Skip to main content

The Best Brandies For Sidecars, According To Bartenders

Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Thanks to the recent popularity of aperitifs and low-ABV beverages, brandy as a cocktail ingredient feels more relevant than ever. “Brandy” refers to spirits made by distilling wine, and they’re generally known for a slightly sweet and fruit-forward flavor profile. These characteristics make brandy a crucial part of a Prohibition-era cocktail currently in the throes of a serious comeback: The sidecar. This sophisticated (and crushable) drink also includes lemon juice and orange liqueur, but brandy serves as its anchor, so it’s essential to select a version that’s up to the task. Read on for a list of 10 sidecar-appropriate brandies, all vetted by professional bartenders and cocktail experts. 

Courvoisier VS Cognac

Historically, the brandy used in sidecars came in the form of Cognac, a version hailing from the Cognac region of France. Cognac is distilled from white wine with copper pot stills and is aged in French oak barrels, and General Manager James Takahata of Sidecar Barley & Wine Bar in Oklahoma City likes to hew to tradition by using Courvoisier VS Cognac in his sidecars. “The lack of citrus in this spirit allows for a perfect balance when we add the lime juice [to our sidecars]. I know a sidecar typically has lemon as its citrus [element], but we find the lime very appealing,” Takahata explains. 

Pierre Ferrand Sélection des Anges Cognac

Pierre Ferrand Sélection des Anges Cognac
Image used with permission by copyright holder

“I prefer to use Pierre Ferrand Sélection des Anges [in my sidecars],” assistant food & beverage director Alex Pendergrass of Hotel Viking in Newport, Rhode Island tells us.I love the hints of vanilla and apricot, [the] creamy mouthfeel, [and the finish of] leather and licorice. These play well with the vibrancy of the fresh lemon juice and [orange liqueur]. It gives great depth to the drink without it becoming too syrupy. Pierre Ferrand is such an iconic and small production Cognac house that [its Cognac] really takes center stage in a classic interpretation of the drink.”

Hennessy VS Cognac 

Hennessy VS Cognac 
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Hennessy brand of Cognac claims considerable pop culture cache, but veteran bartender Lily Wall of Lynn, Massachusetts warns against viewing this popular spirit in a dismissive manner, especially where sidecars are concerned. “The best brandy to use [in a sidecar] is Hennessy. Seriously. It’s aged in French oak barrels for up to eight years. The barrels give Hennessy the depth of flavor — notes of vanilla and oak with a hint of grape — needed to stand up to the lemon juice, a tough job for any spirit,” Wall insists. 

Grand Brulot VSOP Cognac Café 

Grand Brulot VSOP Cognac Café 
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Combining a coffee-infused Cognac with the citrusy ingredients of a sidecar may sound like a peculiar move, but mixologist Tiffanie Barriere of Les Dames d’Escoffier Atlanta urges you to put your skepticism aside and give it a shot. She especially recommends Grand Brulot VSOP Cognac Café, explaining that “mixing Grand Brulot with orange notes is the easiest way to enjoy the complex flavors of this Cognac. For our sidecar, we shake 2 oz Grand Brulot, 1 oz Orange Curacao and 0.5 oz lemon juice and strain it into a cocktail glass. The orange will highlight the flavors of the spirit, and each serving brings with it the same amount of caffeine as a shot of espresso.”

Torres 15-Year Brandy

Torres 15-Year Brandy
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Spanish brandies can often be purchased at a lower price than their French counterparts, and mixology director Rus Yessenov of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto sees these “bargain” brandies as solid choices for sidecars. “Although Cognac dominates the brandy market, Spanish brandies like Torres 15 offer great value. It’s aged in American oak, providing extra intensity & tannin versus [the] traditionally used French oak, in addition to being aged with the famous Solera system. The brandy is thus versatile, with fruit-forward characteristics, and will allow for a reasonably priced sidecar cocktail. Either way, you generally want a brandy that will stand up to the citrus and [the orange liqueur], so you need something with depth, body, and bold character,” says Yessenov.

Bertoux Brandy

Image used with permission by copyright holder

American distilleries produce a wide variety of brandies, and former bartender and current creative director Rex Chatterjee of Dune Road Lifestyle Events in New York prefers the French-inspired (but California-made) Bertoux Brandy in his sidecars. “My go-to move for an updated Sidecar is to substitute the traditional Cognac for a more interesting brandy like Bertoux. Bertoux is specifically a favorite of mine because of its punch of apricot right from the get-go. While there’s a lot of balance with baking spices and oak towards the finish, the fruit-forward aroma of Bertoux creates an open invitation to the sidecar that’s crucial in making it more accessible to folks who might usually steer away from Cognac and brandy-based cocktails,” Chatterjee tells us.

