Guide to Brandy


The word brandy is derived from brandewijn, a Dutch word that means “burned wine.”  It is a liquor that is distilled from either wine or another kind of fermented fruit juice.  A majority of brandies are 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume).  For centuries it has been enjoyed as both a cooking ingredient and cocktail.  You should not choose this spirit on price alone because a great cocktail can be ruined by a low-quality brandy.



The brandy making process does vary between varieties.  However, four basic steps are always required.  The fruit is first fermented into wine.  Next the wine is distilled into alcohol.  After distillation, the next step is the aging process.  This is the key step that differentiates both the variety and quality of the brandy.  Even the kind of oak used for the cask helps to determine whether the brandy will be Armagnac or Cognac.  The last brandy production step is blending the liquor according to taste.


Cognac is a brandy that comes from France’s Cognac region.  It is a spirit made with grapes.  It must be made with 90% colombard, folle blanche and/or ugni blanc grapes.  The wine that these grapes produce is low in alcohol and high in acid, which provides Cognac with its distinct flavor.  Many original cocktails use cognac as a base ingredient.


The casks used for aging Armagnac in France’s Gascony region use Troncais and Limousin oak.  They are essential for producing the spirit’s strong flavor, which is what distinguishes the spirit from Cognac.  For most cocktails, it is too strong.  Armagnac is not recommended as a substitute for other brandies.  However, it does enhance a D’Artagnan or Alabazam cocktail.

Spanish Brandy

Originating from Spain’s Andalusian region, originally Spanish brandy was created for medicinal purposes.  Brandy de Jerez is currently the most popular of all the Spanish brandies.  The solera system is used, which involves young spirits being added to older barrels during the aging process.  These kinds of brandies have a tendency to be sweeter than other grape variety types.


This type of brand comes from South America, mostly from Chile and Peru.  In recent years, it has been gaining popularity.  There are four kinds of pisco, depending on what grapes are used: Pisco Mosto Verde, Pisco Acholado, Pisco Aromatico and Pisco Puro.

American Brandy

A majority of American brandies are made on the West Coast using grapes that are grown in the local area.  Although the cheaper brands have a tendency to be very sweet, there are also numerous quality American brandy varieties that are available as well.  In terms of what grapes are used for these brandies, there aren’t any regulations.  Therefore, the differences among these brandies can vary a lot.  High quality American brandies can be used for any cocktail calling for brandy as an ingredient.

Flavored Brandy

Wines and fermented fruit juices can produce many different flavored brandies.  They each have their own distinctive taste.  Peach, cherry and apricot brandies are very popular for making cocktails such as Zombie and Golden Dawn.  Other notable flavored varieties include Calvados, an apple flavored brandy from Normandy, Kirsch, a tasty cherry brandy, and Ouzo, A Greek brandy that has anise as its base.


This french term refers to fruit brandy.  It means “water of life.”  It has a very light fruit flavor and is an unaged, colored and clear spirit.  It is made from several different kinds of fruits.  The most common ones are yellow plum, pomace, peach, pear and apple.  It is usually served chilled and used as the base spirit for certain liqueurs like St. Germain and Domaine de Canton.