Brandy is a hugely diverse umbrella term in the world of spirits, but a deliciously flavoursome one at that. To get technical, largely speaking, to be classified as a brandy, the base ingredient of the spirit needs to be grape-based (with the exception of Eaux de Vie and fruit brandies such calvados, which uses apples or pears).
Because of the widespread nature of grape vines and the diversity of different varieties, grape brandy is produced pretty much everywhere around the globe, so here’s our pick of the best brandies to buy – including a few unusual ones. Look out for armagnac in particular: this rustic cousin to cognac is one of France’s most underrated brandies, and offers age and complexity at highly affordable prices. Our pick of the top 10 best brandies ranges from £23-50 a bottle, and includes cognac, armagnac and calvados, so you’re sure to find a bottle for you.
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Best brandy to buy at a glance
- Best Italian brandy: Vecchia Romagna Risvera Tre Botti, £44.84
- Best limited-edition brandy: Courvoisier Rouge Luxe, £42
- Best value brandy: St-Rémy XO, £23
- Best brandy for gifting: Martell VSOP, £46.94
- Best traditional cognac: Frapin 1270 Premier Cru Grande Champagne cognac, £42.75
- Best armagnac: Chateau De Laubade VSOP, £42.11
- Best refreshing cognac: Hine H By Hine cognac, £38
- Best calvados: Boulard Calvados VSOP, £32.02
- Best for sherry lovers: Gonzalez Byass Lepanto Solera Pedro Ximenez brandy, £47.95
- Best pisco: Qollqe Italia grape pisco, £35.99
- Best brandy alternative: Metaxa 12 Stars, £28
What is brandy?
Brandy is a broad term. The most ubiquitous brandies we drink are distilled from wine. However, this definition would exclude a number of brandy variations, such as grappa. To put it simply: brandy is a spirit made by distilling fruit, as opposed to whisky, which is made from grains and cereals.
Historically, the origins of the word ‘brandy’ are rooted in the Dutch name brandewijn – literally ‘burnt wine’ – which dates back to the 12th-century process of boiling wine down to reduce the volume in casks before transporting it overseas. The happy accident was that it ended up even more viscous, rich and utterly delicious, given the lengthy maturation in oak casks, which imparted both flavour and colour.
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What are the different types of brandy?
Brandies can fall under many categories, labelled according to where the brandy was produced or what it’s made from. Cognac is made in the Cognac region of France, while armagnac is produced in the Armagnac region. Aside from provenance, the two varieties are also separated by nuances in the distillation process. Another much-adored category of brandy is calvados, which is produced in Normandy using apples and pears. Grappa is made using pomace leftover from winemaking (it was traditionally considered a poor man’s drink), and must be produced in Italy, San Marino or the Italian portion of Switzerland. Pisco is similar in character to grappa, but this Latin American spirit is made using fermented grape juice.
Best brandy to buy 2022
Vecchia Romagna Risvera Tre Botti
Best Italian brandy
Championed by many as the best brandy producer in Italy, Vecchia Romagna was always destined for success. The house was founded by Jean Bouton, a French spirits producer and supplier to the Imperial House of Napoleon. Having enjoyed success in France, Bouton moved to Emilia Romagna and, in 1820, laid the foundations for one of the nation’s greatest distilleries.
The Tre Botti is a decadent blend of brandies aged in French oak, Slavonian oak and former red wine barrels. The end result is a nose of stewed dried fruits sweetened by hazelnut and cinnamon. Toasted hazelnut and oak are joined on the palate by more dried fruit and baking spices, with the experience deepened by the introduction of clove.
Courvoisier Rouge Luxe
Best limited-edition brandy
A limited-edition offering from the world’s most awarded cognac house, this bottle is the latest in the De Luxe series and pays homage to the brand’s illustrious history, dating back to 1828. Courvoisier’s red-and-gold motif takes centre stage here: metallic ink and embossed lettering elevates the eye-catching design, and the elegant, frosted bottle makes a classy Christmas gift.
The liquid inside is even more impressive than the bottle: smooth vanilla notes are deepened by a slick leather and sandalwood combination, with chewy dried fruits lingering at the finish.
Best value brandy
There are few brandies on the market that can boast a reputation comparable to St-Rémy XO. The world first sipped this back in 1990, and the bottle has gone on to win countless awards in the decades since. Presented in a striking black bottle, this is arguably the best-value brandy on the market, often coming in under £25. Oak and vanilla are lathered with honey on the nose, with each aroma carried through to the palate and met with brown sugar and ginger, chewy figs and cracks of pepper.
