Not only is brandy the backbone in many classic cocktails, the distilled wine spirit also features prominently in fine cooking recipes. As more consumers turned to cooking and mixing cocktails at home during the pandemic, they’ve become more interested in acquiring different brandies and Cognacs.
That’s helped the brandy and Cognac category overall increase 6.7% in 2020, to reach 15.7 million 9-liter cases, according to the Beverage Information Group’s 2021 Liquor Handbook. Much of that growth was driven by the leading brands of Cognac, such as Courvoisier, which rose 33%; Remy Martin, up 18%; and D’Usse, which increased more than 42%. The top Cognac brand, Hennessy, exceeded 4.4 million cases in 2020.
Popular sellers on-premise include the trendy Cognac brands such as Remy 1738, Hennessy and Courvoisier, says Christopher Devern, lead bartender at Red Owl Tavern and Stratus rooftop lounge at The Kimpton Hotel Monaco in Philadelphia. “I’ve tasted some great whiskeys from brands such as Sagamore and Jefferson’s, who are using Cognac casks as a finish. This lends some unique and delicious qualities that I think Cognac lovers could appreciate.”
The Laundry Room, a 27-seat speakeasy located inside Commonwealth in Downtown Las Vegas, typically stocks its bar with Cognacs such as Philbert and Comandon, says lead barman Anthony Partridge. “Lately, the newer trend I’ve noticed is single estate versus blending.”
Tequila and mezcal may be the “hot” spirit right now, says Miklos Katona, beverage director for Brezza and Bar Zazu at Resorts World Las Vegas, “but we always encourage our guests to complete their dining experience with some brown spirits such as Cognac, or oaked-aged grappa.”
Brandy Beyond France
It depends on availability, but the Resorts World Las Vegas bars typically stock Courvoisier Napoleon, Hardy Legend 1863, Arak Razzouk, Cardenal Mendoza, Fundador Solera Rsv and Metaxa 7 Star, as well as three different Remy Martin Cognac expressions. Remy Martin, Courvoisier and Hardy are popular Cognac brands in the Vegas market, says Katona, “however, an older Bas Armagnac, like Veuve Goudoulin from the Ô80s, could be even more memorable for our guests.”
Other countries such as Spain, Greece and Lebanon have been making brandies for centuries, Katona notes. These styles are becoming popular on the Las Vegas market as well.
The Laundry Room usually carries one brand of Cognac and one apple brandy, says Partridge. “At times, we will carry Trakal, the Patagonian spirit distilled from apples and pears.”
Singani 63 has been a hit since joining the market in 2014, says Devern. “This floral-noted brandy from Bolivia is a key ingredient in tons of fun refreshing summer/spring cocktails,” he adds.
While Cognac has generated the biggest buzz and revenue, there has been increased interest in domestic craft brandy. Settlers have made brandy since they arrived in America; apple brandy was popular since apple orchards were abundant. Scobeyville, NJ-based Laird & Co. has specialized in apple brandies for nearly 300 years.
The U.S. brandy industry had thrived until Prohibition, but it never gained its traction after the ban on alcohol ended in 1933. The launch of Germain-Robin in 1982 by Cognac distiller Hubert Germain-Robin and professor Ansley J. Coale Jr., helped recast American brandy as a craft and premium spirit. E. & J. Gallo Winery, which produces the leading E&J brandy brand, acquired Germain-Robin in 2017.
Distillers have grown more creative about varietals and barrel finishes used for brandy, since they’re not bound to the same rules and traditions as European producers. Germain-Robin, for instance, in September announced the release of a Single Barrel Pinot Noir brandy aged 19 years.
E. & J. Gallo Winery in 2017 unveiled a high-end brandy called Argonaut, while Bertoux brandy, made with California wine grapes, launched in fall 2018. Louisville, KY-based Copper & Kings brandy, aged in Kentucky bourbon and American white oak barrels, was founded in 2014 by husband-and-wife team Joe and Lesley Heron, and acquired by Constellation Brands in 2020.
Fruit brandies tend to make an appearance in fall and winter cocktails. Venteux, a French brasserie and Champagne bar that opened in Chicago this past summer, has a Daiquiri-inspired fall cocktail called Bobbin’ For Apples ($16), made with Bacardi 8 rum, Copper & Kings apple brandy, Liquid Alchemist spiced apple syrup orange and lime juice.
Rose Mary restaurant, also in Chicago, has two specialty autumn drinks with brandy: Sweater Weather, with Tom’s Foolery Bonded Applejack, Stirrings ginger liqueur, The Bitter Truth chocolate bitters, red plum and lemon, and the Port of Zadar, with Rittenhouse rye, Maraska Slivovitz (a plum brandy from Croatia), Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, Peychaud’s bitters, coffee Demerara and toasted fennel. Both cocktails are priced at $15.
Bartenders continue to “express and evolve” classic cocktail options such as the Sazerac, Devern says. He also makes quite a few Sidecars, another vintage Cognac drink with lemon and triple sec, in the summer. “It’s also a popular sold-by-the bottle option at Stratus for people celebrating all kinds of occasions.”
A fall favorite cocktail at the Red Owl Tavern is called Apple’s, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie ($15), with rye whiskey, Calvados (French apple brandy), house-made pumpkin oat cream, apple cider and apricot liqueur. “The fruity, spiced and rich notes from the brandy really helped make this cocktail have all the more depth and flavor,” Devern says.
The Laundry Room offers several cocktails crafted with brandy or Cognac. The Jacqueline Rose — a combination of apple brandy, rose syrup, lemon and anisette — has notes of floral fuji apple, citrus and an anisette finish, Partridge says. “Our Japanese Cocktail is a mixture of Cognac, orgeat syrup and angostura, and has hints of stone fruit and classic Angostura spice tones.”
The bar’s signature Vieux Carre combines rye, Cognac, Italian vermouth, Benedictine, Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters, “which features notes of subtle baking spices, honey, deep cherry tones and a light anise finish,” Partridge says. Cocktails at The Laundry Room are currently priced at $17.
Guests at Resorts World Las Vegas enjoy and rediscover some of the classic brandy-based cocktails, Katona says, “but most of the time it’s a sipping drink enjoyed neat.” The company’s newest concept, Bar Zazu, features a Remy Martin Sidecar.
When working with brandy and Cognac, Brezza bartenders tend to let the base spirit shine a little bit more, he notes. This gives them almost endless possibility, “since Cognac will stand up to orange, citrus and sour flavors, as well as cocoa and port and anything in between.”
Devern agrees. “When used in the right hands, and with the right recipe, Cognac and brandy can be curated into many palatable cocktails.” And after the Covid lockdowns, “guests are ready for fun, unique and creative libations more than ever.”