brandy straight, you can try it on the rocks or in a cocktail. It's also important to note that you can experiment with cognac if you're not a huge fan of brandy. It's more potent and less sweet.

What Are the Best Mixers for Brandy?

Brandy isn’t usually mixed with sodas or other high-volume mixers. Most brandy cocktails only add a few complimentary elements into the mix.

A lot of brandy cocktails add a creamy element to the mix to balance the strong flavor of the liquor. The vintage Brandy Alexander uses heavy cream along with creme de cacao to create a rich mixed drink.

The Pisco sour adds egg white and lemon to create a creamy, viscose texture. Lemon juice also features in brandy cocktails, like the classic sidecar.

What Other Liquors Go Well With Brandy?

When it comes to mixing brandy with other liquors, there are a few that stand out for their ability to blend with brandy.

Sweet vermouth is a fortified wine flavored with botanicals and naturally sweetened. It’s featured in many brandy cocktails, adding a touch of sweet-tart richness to the drink.

Cointreau or triple sec are both citrus liqueurs. Cointreau is a little smoother and more complex, but either one can be used to provide a bright lift to your brandy cocktail.

Benedictine is a French herbal liquor that boasts 27 herbs and spices in the recipe. Combining it with brandy is so popular that the producer began selling B&B– a pre-mixed blend of the two.

What Are the Best Brandy Recipes?

Brandy is not only delicious to drink, but it can elevate many recipes as well. The classic French Boeuf Bourguignon, a hearty and rich take on beef stew, calls for brandy to be added to the simmering stock to enrich the flavor.

Brandy can be added to gravy or finishing sauces for meats such as pork and duck as well. If you have a sweet tooth, you can make brandied fruits, such as cherries, or add some brandy to chocolate-based desserts.

How to Prevent a Brandy Hangover?

Many popular styles of brandy are brown liquors. The good news: the myth that brown liquors make you drunk faster is patently false. The bad news: dark liquors contain more cogeners, a chemical caused by barrel aging, and that can cause a more intense hangover.

To make sure the memory of your brandy isn’t tarnished by a terrible hangover, be sure to enjoy liquor in moderation. Avoid dehydration by drinking water between each alcoholic drink and get extra credit by adding an electrolyte supplement to your water.

Make sure you can get enough sleep after a night of drinking, so your body has time to process and repair. Eating a meal before drinking and starting the following morning with a hearty breakfast will also help. Avoid taking painkillers that contain acetaminophen because it’s hard for your liver to process, and you’ve already asked enough from that organ at the moment.

Brandy Will Leave You in High Spirits

two glasses of brandy with brandy in glass liquor bottle

As you can see, there’s no need to be intimidated by brandy. It’s a drink enjoyed around the world by many cultures, often to cap off a great meal. While brandy is often enjoyed on its own, feel free to experiment with some classic cocktails that feature this distilled wine.

Thanks to the many distinctive varieties, you can explore the world of brandy to discover your perfect match.

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