American brandy may not be as popular and sought after as the fine Cognacs from France, but there are a few jewels being produced. One of the best, and certainly the most affordable for the quality, is the line produced by Korbel Champagne Cellars. Out of this Sonoma Valley winery, over 100 years of great brandy for a great price is available alongside their equally interesting champagnes.
An Overview of Korbel Brandy
Korbel is one of those Sonoma County wineries that prides itself on perfection and control in every step and it shows in their champagnes and brandies. The brandy has been produced for over 115 years and the process always begins with picking prime California brandy grapes and crushing then fermenting them in preparation for the still. It is in these stills that the California wines become American brandy.
It is in the aging and blending processes that the real care and craftsmanship of putting together a bottle of Korbel can be seen. The careful choice of employing one-time use Jack Daniels whiskey barrels adds an interesting character to the brandy and creates softer characteristics than new oak would. The distillery produces small batches of just 7,000 gallons of brandy at once and the blending tanks are carefully managed, mixing new and old brandies to ensure consistent quality.
Korbel Brandy Bottlings
Overall, Korbel is a fantastic American brandy and any of their bottlings are the best around in the category and for the value. The product line includes the Classic brandy that is everywhere and has been since 1889, a Gold Reserve VSOP and an XS, which is blended with ingredients like Madagascar vanilla and orange essence.
All of Korbel's brandies have a beautiful golden hue, a rich butterscotch aroma, and a very smooth palate and finish—all are excellent for brandy cocktails, new and old. While the Classic has more of a sweet caramel profile and medium finish the VSOP is warm with distinctively more oak that marries wonderfully with the sweetened grapes and butterscotch and both are ideal brandies for favorite cocktails like the Metropolitan, Coffee Cocktail and Champagne Cocktail. The XS is interesting and the vanilla and orange really stand out against the sweetness and I've found it spectacular in the classic Brandy Cocktail and the more obscure April Shower.
Everyone wants to know how a brandy compares to the famous brands of the world and that is difficult. I do have to say that while Korbel is certainly not a Cognac, it is a very good brandy. Taking in all factors from the flavor, smoothness, depth of the palate, availability, and price, Korbel is tops! It is a budget-friendly brandy, one you're not afraid to mix with or sip in a snifter, but it also is not a "firewater". Since exploring its full potential I am simply impressed and if there is only room for one mixing brandy in your bar, this should be it.
Korbel Brandy Facts
- Established in 1889
- Produced by Korbel California Champagne Cellars - Sonoma County
- Distilled in small batches from California Grapes
- Distilled, Blended & Bottled by F. Korbel & Bros.
- Brandies have won 37 awards in 3 years