Sipping Brandy: A Guide to Getting Started


Sipping brandy. It’s something many people associate with the good life. Achieving success. Walking in “high cotton." It is the epitome of sophistication for many...and a point of confusion for others. This guide will help you explore the ins and outs of sipping brandy to help you begin your journey with curious confidence.

Brandy Basics

Brandy is a distilled wine that is typically aged in wooden casks. It contains 35 to 60 percent alcohol by volume. Cognac contains 40 percent ABV and Armagnac has an even higher percentage of alcohol by volume. Many people consume brandy as an after-dinner drink to aid in digestion.

While it is generally made in the Armagnac and Cognac regions of France, brandy can be made anywhere. It is made from white wine grapes, Ugni Blanc (Cognac), Colombard, Baco Blanc, and Folle Blanche (Armagnac).

Cognac and Armagnac are different in how they are distilled. Cognac is distilled twice with a pot still. Armagnac is distilled through a column distillation process that is very different from most modern industrial stills.

Brandy and cognac are quite similar. Cognac can only be made in the Cognac region of France, while brandy can be made anywhere. Both are made from white wine. To make a long story short, all cognac is brandy. But, the same can not be said in reverse. Cognac is a very specific type of brandy.

The color of brandy varies from one brand to the next and can be anywhere from light amber in color to a rich ruby-brown color. While the age of brandy varies, the letters on the bottle reveal a few details about the age of the particular bottle. These are a few of the designations and what they mean.

  • VS = very special (meaning it is at least two years old).
  • VSOP = very superior old pale (this brandy has been aged at least four years).
  • XO = Extra Old (this means it is at least six years old)

Cognac, in general, is aged much longer. Blends of Eaux de vie can be decades old.

Brandy History

The history of brandy has roots in Dutch trading. A Dutch trader wanted to be able to ship larger amounts of brandy in limited cargo space. To do this, he removed the water from the wine for shipping. It was then distilled back into the wine once it reached Holland. The “burned wine” was called “Bradwijn” which ultimately became what is known as brandy today.

Brandy itself was mostly used for medicinal purposes until Colonial America. Today, brandy is made around the world with distinctive flavors abounding according to the location of the brandy’s origins.

How You Drink Brandy

While many films have people sipping brandy from giant snifters, the proper way to sip brandy is from a small glass that has a tulip shape. You hold the glass in the palm of your hand to warm the brandy slightly before sipping.

Many people prefer to enjoy the flavor of straight brandy, meaning nothing is added to it. However, there are quite a few cocktails made with brandy, including:

There are quite a few popular brands of brandy on the market today. Among them are the following.


Brandy prices vary greatly from one brand to the next. Start your journey into the brandy sipping lifestyle with attention to your budget front and center. From there, let your palate guide you on your way.

Now that you’ve developed a taste for the good life, it’s time to start living it. The good thing about brandy is that there is something for everyone and every budget. The same can be said of Linkside at Old Hawthorne. The active living community for adults aged 55 and older is dedicated to helping you explore the good life with exceptional craftsmanship in our homes and community. 

So join us in lifting a glass in salute! Here's to Linkside Living! 



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