Master of Malt (£25.45)
Best brandy for gifting
A bit of jargon-busting for you here: VSOP denotes a Very Superior Old Pale, a brandy that’s been aged for a minimum of four years. An offering from one of the world’s most-famous cognac houses, the Martell VSOP comes in at less than half the price of the legendary Martell Cordon Bleu and gives you plenty of bang for your buck. Deliciously complex, the nose is a puddle of juicy summer fruits bursting with peach and plum; these fruits are carried through to the palate where they’re sprinkled with pepper and dry oak.
Master of Malt (£46.94)
The Bottle Club (£45.99)
Best traditional cognac
Considering brandy is historically intertwined with winemaking, it makes sense that location is of vital importance when deciding which tipple to opt for here. Frapin is produced in the Grande Champagne region, a sector of the Cognac region that many would argue is its finest.
The Frapin 1270 is dedicated to the Frapin’s family’s history in the region, dating back to the eponymous year. This multi-award-winning expression is worthy of its name; the nose boasts an alluring mist of lime and a more forthright plume of vanilla. Creamy vanilla carries through the palate, along with butterscotch and dashes of bright pepper.
Chateau De Laubade VSOP
One of the most accessible armagnacs out there, this VSOP (a ‘very superior old pale’ brandy, aged for a minimum of four years) brings a wonderful, light sweetness of honey, aromatic flowers and vanilla. Laubade combines some classic grape varieties from the Bas region (arguably the most premium) including Baco, Folle Blanche and Colombard, each one breathing life and character into the spirit.
Hine H By Hine Cognac
Best refreshing cognac
Hine is somewhat reinventing the direction of cognac, away from the traditional view of a brandy balloon glass, cigar pairing and dusty leather armchair. As fine as these things might be under the right circumstances, a lighter, more refreshing side to cognac is on the rise and H By Hine has been designed with the cognac cocktail in mind, especially long drinks, where it excels. Try it over ice, combined with ginger ale and a slice of orange zest and be prepared to be converted.
Boulard Calvados VSOP
The first of our ‘anomaly’ brandies, calvados, is every bit a brandy, proudly French and is quite possibly Normandie’s finest export (save for butter and camembert.) Boulard’s VSOP is distilled from cider produced in the Pays d’Auge region and matured in oak for a minimum of four years, giving a rich, buttery texture, notes of green apples and a little sweet Tarte Tatin. It makes a mean Old Fashioned cocktail too.
Gonzalez Byass Lepanto Solera Pedro Ximenez brandy
Best for sherry lovers
Gonzalez Byass is widely known for its exceptional sherry. In fact, a trip to Jerez is certainly incomplete without a visit to the company’s huge facility, which includes what can only be described as an Ampitheatre of Sherry and a museum, paying homage to the artistry of this excellent fortified wine. Gonzalez Byass also produce an outstanding brandy, which, after 12 years in a Solera vat (a smart term for marrying vessel) it is then aged for a further three years in thick, sticky sweet Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. Think notes of woody spice, intense dried fruit and tobacco. As complex as they come.
Qollqe Italia grape pisco
Peru’s supreme grape brandy is a thing of beauty when turned into a refreshing pisco sour (the national drink) but it is an unfettered delight on its own, poured over ice or paired with tonic. Qollqe is one of Peru’s only pisco distilleries with a female master distiller and the Italia (made from a base of fragrant Italia grapes) is full of light elderflower notes, fresh green apple and lemon zest. Truly outstanding. For more, check out our round-up of the best pisco to buy.
Simply Wines Direct (£35.99)
Metaxa 12 Stars
Best brandy alternative
Ok, so technically NOT a brandy. In the technical sense anyway. However we simply had to include this remarkable Greek ‘spirit drink’ (a clunky EU term) in this list, because it has all the hallmarks of a well balanced brandy: oak age and complexity, sweetness and delicate floral notes. Metaxa has nearly 130 years of heritage and is quite possibly the world’s oldest ‘bottled cocktail’, bringing together oak matured grape distillates, highly aromatic sweet wines from the Isle of Samos and a unique tincture of Mediterranean herbs, spices and rose petals. If you’re looking for a unique alternative to your traditional brandy, this needs to be near the top of your list.
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This review was last updated in November 2022. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.