Bartenders Guide to Brandy
Brandy is a typical after dinner drink produced by distilling wine. The brandies produced from fermented fruits other than white grapes, are commonly known as fruit brandies, and offer a distinctive and “fruity” flavor.


Unaged white wine is generally used as a base for brandy as even high quality older wines do not result in a smooth brandy. Distillation of the fermented juice, mash, or wine must occur at less than 190 proof then aged in white oak barrels. “Immature” brandy is only aged for two years, but most brandies are normally stored three to eight years. For those brandies only aged a short time, caramel is sometimes used to color the brandy during the “barreling down” process.

Fruit brandies are also wildly popular, especially mixed in cocktails or served as after dinner liqueurs. Europe is known for traditional apple brandies of Calvados and Armagnac from the South of France, as well as Kirsch cherry brandy from Germany and Slivovitz plum brandy from the Balkans, to name just a few. They are created by adding an extract or concentrate of the fruit to a brandy base, resulting a distinctive flavor.

A third type of brandy called “Pomace Brandy” is produced by using the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes after they have been pressed. These clear, light-colored brandies are popular in Europe, with the most well-known being Italian Grappa.


Brandy is an alcoholic drink that some claim has been around for thousands of years with the Chinese being the first to distil grapes or other fruit. More common is the belief that brandy comes from the Dutch Brandewijn, meaning “burnt wine”. Europe is known for producing some of the world’s best brandies and a variety of different types of brandies as well. That being said, countries around the world produce brandies of varying qualities.

The quality of brandy will depend on the wine used as a base, but most importantly, how long it has been aged. Very Special (VS) brandy has a 3 year minimum aging process, while Very Superior Old Pale (VSOP) indicates that it has been in a barrel for at least 5 years. Extra Old (XO) is of the highest quality and holds a 6 year minimum aging process.

Bartending Tips

Depending on the quality of the brandy, it can be served neat or in a cocktail. Typically high quality brandies should be served in a snifter to allow the drinker to gently warm the liquid with their hand and release the aromas. It is not uncommon to sip brandy as an after-dinner drink.
For those brandies that have not had the opportunity to age for long periods of time, it might be best to mix them into cocktails. A Sidecar is a popular mix of brandy, lemon juice, and triple sec. Brandy can also be used instead of whiskey in drinks such as Old Fashions and Manhattans.

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