What Bartenders Should Know about Brandy - dummies

What Bartenders Should Know about Brandy

By Ray Foley

Brandy is made by distilling wine or fruit and then aging it in oak barrels. For bartending purposes, the difference in brand varies from country to country. Soil, climate, grapes, production methods, and blending give each brandy its own unique flavor and style.

When brandy is produced, it undergoes four basic processes: fermentation of the grape, distillation to brandy, aging in oak barrels, and blending by the master blender.

American brandy

Brandy was introduced to California more than 200 years ago by Spanish missionaries. Taking advantage of the healthy soil, good climate, and water, American brandy production primarily occurs in the San Joaquin Valley. California produces the largest percentage of American brandy, and all California brandy has to be aged a minimum of two years. Here are some popular brands:

  • Carneros Alambic: The first alambic (cognac-style) brandy in California.

  • Christian Brothers: This brandy is processed and aged in Napa Valley.

  • E. & J. Gallo: Gallo produces E. & J. Brandy (Gold), E. & J. V.S.O.P. Brandy, and E. & J. White Brandy.

  • Germain-Robin: Another excellent alambic brandy from California.

  • Korbel: A California brandy from the Korbel Distillery.


Pisco is a South American brandy with a long history dating back to the 16th century. It’s a colorless or amber-colored grape brandy. Pisco is imported from both Peru and Chile, and both countries claim to be the original producers of this spirit. Here are a few brands:

  • Chilean Piscos:

    • Pisco Control

    • Pisco Especial

  • Peruvian Piscos:

    • BarSol

    • Campo de Encanto Pisco

    • Macchu Pisco

    • Pisco Portón

    • Tres Generaciones

Brandies from around the world

Check out the following list to find the names of just a few brands that are worth trying:

  • Asbach Uralt (Germany): The top-selling brandy in Germany.

  • Aztec DeOro (Mexico): A 12 year old brandy made using the solera method. (See the nearby sidebar “The solera method” for details on this technique.)

  • Brandy de Jerez (Spain): Produced in southern Spain.

  • Carlos I (Spain): Ranked among the finest in the world.

  • Don Pedro (Mexico): Pot-stilled and solera-aged.

  • Fellipe II (Spain): The number-one-selling Spanish brandy in the United States.

  • Metaxa (Greece): The most famous Greek brandy.

  • Presidente (Mexico): The largest-selling brandy in Mexico and the world.

  • Stock 84 (Italy): Produced by Stock Distillery of Trieste, Italy.

Cognac and armagnac are two special types of French brandies.

Fruit brandy

Fruit brandies are produced from all kinds of (guess what?) fruits. The fruit is washed and ground into a mash. Water and yeast are added and allowed to ferment. After the sugar metabolizes, the mash is pressed and the liquid is then distilled. Some fruit brandies are aged in oak barrels.

When shopping for fruit brandies, you may see the term eau-de-vie, which refers to any fruit brandy or any brandy not qualified as armagnac or cognac. Brandy snobs often throw around this term.

Some of the major fruit brandy types are

  • Applejack: An apple brandy produced in the United States.

  • Calvados: An apple brandy made from a variety of apples from northwestern France.

  • Framboise: Made from raspberries.

  • Kirsch and Kirschwasser: Made from cherries.

  • Poire: Made from pears, usually from Switzerland and France. (Poire William is a pear brandy that contains a fully mature pear. While each pear is still on the branch, it’s placed in the bottle. When the pear is mature, it’s washed in the bottle, and the bottle is then filled with pear brandy.)

  • Slivovitz: Made from plums, usually from Germany or Hungary.

Fruit-flavored brandies and Pomace brandy

In the United States, fruit-flavored brandies are classified as cordials and are usually bottled at more than 70 proof. Sugar, natural coloring, fruit, and other flavorings are added. You can find brandies flavored with such diverse ingredients as apricots, bananas, coffee, blackberries, and peaches.

Pomace brandies are produced by the fermentation and distillation of grape seeds, stems, and anything that remains after grapes have been pressed and their juices extracted. Pomace brandies are neither aged nor colored. The most popular are grappa (Italian), marc (French), and orujo (Spanish).

Storing and serving suggestions

Brandy is traditionally served straight up in a snifter after dinner, but it’s also mixed with water or soda and can be found in some famous cocktails, including the delicious Brandy Alexander. Store an unopened bottle out of sunlight.

After opening, a bottle of brandy can last up to three years. Brandy doesn’t improve with age in the bottle, so it will taste no better if you let it sit in the bottle in your basement for ten years.