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Best brandy 2023: The best Armagnac, Cognac and more from £16

Whether your drinks budget is under £30 or over £100, this is the best brandy in every category

Brandy may have an old-fashioned image, but it’s growing in popularity with the younger generation. It’s a broader church than you probably realise too: while most brandy is made from grapes, it comes in a wide range of varieties, with different styles and flavours, and there are fruit brandies too.

So, whether you want to sip your brandy after dinner or mix it in cocktails, read on to discover the most flavoursome and fantastic options available from all around the globe. Check out our buyer’s guide too, to learn more about what brandy is, where it comes from and what are the most common types.

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Best brandy: At a glance

How to choose the best brandy for you

What is brandy made from?

Brandy is a spirit distilled from wine or another fermented fruit juice. The name originates from the Dutch “brandewijn”, meaning “burnt wine”, and it’s thought to have been discovered when wine was boiled down to reduce its volume, with a view to making it cheaper to ship overseas. The result was an even richer drink that had taken on some of the taste and colour of its oak casks.

Today, there are many types of brandy to choose from; it can be aged or unaged, and it can come from anywhere in the world. In fact, today there’s pretty much no country that doesn’t make brandy.

What are the common types of brandy?

Cognac – considered by many to be the champagne of the brandy world. There are many styles, but all Cognac must be made from a specific selection of grapes, double-distilled in copper stills and aged for at least two years in French Limousin oak.

Cognac is usually blended, using grapes from different regions and classified according to age. For a VS (“Very Special”) Cognac, the youngest brandy must have been aged for at least two years; the VSOP (“Very Special Old Pale”, also known as “Reserve”) designation indicates a minimum age of four years. XO (“Extra Old”, also known as “Napoleon”) brandy must have been aged for at least ten years, while the oldest and most expensive Cognacs are referred to as “Hors d’age” – literally, “beyond age”.

Armagnac – hailing from a region south of Cognac. This uses column stills rather than pot stills, and the wines are distilled separately and only combined during bottling, which some people believe makes for a smoother taste. It uses a classification system similar to Cognac, although here VSOP indicates a minimum of five years’ ageing, and “Hors d’age” can be used for anything aged for more than a decade.

Fruit brandy – that is, brandy made from any fruit other than grapes, such as apples, pears, apricots, plums and cherries. Eau de vie is a popular clear fruit brandy that’s produced in France by fermentation and double distillation; similar beverages are produced in other countries, including German schnapps, Turkish raki and Sri Lankan coconut arrack.

Grappa – a distinctively Italian take on brandy It’s a strong, pungent drink made by distilling grape skins and seeds, as opposed to a sweeter grape brandy, which includes the grape juice.

Brandy de Jerez – Comes from Spain and is distilled once in copper stills, then aged in oak barrels. This must be produced in the Jerez area of Andalusia, within the so-called “Sherry Triangle”, and comes in three categories. Solera is the youngest and fruitiest, with a minimum average age of one year; Solera Reserva has a minimum average age of three years, and the Solera Gran Reserva is the oldest with a minimum average age of 10 years.

Any advice on serving and storing brandy?

As long as you keep the bottle tightly sealed and away from direct sunlight or heat, it should last indefinitely. It doesn’t improve with age once in the bottle, but nor should it go off if stored correctly.
Brandy is traditionally served straight up in a snifter after dinner, but some prefer it mixed with water or soda and it also lends itself to famous cocktails, such as Sidecar or Brandy Alexander.

How we test brandy

How better to test alcohol than by drinking it? Though it may seem like a straightforward case of sipping and swilling, we have a particular set of considerations when choosing brandy recommendations for our round up. We first test each brandy on its own, most brandy is designed to be savoured on its own, so we’re looking for those classic flavours whether it’s Cognac, Armagnac, Brandy de Jerez or one of the many others. It’s not just about tradition though, we also look for any brandy with an interesting take on the traditional flavours.

As well as assessing the brandy by itself, we also put them to work in a variety of cocktails to see if it works as well in a Sidecar as it does on its own. We also look at comparing the taste and quality against products across a range of price points to ask the essential question – is the brandy good value for money?

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The best brandy you can buy in 2023

1. Jules Clairon Brandy: Best budget brandy

Price when reviewed: £16 | Check price at Amazon

This may not be the most high-end brandy on this list but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve a place. If you’re looking for a sweet brandy with hints of jammy date and subtle spice but would rather not spend a small fortune, this is it.

We prefer this as a mixing brandy (it goes great in a sidecar cocktail) but it’s not too bad on its own too. If you think cheap brandy is a no-go, this one might change your mind.

Key specs – Alcohol content: 36%; Bottle size: 70cl; Type: Cognac

2. Carlos I Solera Gran Reserva Brandy: Best affordable Brandy de Jerez

Price when reviewed: £44 | Check price at Amazon

This deliciously sweet and rich brandy de Jerez is superb value for money. It’s produced by Osborne, one of the oldest wine and spirit distillers in Spain and tastes as good as some brandy almost twice the price. It’s aged in old sherry casks and by far one of the best Spanish brandies we’ve had the pleasure of tasting – its smoothness makes it very easy to drink. If you’re into sherry-heavy brandy this is definitely one to try.

