Let’s start with the basics. Brandy is a spirit distilled from wine or fermented fruit. The wine or fruit mash is distilled and aged in various barrels until it transforms into a smooth liquid with a warm finish and full body. Brandy as a spirit category is a big umbrella that includes French Cognac, Calvados and Armagnac as well as Peruvian pisco, Italian grappa and eau-de-vie.
Brandy is a quintessential winter drink, perfect for swirling around in a snifter in front of a roaring fire. But the liquor commonly associated with cigars and grandfathers is getting a modern makeover. In Bavaria, a state steeped in brandy tradition, it's not only thought of as an after-dinner drink, but is as integrated into the drinking culture as beer. Local distilleries such as Rhine Hall, opening this weekend in West Town, hope to make brandy more of a thing in Chicago. Over at Table, Donkey and Stick - an Alpine-inspired restaurant that stakes its claim to crusty bread, brandy and fire - general manager Matt Sussman agrees. In addition to brandy cocktails, the restaurant also offers local and imported brandy flights. “Coming into fall with apples and pears, [brandy] is a classic and easy pairing,” Sussman said.
Just in time for the crisp autumn weather, here's our roundup of bars that are giving the old spirit a new look.
Rocket Science: Germain Robin craft-method brandy, Averna, house grenadine, lemon, mint, egg white and Angostura bitters
The Wreck of the Eastland: LeCompte Original Calvados, Averna Amaro and St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
Milk Punch: good brandy, lemon, whey and nutmeg
The Vanisher: apple brandy, Cognac, vermouth, Cherry Heering and vanilla bitters
Searcher: Evan Williams bourbon, Laird’s bonded apple brandy, maple syrup, lemon, Combier Mure, J. Thomas Decanter bitters and a sage leaf
Diamondback: Rittenhouse Rye, Laird’s Applejack and Chartreuse
Manhatterhorn: Castarede white Armagnac, rye, Bitter Truth EXR, cacao liqueur and black walnut bitters
Made in the Shade: Dupont Calvados, Zucca amaro, lemon and a fennel pollen rim