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Cooking and baking with brandy adds depth and richness to many dishes. However, not all brandies are created equal, and choosing the right one can make all the difference.

The best brandy for cooking will depend on the dish you are making, your personal taste preferences and your budget. That said, reserve premium brandy, like Cognac, for drinking and go for more affordable options like Christian Brothers, E&J and Paul Masson.

Let’s talk about what brandy is and what it isn’t, and then go through everything you need to know about brandy for cooking and baking.


What is brandy?

Brandy is distilled wine, specifically wine made with fermented whole, fresh grapes. Most brandy is either aged in oak or colored with caramel before bottling, giving it an amber or brown color.

Traditionally an after-dinner drink, nowadays Brandy is also commonly used in cocktails and as an ingredient in many recipes.

Brandy usually contains somewhere between 35-60% alcohol by volume (abv).

What isn’t brandy (but sounds like it)

Fruit spirits made from fruit other than grapes are technically not brandy, but are often called brandy; for example, Calvados which is made from apples is known as a “cider brandy” but technically is not brandy.

Similarly, Kirsch—a German fruit spirit made with cherries—is known as a “cherry brandy” but is also not brandy.

Why brandy is added to a dish or recipe

Alcohol in recipes can add acidity and depth of flavor and color. Alcohol also helps to tenderize meat and it can deglaze the pan.

In some cases, like a dried fruit Christmas cake or pudding, it can help to preserve the cake.

Brandy for cooking and baking

When it comes to brandy in recipes, it’s wise to take a similar approach to that of recipes using wine, that is to say, use a brandy that you would be happy to drink, but keep the premium, expensive stuff for drinking only.

Of course, there may be exceptions to this; for example, you have a bottle nice of Cognac sitting around and you need a splash to deglaze the pan. Well, in that case, I might use the Cognac rather than go out and buy another bottle of brandy.

What brandy to use

Most recipes will simply state “brandy” as an ingredient. When a recipe is more specific, it often references Cognac or Armagnac. Well, guess what? Cognac and Armagnac are both types of brandy. So, in most cases you can use any brandy. The flavors differ from brandy to brandy of course, but flavor is just one element of what brandy is bringing to the dish, as we discussed already.

If you want to follow a recipe exactly, that is ideal, but you don’t need to feel like you have to go out and buy an expensive brandy or a particular brandy. So, unless a recipes states that you need to use a particular brandy or the recipe won’t work (even then I’m sure there is a suitable alternative), go with what you have or can get your hands on and can afford.

Affordable brandy that can be used for cooking

E&J Brandy

This is a popular American brandy that is often used for cooking. It has a mild flavor and is reasonably priced.

Paul Masson Brandy

Another American brandy that is often used for cooking, Paul Masson has a slightly sweeter flavor than E&J and is also reasonably priced.

Christian Brothers Brandy

This California brandy has a richer, more complex flavor than the previous two and can be a good choice if you’re looking to add more depth to your dish.


Budget brandy

Generally speaking, cheap brandy won’t be made to the same high standards and probably won’t be aged in barrels. So, it won’t taste as nice, but if you are on a budget, a cheap brandy to feed your Christmas cake, for example, will do the job just fine.

Many supermarkets have their own brands of brandy at competitive prices. Some even do their own-brand Cognac.

German supermarkets like Lidl and Aldi have a knack for producing decent quality at great prices. Check out what your local supermarket has.

Difference between Cognac and brandy

Cognac is a type of brandy that can only be made in the Cognac region in France.

To be called Cognac and qualify for the Cognac Protected Appellation of origin (PDO) it has to comply with regulated specifications, its grapes must be grown in Cognac, and the wine made from them produced there. The area of Cognac is defined by strict borders encircling the Charente River.

Cognac is made with the Ugni Blanc grape. It must be aged for at least two years in oak barrels and double distilled using a copper pot still.

There are different quality grades for Cognac that indicate how long it was aged. V.S. is brandy aged for at least two years and V.S.O.P has been aged for at least four years etc.

Cognac is world-renowned for a reason—it is the best of the best.

It tastes smooth with fruity and floral aromas.

If a recipe requires brandy, you can use Cognac; however, it’s worth noting that Cognac is a premium drink, so if the recipe requires a large volume of brandy, a more economical choice may be warranted.

Cognac ranges in price from approximately $55 to over $3,000!

Some of the best cognac brands include:

  • Hennessy
  • Rémy Martin
  • Martell
  • Hardy

Difference between Armagnac and brandy

Armagnac brandy can only be made in the Armagnac region in France.

Armagnac is a defined Controlled Appellation of Origin (AOC).

It is made from a mix of folle blanche, ugni-blanc, colombard, and baco 22A white grapes.

Armagnac is typically distilled once and then aged in oak barrels. It is typically more fragrant than Cognac and made on a much smaller scale than Cognac.

Armagnac has a similar classification to Cognac. V.S. refers to Armagnac aged in oak casks for two to three years, while V.S.O.P. refers to Armagnac aged for four to five years in oak casks.

Some of the best Armagnac brands include:

  • Delord
  • Castarède
  • Laubade
  • Arton

American brandy

American brandy isn’t as controlled as French or EU countries in general. That said, there are regulations for making brandy in California. The spirit must be distilled below 85% and barrel-aged for at least 2 years. So, if you want an American brandy made to more traditional standards, California is the way to go.

Outside of California, there aren’t really any regulations. That’s not to say that there isn’t good brandy being made, it just makes it more difficult to know at a glance what you are getting.

Best substitutes for brandy in cooking

Brandy is often included as an ingredient for its alcohol content, e.g., to deglaze a pan or help preserve a cake or to give a recipe an alcohol kick. You can achieve the same or similar with another spirit alcohol. Generally speaking, you can substitute brandy for the following:

Whiskey can be a good substitute, especially for fruit cake recipes.

Fruit spirits, such as Calvados (known as cider brandy) and Kirsch (known as cherry brandy) can be a good substitute for fruity dessert recipes and cakes.

Port Port wine is wine with spirit added that is then aged. So, it has a similar flavor profile to brandy and can make a good substitution; however, Port wine is sweet (although you can get dry white Port) so you will need to take that into consideration.


Is brandy the same as Cognac for cooking?

Essentially, yes. Cognac is a type of brandy. So, generally speaking, you can substitute one for the other in cooking.

Can I use cheap brandy for cooking?

Yes, expensive brandy is better kept for drinking purposes.

Is Calvados brandy?

Technically it is a fruit spirit but is known as “cider brandy” because it is made using apples.

Can I use whiskey instead of brandy for a fruit cake?

Yes! Whiskey is a very traditional ingredient in Christmas cakes and puddings.