Cocktail afficionados have long embraced brandy, but the brown spirit still suffers from a number of misconceptions, namely, that it’s a beverage for older or rich people. Many people also think brandy can only be enjoyed neat, and served in a snifter, rather than mixed in a cocktail.
Tony Abou-Ganim, founder of Las Vegas-based beverage consultancy The Modern Mixologist and the author of several cocktail books, hopes to change that. Abou-Ganim is doing a session and demonstration on the rebirth of brandy at the National Restaurant Association’s NRA 2018 Show, taking place in Chicago May 19-22.
Part of brandy’s image problem, Abou-Ganim says, in addition to the view that’s it’s only for an affluent, middle-aged man reclining in front of a fire while reading classic novels, has been the high prices of many older marks of Cognac. “But in reality, there are beautiful, affordable brandies available, which lend amazing complexity, elegance and character to cocktails—both classics and creative riffs,” he notes.
The brandy category is diverse and broad, covering both wine grape-based distillates as well as those made from fruit, Abou-Ganim says. “We have incredible stylistic variations from unaged piscos, to fruit brandies, to rich Spanish brandies, to complex aged brandies.”
This wide range of flavors provides creative bartenders with plenty to experiment with. But Abou-Ganim stresses the importance of understanding that not all brandy is the same. Bartenders should understand the flavor profile of each individual brandy before putting it in a cocktail.
“Study the classic brandy cocktails, experiment making them with different types of brandy and taste, taste, taste,” he says. Make notes of what brandy works best in what cocktails, which will be a huge help when you begin creating original brandy beverages.
What are some of Abou-Ganim’s favorite classic brandy cocktails? He cites a barrel-aged Vieux Carre served recently at Libertine Social, Abou-Ganim’s bar in the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas.
“I also made a classic Sazerac for an event with Torres 15 Year Spanish brandy that was amazing,” Abou-Ganim adds. This particular cocktail underscores the need for tasting: “With the richness of the Spanish brandy, I needed to dial down the sugar and add an extra dash of bitters, but it was delicious.”