A beginner’s guide to drinking brandy

Paige Tucker | 10th February 2018


If you think that brandy is one of those spirits you only buy at Christmas, you have a couple of glasses, and the rest goes to the back of the drinks cupboard to be forgotten, think a little differently.

The name “brandy” covers a multitude of drinks and is a generic term for any distilled spirits made from fermented fruit, no matter what kind of fruit.

You’ll probably be familiar with the archetype of brandy, Cognac, and it’s likely to be the kind you hear being asked for by name after dinner, or the request might just be for a brandy. A good bartender will offer you a choice of young or old or in between but might suggest an Armagnac, more boldly flavoured than cognac, or if it’s an on-the-ball bar you might receive a suggestion to taste a calvados from Normandy made of distilled apples or pears.

The enormous range and varieties of brandy can be bewildering, so to begin with you might want to explore the different cognacs available that are made from grapes.

What to taste

Brandy has long been associated with groups of older men sitting at the dining table after a sumptuous meal, bringing out the cheroots and drinking brandy after the ladies have retired to the drawing room.

The drink has lost that old style image, and it’s often the choice of drink in the club scene, with younger hip drinkers grooving to the latest sounds with some sips of a fine cognac or a brandy cocktail.

Depending on your tastes you could try starting with a younger, sweeter brandy before moving onto drier ones that have been aged for longer. The younger ones, known as Very Special and aged for two years, should have a clear fruit presence while the Extra Old, aged for six years or more, can take on flavours of the wood it has been aged in. You never know quite what to expect – is it a touch of vanilla or a spice? – so you’ve got plenty of exploration to do.


What glassware to use

It’s important that you use glasses that bring out the full aroma and taste of your brandy, making Dartington Crystal brandy snifters a good match for your liquid. Brandy is a delicate spirit and very fragrant to the nose, so the large bowl of the glass provides plenty of surface area for the spirit. As the glass narrows into a smaller opening, you will get the focused aromas that are an important part of learning your way around different types and ages of the drink.

Brandy glasses have a short stem, unlike wine glasses, to prompt you to use your hand to cup the bowl, gently warming the spirit and allowing even more floral fragrances to emerge.

A drink for the future

Learning about and enjoying brandy is part of exploring different tastes and smells, and it won’t take long before you feel you are a brandy connoisseur.