8 Bottles of Brandy to Help You Make the Perfect Autumnal Cocktails

If you're trying to add real apple flavor to your cocktails, look no further than the brandy aisle.

As the market for brandy of all types continues to grow in the United States — led by Cognac, and particularly more premium and super-premium brands — domestic producers are re-discovering a spirit that played a historically important role here centuries ago. Over the generations, American brandy was eclipsed by spirits like Bourbon and rye. But brandy is on its way back, and distillers around the United States are leveraging local fruit to produce bottles of serious accomplishment. Apple is one of the most widespread — and exciting — categories of American brandy, but distillers all over the country, from New York to California, are reinvigorating and reimagining what’s possible. Ukiah-based Charbay, for example, produces two different brandies, one made from Folle Blanche and the other from Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Oregon’s Clear Creek Distillery makes pear brandy from local fruit. The range of possibilities being explored is broad and impressive.

Brandy in glasses

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The eight below — with a heavy focus on apple brandy, which was available as far back as the 18th century  — represent what makes American brandy so appealing, and worthy of space in your home bar.

Bentwing Brandy by Hangar 1

This blend brings together French and California brandies. It’s a distinctly floral spirit, with lemon marmalade and hints of tarragon joined by dried apricots, white figs, and dates. There is a subtle nod in the direction of Honey-Nut Cheerios as well, which puts a smile on my face everytime I sip this.

Catoctin Creek 1757 Distiller’s Reserve Virginia Brandy

Crafted in Loudon, Virginia, from grapes grown in the state, this was aged for two years in ex-Bordeaux barrels prior to bottling. The result is a caramel-kissed brandy with almonds, cooked honey, golden raisins, and vanilla-spiced pancakes. It’s savory, spicy, complex, and elegant.

Copper & Kings A Song For You American Brandy

Copper & Kings has become a benchmark producer of American brandy, and it’s worth exploring the range of their portfolio. This particular one, though it was a limited edition to celebrate their fifth anniversary, is emblematic of what makes them so exciting. It’s a wonderfully mature spirit, and those brandied cherry, leather, and toasted coconut notes find a perfect dance partner in spiced honey and nougat from having been finished in ex-Bourbon barrels.

Humboldt Distillery Apple Brandy

This certified organic brandy has a spine of slate and mineral that anchors flavors of hard green apples. There’s a savory underpinning to it all, which is a very appealing counterpoint to the silky notes reminiscent of honey candies, orange marmalade, and old-fashioned apple butter.

Manatawny Still Works Apple Brandy

The Pottstown, Pennsylvania distillery excels with classic whiskeys, unusual cask finishes, and even gin. This brandy, from the 2021 bottling (there have been subsequent ones, too), is based on apples from Frecon Farms and Big Hill Ciderworks. It brings together multiple apple varieties and vintages of spirit. Gorgeously aromatic in the glass and assertive when sipped, this shows concentrated flavors of tarte tatin, white licorice, and waffles drizzled in syrup.

Rootstock Spirits 2 Year Applejack

Based in Williamson, New York, and crafted from apples grown on the fifth generation DeFisher Fruit Farms, this is a spirit-forward sipper whose underpinning of spun sugar and orange-blossom honey lifts the yellow and green apple notes with real elegance. It’s been aged for two years in ex-Kentucky Bourbon casks, but that wood hasn’t influenced it as much as it does with some others on the market. This allows the spirit itself to shine through with clarity. A hint of grated nutmeg provides a beautiful grace note through the finish.

Tamworth Garden New Hampshire Plummeau

I’ve learned over the years to never be surprised by the team behind Tamworth Garden — their ingenuity is astounding. This bottle is a great evocation of why: It’s an apple brandy that’s been infused with damson plums and other flavors, and bottled at a dangerously easy-to-drink 25.7% ABV. It’s sweet, quietly tart, dry on the palate, but also terrifically savory with delicious notes reminiscent of oxidized apples and plums in equal measure, both joined by a hint of apple sherbet before baking spices and salinity on the finish.

Watershed Distillery Apple Brandy

The Ohio-based distillery has only been around since 2010, but in those 13 short years, it’s made an impact. Their barrel-strength 6-year rye, for example, is excellent, and their portfolio is impressively broad. This brandy, produced from Ohio apples and aged for two years in charred oak, balances the character of the fruit (which comes off like an apple fritter) with the sweet baking spice and toastiness of the wood. Each sip is a honeyed homage to autumn…though it’s excellent when enjoyed year round, too. 

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