What Is Korbel California Brandy?

Production, Types, and Recipes

Korbel Brandy - California American Brandy
Korbel Brandy

Photo from Korbel Champagne Cellars

Korbel California Brandy is an American brandy produced in Sonoma County. The brandy has been distilled from California-grown grapes and aged in oak barrels for over 100 years. It's enjoyed throughout the world, particularly in the state of Wisconsin. Korbel is a good budget-friendly brandy that is excellent for cocktails and mixed drinks, and the brand's older expressions are great sipping brandies.

Fast Facts

  • Ingredients: grapes
  • Proof: 80
  • ABV: 40%
  • Calories in a 1 1/2-ounce shot: 100
  • Origin: California
  • Taste: Semi-sweet, oaky
  • Aged: 2—25 years
  • Serve: straight, on the rocks, cocktails

What Is Korbel Brandy Made From?

Like all brandy, Korbel is distilled from grapes. The company was founded in the late 1800s by Francis Korbel and his brothers, who were initially drawn to the area by the California gold rush. It began as a winery that produced sparkling wines because the Russian River Valley's environment was similar to that in the Champagne region of France. In 1889, the Korbels made their first brandy, which is known today as Korbel California Brandy, and in 1965, Korbel became part of the Brown-Forman portfolio.

Korbel is not a cognac because that designation can only be applied to brandy produced in France's Cognac region. Instead, this is classified as an American brandy. Grown in California, the distillery uses French Colombard and Chenin Blanc grape varieties, which are ideal for making brandy. Once picked, the fruit is crushed and fermented to convert the sugars into alcohol.

A trip through copper-lined continuous column stills transforms the California wine into brandy. It is then aged in charred oak barrels until it picks up its golden color and oaky character. The mature brandy is then blended using the solera system at Korbel Champagne Cellars, where new and old brandies are combined to produce a consistent flavor before it's cut to bottling strength with water. All of Korbel's brandies are 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV, 80 proof).

What Does Korbel Brandy Taste Like?

Korbel's brandies have a beautiful golden hue, a rich butterscotch aroma, and a very smooth palate and finish. While the original California brandy has a sweet caramel profile and medium finish, the V.S.O.P. is warm with more oak nuances that marry wonderfully with the sweetened grapes and butterscotch. As you move through the portfolio, you'll find that the extra time spent aging develops these oak flavors further and results in a smoother sipping brandy.

Types

Overall, Korbel produces a nice array of American brandies. The product line includes young brandies that sell for less than $20 and older premium brandies that are smoother and more expensive.

  • California Brandy: The flagship of the brand, and the original 1889 expression that's also simply called "Classic," this brandy is aged for at least two years, though it carries no official age statement.
  • X.S.: This brandy is blended with ingredients like Madagascar vanilla, orange essence, spices, and sugar after aging to give the flavor more dimension and sweetness.
  • Gold Reserve V.S.O.P.: Using the standard brandy rating that means "very superior old pale", the brandies that go into this blend are aged for over two years to produce a richer flavor.
  • Korbel 12: Released 2015, this was the first limited edition brandy Korbel made for the premium market. It is a blend of brandies aged between 12 and 17 years in charred Appalachian oak barrels.
  • Korbel 18: A blend of brandies at least 18 years old, this expression combines Alambic-distilled brandy aged in French oak and column-distilled brandy aged in former whiskey barrels.
  • Korbel 25: The oldest Korbel expression, this brandy is aged for at least 25 years in older American oak whiskey barrels.

How to Drink Korbel Brandy

The Korbel Brandy portfolio offers something for every drinker and occasion. The older expressions are excellent sippers when served straight, especially when in a brandy snifter that enhances the brandy's subtle aromas and flavors. The younger and more readily available brandies are most enjoyable on the rocks and are affordable choices for brandy cocktails, mixing well with everything from fruit to vermouth. If there is only room for one mixing brandy in your bar, Korbel is an excellent choice.

Cocktail Recipes

Korbel's core range of brandies is perfect for a variety of mixed drinks, and it's the brand of choice for Wisconsin's favorite cocktail, the brandy old-fashioned. Try it in simple recipes, both classic and modern, and have fun exploring it in less conventional drinks.