Grocery Guides

Brandy: How to Pick the Right Bottle and Other Common Questions

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Last Updated: Sep 21, 2022

What is brandy?

Brandy is a distilled alcohol. In reality, it’s more of a catch-all name for spirits made from distilled wine. The most popular brandies are made with fermented grapes (what one would call regular wine), but there are also fruit brandies made from other fruits—such as peaches, blackberries, apples, etc. In that case, the hard liquor gets the name of whatever fruit is its base. Thus, you can have a peach brandy or apple brandy (also known as applejack).

The name brandy comes from the Dutch word brandewijn, which means “burnt wine.” That is a nod to both how the drink is made (the distillation process required heat) and what it tastes like. Brandy’s warm, smokey, fruity, and sweet notes are what make this drink so unique from all other spirits.

Brandy has an alcoholic content of between 35-60%. It’s usually drunk neat (meaning, at room temperature) and drunk from a special glass called a snifter. Because it’s a potent beverage that packs a deliciously flavorful punch, brandy is often served at the end of an evening meal, making it a digestif. However, certain kinds of brandy are best enjoyed in a cocktail, mixed with other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Where did brandy originate from?

Brandy was first distilled in medieval Europe, around the 12th century. Back then, brandy wasn’t a drink you’d find at a tavern, but at an apothecary (an ancestor of the modern pharmacy). Physicians believed brandy could help cure illness, so they prescribed it to their patients. The hype around this spirit was so strong that it got nicknamed l’eau de vie, or “the water of life,” in English.

It was only in the 16th century that the first large-scale distilleries started making brandy. The hard liquor traveled worldwide aboard ships headed to Africa, Asia, and the Americas and immediately made a splash.

What is the nutritional value of brandy?

A 1.5fl.oz. serving of brandy contains 97 calories. Since most brandies have no added sugar, all those calories are coming from alcohol. The stronger the brandy, the higher the calorie count per serving.

How is brandy made?

The first step of making brandy is fermenting the fruit. This is made by adding yeast cultures to either fruit juice (wine) or pomace (the residue left behind after juicing the fruits). Since brandy can be made from various fruits, distillers have a lot of ingredients to choose from. What they pick in this step affects the aroma and flavor of the spirit.

Then, the fermented mixture is heated up and distilled twice. Two things happen during this step. First, the alcohol is coaxed out of the base wine, creating a much stronger drink. Second, the flavor is greatly improved. This is one of the reasons why brandy doesn’t taste the same as the wine it was made from.

The third step is aging, usually in oak barrels. With time, the wood changes the brandy’s flavor, making it more intense. Some distillers choose to age their brandy over a long period, while others age their brandy for just a couple of years.

The final step is bottling. The brandy is too strong at this stage, so it gets diluted with water to lower its alcoholic content. Some manufacturers add sugar and caramel-colored food-safe dyes to the spirit to easily and quickly tweak its flavor and appearance.

Cognac snifters with bottle on rustic wood table

What should I look for when buying brandy?

Choosing the right brandy becomes a lot easier once you know how to read labels.

The first thing you’ll see is some mention of the base wine used. Classic grape brandy (simply labeled as “brandy”) is more robust and traditional. Fruit brandies are always labeled with the word “fruit” and tend to be sweeter and lighter, especially when they’re made with summer fruits like peaches.

Then, there are different age categories. You’ll find these words on the label of most brandies, which will help you pick out the ideal bottle:

  • VS (very special) or three stars: A brandy that has only been aged for at least 2 years. It’s also sometimes labeled as “immature.” These brandies are best enjoyed in a cocktail.
  • VSOP (very superior old pale) or Reserve: The brandy has been aged for a minimum of 4 years and has mellowed out with time.
  • XO (extra old) or Napoleon: These are some of the finest brandies out there, as they’ve been aged for at least 6 years, so they should be enjoyed neat.
  • Hors d’Age: Aged for decades, this is the finest and priciest brandy you can get your hands on. Drink it neat to enjoy the subtle notes fully.

If you are looking to have your groceries delivered, you can easily shop for brandy via Instacart. After adding a product to your cart, use the “Instructions” option to notify your Instacart shopper about any preferences or specific directions on how to choose the best products. Shop for brandy.

How to store brandy

Keep an unopen bottle of brandy upright in a cool, dry, dark place. Never put it in the fridge or freezer. If stored correctly, a bottle can last a lifetime, even after it’s been opened, although it will slowly start losing some of its most delicate notes.

How to tell if brandy is bad

Brandy doesn’t spoil because it has such a high alcoholic content. That said, if your bottle of brandy has an odd smell and funky taste, it’s best to discard it.

What can I substitute for brandy?

You can substitute brandy in cocktails for whiskey or rum. While neither spirit tastes exactly like brandy, they can be useful in a pinch. If you’re cooking and a recipe calls for brandy, you can swap it for wine.

Where to buy brandy near me

Brandy isn’t a hard liquor to find, but getting it delivered to your home is as convenient as can be. When you order brandy via Instacart, you can choose the precise bottle you want by sending detailed instructions to your shopper. And thanks to same-day delivery, you can get your brandy delivered to your doorstep in under 2 hours, just in time for your brandy-tasting party!

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