Taste aside, the bottle design is also superb and makes it a very gift-worthy tipple. It ticks every box and we’re sure the brandy-lover in your life will thank you if you send a bottle their way.

Key specs – Alcohol content: 40%; Bottle size: 70cl; Type: Brandy de Jerez

3. Château du Tariquet VSOP Bas Armagnac: Best affordable Armagnac

Price when reviewed: £35 | Check price at Waitrose

This amber-coloured brandy begins with a wonderful whiff of prunes and spices, followed by rich, mellow flavours of caramel, fruit and wood, and oodles of vanilla and oak in the moreish finish. Founded by Spaniard Pierre Grassa over 100 years ago, Tariquet is now the largest independent viticultural estate in France, and run by his grandsons Rémi and Armin. Although this isn’t the oldest Armagnac on the block, it’s a real winner at a very reasonable price – and as well as making a very agreeable after-dinner drink, it also goes a treat with pâtés and cured meats.

Key specs – Alcohol content: 40%; Bottle size: 70cl; Type: Armagnac

Check price at Waitrose

4. Roger Groult Calvados 12-Year-Old: Best Calvados

Price when reviewed: £63 | Check price at Master of Malt

A gold-medal winner at last year’s World Calvados Awards, this versatile apple brandy can be enjoyed as an aperitif, mixed in a cocktail, drunk after a meal (with or without coffee) or savoured with an apple-based pudding or chocolate. While XO Calvados must be aged at least six years, the distillers have stretched to this one out to 12 years, giving it rich aromas not only of mature apples but delicate florals, which continue onto the palate, alongside butterscotch and nuts.

Key specs – Alcohol content: 41%; Bottle size: 70cl; Type: Fruit brandy

Check price at Master of Malt

5. Seignette VS Cognac: Best Brandy for people who don’t think they like brandy

Price when reviewed: £35 | Check price at The Whisky Exchange

While Seignette cognac was very much in demand in the UK during the 19th century, brandy’s general decline in popularity means we haven’t seen much of it since. The new arrival of the Seignette VS cognac in the UK should therefore be a welcome sight for brandy lovers, and this new twist on an old family recipe is designed to entice those new to brandy or even those who think they dislike it.

This sweeter, lighter brandy is easy to drink, with hints of juicy apricot and a light oaky finish. It’s reminiscent of a sweet whisky but still has that classic fruit-heavy flavour you’d expect from an aged cognac. We like it on its own with ice, which really opens up the flavours, but its flavour profile means it also works great in classic brandy cocktails.

6. Asbach Privatbrand 8-Year-Old Brandy: Best mid-price German brandy

Price when reviewed: £39 | Check price at Amazon

This mature grape brandy from Germany is crafted using a selection of wines from top growing regions across the world. A long maturing process in Limousin oak casks gives this tipple a wonderfully rich and spicy flavour. It’s a tad pricer than some of the others on this list but we promise it’s worth it. Asbach has won plenty of awards for its selection of brandies, including a gold award at the World Spirit awards for this particular one back in 2013.

If you prefer a milder tasting brandy this probably isn’t for you but if you like mature flavours that pack a punch, we’d highly recommend it. Asbach Privatbrand also comes beautifully presented in a sturdy box, making it perfect for gifting.

Key specs – Alcohol content: 40%; Bottle size: 70cl; Type: Cognac

7. Hennessy XO Cognac: Best traditional Cognac

Price when reviewed: £177 | Check price at The Whisky Exchange

This original “extra-old” cognac is undeniably a great cigar accompaniment – but there’s more to it than that. Brandy experts and newcomers alike will fall in love with its expansive bouquet of prunes, dried figs, chocolate and spices, and the refined, robust and rounded tastes that bring it all to life in your mouth. It finishes on a sweet note, with a hint of cinnamon – perfect for a winter’s evening. First bottled in 1870, it’s still a top seller, and that’s hardly surprising: it’s a classic brandy that people always come back to.

Key specs – Alcohol content: 40%; Bottle size: 70cl; Type: Cognac

8. Ableforth’s Cherry Brandy: Best cherry brandy

Price when reviewed: £38 | Check price at Master of Malt

Ableforth’s makes a damn fine gin, and we’re impressed with the company’s cherry brandy too. While many such concoctions are made by adding flavouring to a neutral spirit, this is the real deal – top-notch French brandy combined with first-class cherries, which results in a very classy, warming after-dinner beverage. As soon as you open the lid, you’ll smell Bakewell tart and cinnamon spices; the taste is pure, sticky, sweet and syrupy with dark cherries and damson and a kick of allspice. Quite unlike any other cherry brandy we’ve tried, it’s absolutely luscious.

Key specs – Alcohol content: 27.8%; Bottle size: 50cl; Type: Fruit brandy

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