There are times to try new things. Times to taste different flavors, experiment with products, seek out something you've never encountered before...And sometimes, you just want to know what the best option is. The easy choice. The go-to. The everyday variety you know will work when you need it, and rely on every time.
Throughout the next few months, ManMade is seeking out the best affordable bottles of a variety of spirits that work well in your home bar, but know you can grab at the store the next time you head to a friend's house or a party.
And with that, we'll conclude our series with brandy...since tis the season. Of course, this is a value series, so we're not looking at fine French Cognacs or Armagnacs. We're sticking to American brandy, made by distilling American wine from American grapes. It's a different category altogether from the fine European brandies, just like inexpensive Bourbon is a different from single malt Scotch. Doesn't mean it doesn't taste great.
What is does mean, though, is that you don't have to worry too much about getting carried away here. There are lots of cool small craft distilleries doing interesting and delicious brandies, like my local Stone Barn Brandyworks, who are producing great stuff within walking distance of my house (Hi guys!) But, if you're sticking to American brandies, you can afford some of the best and still not break a twenty spot.
Your friend here is E&J XO Extra Smooth. Yep, that one. The XO label is big step up from the brand's standard VSOP and VS labels (which still aren't bad). And it only costs, like, $14.
E&J is owned by E & J Gallo Winery, a mega winery in Central California, so it's an economically way to use up all those extra grapes and wine. When you drink it, it's sweet. It's brandy, after all. But it's almost candy sweet, and tastes a bit like that melt-y liquid that drips down you arm while you're eating a popsicle...but in a good way.
Again, this is American Brandy, and it doesn't taste like Courvoisier or Hennessy. The Ladies Man would not approve. But mixed up in a Sidecar (one of our faves) or spiked some egg nog or hot apple cider, it holds its booze-y own. It was recently rated the top American Brandy and given a 91/100 at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge. And the XO is a fine step up from the $10 and $12 VS and VSOPs.
Oh, and it costs $14. You caught that, right?