Get to know the category beyond cognac.
Brandy is dandy, and it comes in many forms beyond cognac, the best-known brandy category. These spirits hail from all over the world, rather than just from France, and are distilled from a wide range of fruits, not just grapes.
That said, cognac still remains a touchpoint for brandy-lovers. So for those who love the French style, consider newcomers from Armagnac, which makes elegant grape brandy named for that region of France. Meanwhile, for those willing to stray a little further afield, calvados, made in France’s Normandy region from apples and sometimes pears, is sure to appeal.
While Europe (including France, of course) pioneered many of the legacy brandy styles, boundaries increasingly blur between Old World and New World brandies. Consider, for example, a calvados-style brandy made by American craft producer Tamworth using New Hampshire heirloom apples and a calvados-style alembic still. It pays tribute to France’s version yet is wholly American. Looking in the other direction, calvados producer Boulard pays homage to American whiskey-making traditions by finishing a limited-edition brandy in barrels that previously held rye whiskey made in the U.S.
Another exciting proposition: Consider tasting similar brandy styles side-by-side. Sampling a new plum brandy (rakija) from Serbia backed by Bill Gould of Faith No More alongside Rootstock’s plum brandy from upstate New York could yield new insight about the category as well as your own personal preferences.
These are 12 new brandies to try right now, and none of them is cognac.
1. Bhakta 50 Year Armagnac ($99)
This newcomer is a deeply aged blend of eight rare Armagnac vintages dated between 1868 and 1970, finished in Islay whisky casks. The youngest Armagnac is 50 years old, and the oldest in the bottle is 152 years old. Only 38 barrels will be available, each treated as its own release with differing vintage blends, taste profiles, proofs, names and stories. The first two barrels have already come and gone; the third barrel release (Barrel 13) arrives in September 2021.
2. Boulard VSOP Rye Cask Finish Calvados
This is a new limited-edition release from Boulard’s 12-barrel collection, a series of experimental bottlings that pairs Normandy’s calvados with “barrels from distant horizons.” In this case, the apple brandy is finished in a cask that previously held American rye whiskey. Look for inviting fresh brioche aromas and flavors coupled with baking spice and a range of fresh and dried fruit.
3. Claque-Pepin Calvados Fine ($32); 10 Year Organic Calvados ($60)
The name of the producer of calvados (French apple brandy) takes its name from the Claque-Pepin apple variety, which when ripe rattles when shaken. (The name literally translates as “rattle-seeds.”) The Calvados Fine is a young calvados that displays the fruitiness of its underlying blend of apples and pears. Meanwhile, the 10-year-old balances orange blossom and candied fruit against oak and cigar box tones, according to its producer.
4, Dartigalongue Bas Armagnac ($35-$52)
Venerable Armagnac house Dartigalongue will release a trio of expressions in the U.S. in spring 2021. Unaged blanche armagnac ($35), a style used for mixing into cocktails, is described by its producer as having orchard fruit, white flower and almond notes. Meanwhile, its dry-cellar Armagnac ($40) is aged exclusively in Dartigalongue’s dry attic cellar, which creates a more concentrated flavor profile compared to France’s typically humid aging cellars. Finally, double-oaked Armagnac ($52) was aged in two different Gascon oak casks for a total of at least three years. The end result is rich and roasty flavors, showing cacao and spice, according to its producer.
5. Rootstock Spirits Pear Brandy; Plum Brandy; 5 Year Bourbon Barrel Aged AppleJack ($21-$61)
This family-owned farm distillery in western New York, formerly known as Apple Country Spirits, makes a variety of spirits from fruits grown on their farm. New releases include two brandies made in the European style, a pear brandy ($21 for a 375 mL bottle) made from Bartlett pears and aged three months in oak barrels and a plum brandy ($21 for a 375 mL bottle), and an applejack aged five years in ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at 46% ABV ($61).
6. Tamworth Garden VSOP (Apple Brandy) $85
Launched in June 2020, this American take on France’s calvados starts with heirloom Cortland apples grown at New Hampshire’s Carter Hill Apple Orchard, one of the oldest active orchards in the U.S. It’s then double-distilled in a traditional alembic still in the style of calvados and barreled in new oak for at least four years, then bottled at 100 proof. The finished single-vintage brandy boasts flavors of stewed apple, tobacco smoke and baking spice, according to its producer.
7. Yebiga Bela Rakija ($30)
Backed by Bill Gould, best known as the bassist for the band Faith No More, this is a plum rakija, also known as slivovitz/sljivovica or plum brandy. The first release, Prva, launched in 2020; Bela, a younger expression finished in stainless steel, was released in April 2021. What’s in the bottle is a “Serbian brandy” made with čačanska rodna plums grown in the mountains of Central Serbia.