Though brandy is often synonymous with extremely popular European styles—particularly French Cognac and Armagnac distilled from grapes—the spirit can be made anywhere in the word from all kinds of fruit. Thanks to the craft spirits boom of the last decade, brandies and eaux de vie (brandies made from any fruit other than grapes) of all varieties, from pear and apple to peach to blackberry, can now be found across the United States. Too often, however, these spirits are relegated to the back of the bar, behind the ever-popular whiskey and vodka. But there are a few brands that deserve a place on your bar and in your glass. To give your home bar some well-rounded edge, check out these six distilleries who are putting a special twist on the age-old spirit.
Based in—you guessed it—Virginia, Catoctin Creek uses wine grapes grown in the state to produce this warming brandy. It’s made with French brandies in mind and aged in Bordeaux barrels for at least two years. While it’s a delight sipped neat, it also lends a nice heat and balance to any classic brandy cocktail. The distillery also produces three fruit brandies, each priced at a slightly more affordable $30, that are worth keeping an eye out for: Pearousia Pear Brandy, Short Hill Mountain Peach Brandy and Quarter Branch Apple Brandy.
This apple eau de vie is made at Cedar Ridge distillery in Iowa, but the cider from which the brandy is distilled is made in Wisconsin. The cider is fermented and distilled, then rested in two different kinds of oak barrels for three and half to four years. Thanks to its time spent on the wood, this bottling has a richer flavor than other apple brandies on the market, with notes of vanilla and spice. If apple isn’t your game, Cedar Ridge also makes a spice-flecked pear brandy and a Cognac-inspired grape brandy.
Clear Creek’s take on a classic French eau de vie made from fermented mirabelle plums uses fresh plums sourced from King Estate near Eugene, Oregon—only about two hours away from the distillery’s base in Portland. The miniature yellow plums produce an intense aroma and fresh flavor, which makes for a spirit that’s great for sipping solo or in cocktails (try swapping it in for gin in a French 75). Clear Creek also makes four other clear fruit brands, including pear and cherry, as well as a jade-hued Douglas Fir eau de vie, which is made from the fermented buds of the pine tree.
Peach season is fleeting, which is why it’s nice to capture that fresh, juicy flavor in a brandy that lasts all year. This spirit from California-based Kuchan doesn’t use just any old peaches—it uses Indian Blood peaches, which have a ruby-colored flesh and pale pink skin. Kuchan packs a ton of fruit into the spirit; the brand claims that as much as 27 pounds of fresh fruit goes into every one of the 375-ml bottles. Add a little to your iced tea or Mint Julep to capture the flavor of summer any time of year.
Odds are you’ve probably heard of Laird’s Applejack—or even tasted it in a Jack Rose. The blended brandy is a great substitute for whiskey in cocktails and comes at an appealing price point—about $20 for 750-ml. But the company exceeds expectations with its higher priced Rare Old Apple Brandy. It may be a bit expensive at $70, but the spirit, which is aged for 12 years before being bottled at a smooth 88-proof, is worthy of the cost. While the Rare Old is a sipping brandy, to be sure, the company’s 100 Proof Apple brandy ($28) is your best bet for powerful cocktails.
It takes about 40 pounds of berries to make just one bottle of St. George’s funky and fresh raspberry brandy. While that may seem excessive, you’ll understand once you taste it. It’s essence of raspberry in a bottle. The Alameda, California distillery doesn’t remove the stems of the fruit before distillation, so while the spirit is fruity on the nose, it has a bit of a grassy, earthy flavor on the palate. If raspberries aren’t your jam, St. George also includes a pear and apple brandy in its lineup, both of which are as fresh as the raspberry and worthy of your hard-earned cash.