Copper & Kings Butchertown Brandy

Copper & Kings Butchertown Brandy
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This Kentucky brandy, appropriately aged in bourbon barrels, earned high marks from many of our surveyed experts, including chef/proprietor Sara Bradley of freight house in Paducah, Kentucky. “I love using Copper & Kings Butchertown Brandy — it’s high proof and always tastes like blackberries to me. The sidecar is also such a simple cocktail to remember how to make — equal parts of everything delicious,” Bradley raves.

Boulard Calvados VSOP

Image used with permission by copyright holder

While most brandies use grape wine as their distillation base, some instead utilize apple cider, resulting in a spirit with a distinct malic presence that blends nicely with the citrus flavors a sidecar. One of the world’s most famous apple brandy categories is Calvados, a style unique to the Normandy region of France. Wine & beverage director Michael Rainforth of Juniper Grill in Pittsburgh claims that “when making a sidecar, I prefer to use Calvados rather than traditional brandy or Cognac. Calvados starts as distilled apple cider, so the crispness of the apple shows up in the flavor. Once mixed with the citrus elements of orange liqueur and lemon juice, the apple presents a nice contrast, and adds to the complexity of the cocktail.” He gives a specific shout-out to Boulard Calvados VSOP: “What makes it such an enjoyable drink are the rich, fruity notes you get on the nose and the ripe apple flavors. It’s really well-balanced, with flavors of vanilla and wood.”

Barking Irons Applejack Brandy

Barking Irons Applejack Brandy
Image used with permission by copyright holder

American apple brandies (aka “applejacks”) also work beautifully in a sidecar, and beverage manager Brooke Baker of Underdog in New York City recommends Barking Irons Applejack Brandy, made from apples grown in upstate NY and distilled at a facility in Red Hook, Brooklyn. “I like using Barking Irons Apple Brandy because it is truly a well-crafted spirit. As a barrel-aged brandy made from Hudson Valley apples, it is very versatile and the flavor holds up well with citrus,” Baker explains.

Laird’s 88-Proof 12-Year Apple Brandy

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Many spirits enthusiasts consider Laird’s Applejack from New Jersey the gold standard for American apple brandies, and bar manager Greg Rodriguez of Oak & Ivy in Las Vegas views the 12-year-aged version of Laird’s Applejack as an excellent choice for sidecars. “Its proof and age statement makes it the ideal brandy for that style of cocktail; [it has] enough oak to tame the fruity liqueur and [and produce] rich buttery flavors that help balance the drink. 88 proof is a little higher than your typical brandies, and the higher proof will help give the spirit more complexity and more body so the drink does not taste flat. You pair [Laird’s 12-Year] with a little bit of lemon juice, a high quality Curaçao, and some sugar, and you can take over the world,” he says.

Editors' Recommendations

Taylor Tobin
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Taylor Tobin is a freelance food, drink, and lifestyle writer based in Brooklyn. She's contributed content to publications…
A dozen of the best tequilas for margaritas, according to bartenders
Want to make the best margarita for Cinco de Mayo? Start with one of these bartender-approved tequilas (and mezcals).
A served margarita sitting on a bar

Despite its greatness in the glass, there's not much to a good margarita. Meaning that the spirit in question — traditionally tequila but sometimes mezcal or even sotol — needs to be solid. It's the foundation on which the complementary citrus, sweetener, and salt are stacked.

While we have a good palate for these things, we like to put our trust in the tried-and-true professionals. In this case, we're talking bartenders, the skilled mixologists who have made countless margaritas. They've had the good fortune to test many tequilas and have come away with some of the best options when putting together this timeless cocktail.

Read more
The best gins, according to those in the know (bartenders)
Looking for a superior gin this spring? Check out these bartender-approved options
A glass of Genever on bar counter with a midsection of a man behind it.

When you have a pressing drink question, always ask a good bartender. They'll offer a wisdom-soaked response and improve your cocktail game going forward. Next thing you know, you'll be mixing with a superior product, impressing yourself as well as guests the next time you're hosting.

We already reached out to some excellent resources to narrow down the best bourbons (according to bartenders). So we thought we'd do the same with some of the other major spirits. Being that it's spring, gin is front and center, the hyper-aromatic spirit that blooms from the glass just like the many plants and flowers are doing as we speak.

Read more
11 of the best sparkling water cocktails to rival hard seltzers
Like hard seltzers? You can make even more flavorful drinks at home with these great sparkling water cocktail recipes.
Fresh spring sparkling water

With all do respect to the White Claw crowd, there are better hard seltzer options out there. Among them are the recipes you can tackle at home, provided you at least have a few popular spirits at your disposal. After all, while canned cocktails can be delicious, it's tough to top one made fresh, especially when there's citrus and other fruit involved.

Bartenders know that sparkling water is a key ingredient in a lot of cocktails and having some at the ready is always a good idea. Sparkling water can balance out ingredients, add some fizzy texture, and impart a pleasant since of minerality. Yes, it's clear and neutral looking but it pops with energy and is just begging to be in your next favorite cocktail.

Read more