Brandy is a spirit that’s a little bit like a rum, a little bit like a liqueur, and a little bit like a dessert. A lot of factors come into play when producing this multi-dimensionally flavored drink – that’s why it can be so confusing when trying to describe what it tastes like.
When consumed straight, brandy tastes sweet with tones of caramel and fruit. But, as mentioned before, the sweetness varies with younger brandies tasting sweeter and older brandies tasting drier on more full of oak. And the number of years the drink stays in the barrel, the mellower it gets.
In this article, i’ll do my best to tell you everything you need to know about what exactly brandy tastes like and WHY.
Table of Contents
What is Brandy?
Brandy is an alcoholic beverage made from distilled wine. It’s purified in pot stills through batch distillation, and the final product usually contains 35-60% alcohol by volume (ABV). The name brandy comes from the Dutch word ‘brandewijn,” which means ‘burnt wine” and refers to heat applied to the wine during the distillation process.
This article goes step-by-step into how you can make brandy at home
What Is Brandy Made From?
Brandy is usually made from grapes – white wine grapes specifically. But there are some brandies made from lightly colored red grapes. Cognac and Armagnac are made from a combination of grapes called Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and Folle Blanch, which are grown and regulated in specific regions of France and Peru. Peaches, pears, apples, and pineapples can also be used if they are fully ripe to aid in the process of fermentation. White wine grapes are often preferred for making brandy because the grapes have a high acidic level that produces the desired taste, aroma, and flavor.
Read: our guide to choosing the best grapes from making Brandy
What Does Brandy Taste Like?
The taste of brandy differs from one bottle to the next depending on the grapes used and the period of the aging process. Below is an explanation of the elements that affect the palate of the final product.
1. The Taste Of Brandy
Brandy is often sweet with undertones of oak. The drink derives its oaky flavor from the barrel it sits in during the aging process, and the sweetness comes from the grape’s interaction with the barrels. It’s important to note that not all brandy is aged in barrels. Often, this brandy is colored and flavored to imitate the taste we’re familiar with in the beverage.
2. Flavor Compounds Present In Brandy
On its own, brandy has a very distinct fruity taste. But, as mentioned earlier in the post, its interaction with the barrel it’s poured in also plays a significant role in the flavors it gives off. Because not all brandy is aged in barrels, distillation, oxidation, and esters contribute to the notes of the spirit. Here’s a detailed explanation of how the different aspects play a role in the flavors present in brandy.
3. Barrel Aging Effects On Taste
The longer the brandy sits in the barrel, the more flavor compounds are imparted into the drink. You’re most likely familiar with the oaky and cinnamon-like taste when sipping on a glass of brandy. These flavors are attained through the chemical reactions between the wood and the spirit added to it. Brandy barrels are commonly lightly-toasted because the desired color for brandy is light to caramel brown. Lightly toasted barrels often impart flavors of honey, cinnamon, and treacle with an aftertaste of smokiness from the oak.
Distilling brandy is one of the most vital aspects of producing brandy and giving off the desired compounds found in brandy. The process of distilling leaves behind any undesired flavors and brings forth more distinct sweet and flavorsome notes ranging from earthy and spicy to sweet.
A process known for expelling esters that assist with the bonding of the alcohol in the barrels, this process helps develop new compounds and form new flavors. The final product is typically fruity and has floral notes and aromas.
Since wood is naturally porous, it allows for an easier interaction of the spirit and wood. The process of oxidation mellows down any harsh compounds in the distilled product.
The rate of evaporation is usually determined by the climate of the region the brandy is aged in. In drier climates, water evaporates rapidly, leaving behind a high alcoholic beverage.
What Does Brandy Taste Like Straight?
When consumed straight, brandy tastes sweet with tones of caramel and fruit. But, as mentioned before, the sweetness varies. The sweetest brandies are left to mature for a minimum of two years. The least sweet are aged for a minimum of four years. And the number of years the drink stays in the barrel, the mellower it gets.
What Does Brandy Taste Like When Mixed?
Depending on what you pour into your glass of brandy, the mixed drink might taste like vanilla when you add coke or citrus zest when you add lime. Brandy pairs well with cola because of the woody-caramel aroma the alcohol possesses, so the liquor will have more intense vanilla and caramel flavors when cola is added.
What Do The Different Types of Brandy Taste Like?
All brandies are the same, but not all brandies are made the same. Depending on the length of the aging period, type of barrels, and fruit used, here’s a flavor profile you can expect to find from the different kinds of brandy.
Very Superior Pale (VSOP)
VSOP is a very popular variety of cognac. It has domineering flavors of dried fruits and flowers.
Very Special (VS)
A blend of flowers, fresh fruit, and citrus is what your palette will often experience when drinking this brandy. It’s often regarded as a young version of cognac because it’s aged for a minimum of two years.
Extra Old (XO)
Often aged for 20-35 years, this duration of aging allows it to have a richer taste of warm spices, cigars, chocolate, dried fruit, and nuts.
Cognac is a brandy made from grapes grown and produced in the Cognac region of France. The taste of cognac can be described as very earthy, ranging from nuts to toffee and cinnamon.
This spirit has a beautiful mix of floral and fruity aromas. It’s often aged for a minimum of 20 years, and sometimes the taste might lean toward that of sherry or Madeira. Of all brandies, Armagnac is known to have a plethora of flavors.
Pisco is produced in Peru and Chile. It has a subtle wine-like aroma with undertones of a sour apple.
A brandy of Greek origin; this beverage is a mix of cognac, wine, and botanicals. It offers flavors of dark chocolate, honey, dried fruits, and caramel with a citrusy aftertaste.
Grappa originally hails from Italy, Switzerland, and San Marino. The spirit has an intriguing play of flavors such as caramel, treacle, and fruit. Due to its very complex nature, some people have even described it as giving off scents of a high-end perfume.
Marc gives off spicier, floral notes compared to other brandies. It’s got traces of pepper, vanilla, and toasted coconut with a very defined oaky aftertaste. The drink is made by pressing the skin, pulps, and seeds of grapes after making wine.
Schanppas is an overly sweet brandy that imparts flavors of butterscotch, aniseed, cinnamon, coffee, and chocolate. Due to its sweet nature, it’s often appreciated when mixed with other drinks to balance out its intensity.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Does brandy taste like whiskey?
Brandy does not taste like whiskey because it’s often aged in lightly toasted barrels. Lightly toasted barrels are made that way so they can impart subtle vanilla and caramel flavors and aromas. When the spirit interacts with these compounds in the oak barrels, it matures and develops a sweeter taste, which is why brandy has notes of fruit and flora. On the other hand, whiskey is typically aged in charred barrels, and when it interacts with the wood, the final product is earthier and woodier and might resemble the smell and taste of tobacco.
Q2. Does brandy taste like wine?
Brandy does resemble the taste of wine, but it has a more defined sweet taste. You’ll often find that a lot of brandies give off notes of oak with hints of sweet wine. Also, during the distillation process, much of the acidity found in wine is stripped off so that the brandy is smooth with a high alcohol content.
Brandy will always be an all-time favorite drink for many spirit enthusiasts. Because of the mellow sweet and floral taste it gives off, it’s a beverage best enjoyed with an assortment of dishes. Aging in barrels also plays a major role in producing an exquisitely complex drink that can be enjoyed on any occasion. Whether you want to use it to whip up your favorite cocktail, pair it with a dessert, or sip it straight, it truly is a versatile drink. And there’s no reason why you shouldn’t keep a bottle or two in your house.