5 Essential Brandy Cocktails

Cocktail 101

All the basics of the bar.


Sidecar. [Photograph: Jennifer Hess]

There are endless cocktails in the world, and new ones invented every day, but how many of these drinks are true essentials? In this series, we're discussing drinks everyone should know—five essential drinks for every major category of spirits.

Brandy—a distillate of fruit wine—is a category of spirit that is distilled virtually everywhere on the planet. The source ingredient used in brandy can be any fruit that's grown: pear, plum, apple, grape, apricot, cherry, and more.

Today, we'll focus on cocktails based on the brandies of just two fruits: grape and apple. As you'll see, though, these brandies are versatile enough to inspire drinks that are as delicious as they are varied. So tap a barrel of your favorite brandy, and let's get started.


We start with the classic brandy cocktail, and one of my five favorites of any cocktail ever invented: the Sidecar. Like the Margarita and Cosmopolitan, the Sidecar is a classic sour. In this case, the drink's base is cognac. You can use other grape brandies, such as aged American brandies, but cognac simply makes the smoothest and richest Sidecar.

That's not to say this drink isn't open to experimentation and variations—it certainly is—but we'll get to that in a future column.

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Prescription Julep


[Photograph: Paul Clarke]

Staying with cognac, here's a cocktail that combines a sublime French brandy with a superb American whiskey—rye. Cognac and rye, by the way, are wonderful partners, pairing up in other such cocktails as the Vieux Carré. (For variety in your drinking, try blending rye and cognac in a Sazerac or old-fashioned—lip-smacking good.) In his write-up of this drink, Paul Clarke agreed with David Wondrich that this julep variation is the finest of its form. Listen to them; those guys know their way around a barroom.

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Pisco Sour


[Photograph: Paul Clarke]

You'll not need to tap a barrel to enjoy this grape brandy. One of the ways pisco differs from cognac is in the fact that pisco is unaged. It tastes younger, grassier, and more earthy than cognac. The Pisco Sour is of course a sour and therefore a cousin to the Sidecar. But I think you'll find that with its unique base spirit, its use of lime juice in place of lemon, and its stronger proportion of spirit to juice, it tastes completely unlike the Sidecar. It's a delicious drink that stands fully on its own.

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Jack Rose


[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Now we switch fruits and cross over from grape to apple. The Jack Rose is a beautiful drink. Yes, it's another sour, but I include it to demonstrate the versatility of both brandy and the sour itself. The Jack Rose tastes as unlike the Sidecar as does the Pisco Sour. Start with applejack, Laird's Bonded if you can find it. Add homemade grenadine (don't worry, it's not hard to make), lemon, and Peychaud's Bitters. Behold a dry but still fruity and fresh-tasting cocktail that marries the flavors of apple and pomegranate. A gorgeous drink, and perfect for late fall.

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Fort Washington Flip


[Photo: Robyn Lee]

I always try to include a drink in these Essentials that makes you wonder whether I've lost my mind. This week's what-the-heck cocktail is the Fort Washington Flip. Applejack joins with herbal Benedictine, maple syrup, and a whole egg to make a rich, lush, and complex cocktail that's perfect for winter.

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What's your favorite brandy cocktail?