Brandy is a distilled spirit made from fermented fruit juice or pomace, most commonly from grapes, but also from fruits such as apples, pears, or cherries. Produced in several regions around the world, popular varieties include Cognac, Armagnac, and Pisco. Brandy typically has an alcohol content ranging from 35% to 60% ABV and is often aged in oak casks, which contributes to the spirit's brown color and distinct flavor profile.
Brandy is enjoyed both neat and as a key ingredient in a variety of cocktails like the Brandy Alexander, Sidecar, and French Connection. In cooking, it has the capacity to elevate certain dishes, such as flambeed desserts and rich sauces, like steak Diane.
When it comes to cooking with brandy, a common mistake people often make is using too much. Brandy has a strong flavor that can easily overwhelm a dish if not used sparingly. Similarly, people sometimes opt for lower-quality brandy thinking that the flavor difference won't show up in cooking - but that's not true. Just like with wine, cooking with a delicious brandy can make a noticeable difference in your dish. Another common error made by amateur cooks is adding brandy to a hot pan directly over a flame, which could actually ignite the brandy and cause a fire.
To get the most out of brandy in a dish, remember to measure carefully. Start with a little and add more to taste, rather than adding a large amount all at once. Choose a brandy you'd actually enjoy drinking. The characteristics you like in the glass will also work well in the dish. Finally, make sure to cook the brandy long enough for the alcohol to evaporate. This will leave behind just the flavor without the strong alcohol taste.
A little known but useful tip is that you can flambé brandy (that means lighting it on fire) to enhance its flavor profile. The heat from the flame and the oxygen interacting with the brandy can bring out new notes that period of cooking wouldn’t otherwise reveal. Just make sure to do this safely away from any flammable objects or materials.
Can I replace brandy with something else in a recipe?
Is Cognac the same as brandy?
Can brandy go bad or spoil?
Do I have to flambe brandy in a recipe?
Can cooking with brandy get you drunk?
What are good dishes to cook with brandy?
Can I use brandy instead of rum in a recipe?
Can I use cooking brandy instead of regular brandy in my recipes?
Can I use brandy to marinate meats?
What's the best type of brandy to cook with?
Expiration & Storage Tips
When does brandy expire?
Brandy is virtually non-perishable thanks to its high alcohol content. Once opened, it should maintain its quality and flavor for at least two years, as long as it is properly stored. The quality of the Brandy may start to slowly degrade over time, but it won't become unsafe to drink. The printed date on the Brandy bottle is usually the bottling date and does not indicate expiry. Leftover Brandy poured back into the bottle from another container should be drunk quite quickly however as it will be exposed to oxygen and degrade faster. In terms of freezing, storing Brandy in the freezer is completely fine and won't affect its quality or safety, but it’s usually not necessary due to the liquor's naturally long shelf life.
How do you tell if brandy is bad?
The first signs that Brandy may have degraded are changes in color, smell or taste. Good Brandy should have a rich amber hue, a strong, pleasant aroma of fruits and caramel, and a smooth, full-bodied taste. If the Brandy smells harsh, sour, or musty, or tastes too sharp, bitter, or unpleasantly acidic, it's probably past its prime. But remember, even if the quality has slightly gone down, it's still safe to drink.
Tips for storing brandy to extend shelf life
• Always store Brandy upright in a cool, dark place to prevent the alcohol from breaking down. Light and heat can speed up degradation.
• Never open the bottle until you're ready to use it. Opening allows oxygen in, which can begin to break down the spirit.
• Once open, ensure the lid is closed tightly after every use to reduce air exposure.
• Don't store Brandy near items with strong odors, like spices or cleaning products, because it can develop off-flavors over time.
• If you've stored some Brandy in another container (like for a cocktail), try to consume it quickly.