Brandy may be scarce on many of today’s cocktail menus, but it’s really the OG spirit of classic cocktails, and we think it deserves a bit of a Renaissance.
Brandies of various kinds were distilled throughout the American northeast before Whiskey was ever even dreamed up farther inland, fueling the livers of the revolution and eventually making some of the first cocktails. Old school drinks that we generally associate with whiskey, like an old fashioned or Sazerac, were originally made with brandy, before changing national tastes made American whiskey the barrel aged spirit du jour. Going back and trying some of these drinks in their original, brandy-driven form can be a delicious diversion, the deep fruity, floral, and sometimes spicy flavors of the spirit standing in beautifully for the more familiar whiskey, while bringing something totally different to the table.
Here are a few of our favorite brandy classics to get you inspired to start cocktailing with this ever autumnal spirit, just in time for fall. Happy mixing!
The original form of this cocktail, appearing in print as early as 1862, is simply an old fashioned with champagne instead of a spirit. But the real winning incarnation of the drink adds a measure of brandy (generally cognac), fortifying your standard glass of champagne into something with a little extra fat on it.
4-6 oz Brut Champagne (or other dry sparkling wine)
1 oz Brandy (Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac)
Barspoon Gum Syrup (Liber & Co Gum Syrup)
2–4 dashes Aromatic Bitters (Australian Bitters Aromatic)
Combine brandy, syrup, and bitters in a champagne flute and stir in ice cold champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist and drink quickly.
A classic from Barbary Coast era San Francisco, one of the only places in America to serve Pisco at the time. It notably calls for pineapple gum syrup, an old school sweetener that works wonders in a basic sour format with any base spirit.
Shake ingredients well with plenty of ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Brandy Old Fashioned
The Brandy Old Fashioned is Wisconsin’s unofficial state drink, where it is often served with a veritable fruit salad muddled in it, bolstered by soda water or even 7-up. Our take on this midwestern staple forgoes the soda and classes up the fruit presence to that of aromatic garnish, keeping it in line with a classic old fashioned, while still nodding respectfully in the direction of the great Badger State.
Stir ingredients together in an old fashioned glass over large ice cube or several medium ice cubes and garnish with orange twist and brandied cherry.
A simplified version of a Brandy Crusta, a popular 19th century New Orleans Cocktail, this is basically a Cognac Sour with orange liqueur to zhuzh it up a bit. Made famous originally at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris in the 20’s, this version adds a bit of Demerara syrup for a heavier mouthfeel.
Shake all ingredients with plenty of ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
Though not as famous as it’s buddy the Sazerac, the Vieux Carré may actually be New Orleans’ most sophisticated contribution to the classic cocktail canon. The powerful tipple demonstrates clearly how, back in the day, no town could stir up a stiff one quite like the Big Easy. A split base of Rye and Cognac, two kinds of bitters, an herbal French liqueur, and a fortified wine... its a careful balancing act, and a true thing of beauty to behold.
1 oz Rye Whiskey (Rittehouse Bottled in Bond Rye)
1 oz Cognac (Camus Elegance VS Cognac)
3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth (Cocchi Vermouth di Torrino)
1/4 oz Benedictine
2 dashes Aromatic bitters (Angostura)
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Stir ingredients with plenty of ice and strain into an old fashioned glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with a lemon twist, orange twist, or both.
The only cocktail featured here that uses a non-grape brandy, the Jersey City is based on an old cocktail that used New Jersey’s famous Applejack as its base. This continental upgrade comes from Bar Agricole’s Thad Vogler and substitutes an elegant Calvados in its place. Subtle pineapple, Bitters, and Absinthe highlight the floral, fruity spirit rather than masking it, and a lemon peel garnish brings out its brighter aromatic notes. A simple cocktail to make, but one certainly worth writing home about.
2 oz Lemorton Calvados Selection
2 barspoons Pineapple Gum Syrup (Small Hand Foods Pienapple Gum Syrup)
2 dashes Absinthe (St. George Verte Absinthe)
2 dashes Aromatic Bitters (Miracle Mile Forbidden Bitters)
Stir ingredients over a large ice cube in an old fashioned glass and garnish with a lemon twist.