Brandy know-how

Award-winning bartender, drinks consultant and author Salvatore Calabrese explains the basics of brandy. Salvatore Calabrese has been a bartender for over 40 years, and is an author and cognac expert. He also created the cocktail menu for The Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel in London. @cocktailmaestro


What's the best way to serve brandy?

When I drink, I always try to choose the right vessel for the spirit. For refined spirits, I choose a glass with the finest rim possible. The vessel is one of the most important things there is – it gives a value to a cognac, for example. At home, I love to use a balloon glass. When I watch television and it’s cold, and I’ve got the fireplace on, there is nothing more beautiful than caressing a nice, large balloon glass filled with a refined cognac.

How should you go about choosing a good brandy?

Just go for what’s natural to you – after all, we all know what food we like. If you tend to enjoy spicy food, don’t try to go for a brandy that’s delicate in fragrance. Try to figure out what gives you an incredible experience when you taste it. Sometimes, it’s like the ugly duckling – you look at a bottle and you say, ‘Oh, that’s not appealing.’ But, maybe the brandy inside is incredible. What I always say is – experiment. When you are in a supermarket, make a note of what you buy, then draw up a simple table or keep a diary of the ones you like, and the flavours and aromas you pick up that you prefer.

Which cocktails work best with brandy?

I tend to go for drinks with ice before a meal, but after dinner, try something like a brandy and port without ice. Other classic drinks to try include a stinger – I make it with my Acqua Bianca liqueur instead of crème de menthe – or a sidecar, which is made with cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice.

Three orange cocktails in a line

Brandy, cognac and armagnac explained

Brandy is a generic term for a grape-wine-based spirit. Cognac is a protected name for brandies made in and around the town of Cognac, in the west of France. It’s known as the most refined brandy in the world. Armagnac, like cognac, is named after its place of origin, in south-west France. It’s single distilled (unlike cognac, which is double-distilled) and tends to be more robust than cognac.

Brandy sour recipe

Two brandy sour cocktails against a green background

SERVES 1 | PREP 5 mins | EASY | Vegetarian

25ml lemon juice, plus 1 lemon slice to serve

1 maraschino cherry, plus 15ml syrup from the jar

few drops of Angostura bitters

½ egg white

50ml brandy or cognac


1. Tip the lemon juice, cherry syrup, bitters, egg white and brandy into a cocktail shaker with a large handful of ice. Shake until the outside of the shaker feels very cold. Double strain into a tumbler filled with ice.

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2. Thread the lemon slice and cherry onto a cocktail stick, rest across the rim of the tumbler and serve.

GOOD TO KNOW: gluten free

PER SERVING 170 kcals • fat none • saturates none • carbs 13g • sugars 13g • fibre none • protein 2g • salt 0.08g


See more brandy inspiration...

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