"Smashing notion, old chap. Allow me a moment to finish beating the maid and I shall meet you directly with my smoking jacket."
Brandy is awesome. Let me tell you about that.
I discovered brandy when I had an awful cold during my junior year of college. At this point in my life, I'd not tried any liquor that I honestly enjoyed. Everything was too sweet or too bitter for me. My roommate, listening to my hacking cough, asked "would you like some brandy?"
I tried it.
Holy crap this is good! And yes, it also soothed my throat.
If you've never tried it, brandy is smoother than whiskey or bourbon, but does so without being sweet. It's 80 proof, so it's reasonably strong, but the alcohol sensation is warm, not sharp. There is likely jargon used by connoisseurs of alcohol that would be more specific, but I lack that esoteric knowledge. The stuff's smooth, relaxing, pleasant. It doesn't need ice or a mixer (though a sidecar is all right). It's great for sipping after a long day.
Brandy & Cognac FAQ
What's the difference?
In order to be called Cognac, it has to come from a particular region of France. It's also going to cost more.
How was it invented?
An enterprising merchant tried distilling wine prior to loading it in barrels for shipment to England. His plan was to add water to it upon arrival, and thus be able to carry more wine in a single trip. The idea failed - the re-watered wine tasted awful, but he thought there was something to the distilled wine. After more experimentation, he began selling it as brandywine, which literally means "burned wine."
How should I drink it?
In a glass. Let the bottle breathe, especially if it's new. I usually leave the cork out of a new bottle overnight. Brandy and Cognac is traditionally served in a snifter, and it -does- have a nice aroma, it smells just fine in a rocks glass. Without ice.
What's with the letters?
V is Very
O is Old
S is Superior
P is Pale
X is ExtraHow does a brandy qualify for these? I have no idea. I do know that the older it is, the smoother it is. So an O Brandy is smoother than a one without O, and XO will be the best... and the most expensive. Many Brandy & Cognac brands have various versions. If there's no letters at all, it's base level. Many brandies only come as either VS or VSOP. Anything XO is going to run you over $100 a bottle.
Why can't I marry her?
Because my life, my lover, my lady is the sea.
Brandy Brands I have tried
I have found that the increase in quality diminishes exponentially with the increase in price. Bargain basement brandy sucks, but you don't have to spend much more for something totally decent.
Christian Brothers - This is the brand that most Friday's type restaurants and chain bars carry. It used to come in a plastic jug. It is crap.
St Remy Nepoleon - This is not Remmy Martin. This is swill.
Stock 87 - Costs more than Christian Brothers, but tastes just as bad.
E&J - a very meager step up from Christian Brothers. At least it's in glass.
E&J VSOP - another step up, but not as good as...
Korbel - Typically $15 for a fifth, it's where decent brandy begins.
Paul Masson - A touch better than Korbel, and usually only a dollar or two more a bottle. I highly recommend it as a place to start.
Korbel VSOP - Tried it once. Smoother than regular Korbel, but it's also on the sweet side, which I did not care for.
Cognac brands I have tried
Meukow - I read the name and think "moo cow" but it has a panther on the bottle, which, by the way, looks cool. Very smooth. I often find it for $20-$25 at Sam's Club.
Hennessey - The difference here? I don't need to let the bottle breathe overnight. I open it, pour, and it is fantastic. It also tends to cost $40 a bottle.
Remy Martin VSOP - I only had a glass to judge by, so it's very tough. At least as good as Hennessey.