How to Drink Brandy

By Katherine Macropoulos

Open any bartender's guide and you will discover a veritable plethora of cocktail drinks made with brandy. Traditionalists may prefer it on its own, with or without ice, or warmed to enhance its natural flavors. Whether you drink it in a cocktail, neat or on the rocks, a little brandy knowledge and the right glass will enhance your experience.

snifter with brandy
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Close-up of glass of brandy

Brandy Drinks Defined

Neat is simply a straight shot of brandy poured into a snifter and served at room temperature without ice or a mix. Alternately, serve brandy over ice in a highball or old-fashioned glass. Brandy can be combined with other liquors, fruit juices or cream to create a variety of cocktails, such as a brandy sidecar, brandy Alexander or old-fashioned. Brandy cocktails are generally shaken with ice cubes, strained into cocktail glasses and served with an aromatic garnish.

Bottoms Up

Wide-bowled, curvy brandy snifters with short stems were designed specifically for drinking brandy. The tapered mouth of a snifter allows the drinker to capture the depth and aroma of the brandy. The wide bowl, meanwhile, makes it easy to warm the brandy with your hands. Snifters come in many sizes, but no more than 2 ounces are normally served neat. Use taller-stemmed tulip glasses with wider lips to serve brandy cocktails. Drink brandy in a straight-sided highball or shorter old-fashioned glass when ice is preferred.

To Heat or Not to Heat

Many connoisseurs prefer to heat brandy in a wide-bowled snifter before taking a sip. An easy way to do this is to pour warm water into the snifter, swirl it around, then pour out the water just before adding the brandy. Or carefully heat up a snifter of brandy over an open flame. Gentle heat enhances the flavor and aroma, but overheating may cause the alcohol in the brandy to evaporate -- and ruin the bouquet and flavor. Keep the palm of your hand in constant contact with the snifter to gently warm the brandy while you sip.

Brandy vs. Cognac

Cognac is a type of brandy. While brandy is made from a variety of fruits, such as peaches, apples or berries, and produced throughout the world, Cognac is produced from only three types of grapes grown in the Cognac region of France. Both are distilled, but Cognac is distilled twice and aged, and usually more expensive than brandy. Both cognac and brandy may be enjoyed in the same manner, but Cognac is usually preferred in a snifter served neat.