Brandy is made by distilling fermented fruit juice — usually apple or grape. Traditionally brandy was made in specific regions of France, but today it is made all over the world.

Brandy is categorized by region of origin, the type of fruit juice it is made from, and how long it is aged. Two specific types of brandies — Armagnac and Cognac — are produced under strict quality controls.

  • Armagnac is distilled once to 52 percent alcohol, then aged in oak casks.
  • Cognac is double distilled to about 70 percent alcohol before aging for at least 2 years. During the aging process, the alcohol content drops to 40 percent. 

Beyond these appellations, you can also use a series of abbreviations denoting age to choose the right brandy for your tastes:

  • V.S. or Very Special: denotes a brandy that has been aged a minimum of 2 years.
  • V.S.O.P. or Very Superior Old Pale: refers to a brandy that has been aged between 4 1/2 and 6 1/2 years.
  • X.O. or Extra Old: a brandy that is over 6 1/2 years old.

When choosing a brandy for mixed drinks, consider the role the brandy will play in the drink. For cocktails in which the spirit is the primary flavor, like the sidecar or brandy and soda, you should choose a brandy you would drink straight. For beverages where the brandy is there primarily to add an alcoholic kick, you can opt for a less expensive bottle.