What’s the best way to celebrate the long-awaited renaissance of a classic spirit like brandy? With a hearty competition, of course. The inaugural Brandy Mixology Challenge has just wrapped, bringing with it a slew of inventive and satisfying cocktails that brings freshness to the brandy world while maintaining its roots as an age-old grape-based spirit.
It all went down this summer, starting in mid-July and lasting about a month. Recipes came in from all over the country, all featuring a base made of French brandy St-Rémy Signature, an innovative, double aged blend that is reinvigorating the category with its unique flavor. The contestants were ultimately whittled down to 10, celebrated not only for their drink’s originality, taste, and balance, but its appearance and the technique employed as well.
For all your cocktail inspiration, we’re sharing the top 10 mixologists — professional and otherwise — creative recipes and their thoughts on why they plan to bring brandy back behind the bar. Check the full list of recipes out here: St-Rémy Brandy Mixology Challenge Winner Recipes
Jacob Sunny – Le Lion d’Or
Bastille Brasserie and Bar in Virginia is where Jacob Sunny does his thing as manager and mixologist. That kind of French context set him up nicely for working with brandy. Sunny appreciates the individuality at play with the spirit, differing depending on region, cask, age, grape varietal, and more. “It’s an all-around liquor that can be transitioned into flavors unique to your creative skills,” he says. “The only way to unveil those flavors is to start experimenting.” Check out Jacob Sunny’s Le Lion d’Or recipe here.
Ryan Smith – St-Rémy Appleseed
“Brandy is a fun spirit to explore with,” says Ryan Smith, bartender at The Roosevelt Room in Texas. “It can add a level of flavor or depth to a cocktail and help round off sharp edges bringing balance and sharp taste.” He’s of the mind that there’s a range to the spirit that can be overlooked. In the future, Smith looks forward to new ventures as a cocktail tour guide, introducing guests to the many places brandy can take you. Check out Ryan Smith’s St-Rémy Appleseed recipe here.
Tristan Neviska – Elettaria Boulevard
Tristan Neviska is the director of alumni and external relations at Antioch College in Ohio. He also appreciates a mean drink. Neviska admits some folks might associate brandy with snifters. But it’s so much more than that. “Brandy offers the barrel-aged flavors and aromas of whiskey without the typical harshness inherent to even the priciest of bourbons,” he says. “At once smooth and complex, brandy can go anywhere whiskey can, and beyond.”
John Laue – Cherry Blossom
John Laue, mixologist, and beverage/bar consultant (Instagram: @proof.productions) in Austin, TX, immediately thought of cherries while working with St-Rémy Signature. His cocktail was a stone fruit triumph, blending sake with cherry-infused liqueur, grilled pink lemon juice, and more. “I wanted to build a well-rounded cocktail that presented multiple elements of blossoming cherry trees,” he says. “St-Rémy Signature starts smooth with fresh notes and steps through fiery and buttery elements to finish with a full palate of remarkable brandy.”
Timothy Tran – St-Rémy CoCoCocktail
Timothy Tran, a home mixologist, admires the hints of coconut, vanilla, and wood that St-Rémy brings to the table. There’s some nostalgia at play, too. “My father was a brandy drinker, and it was the first alcohol that I tried,” he recalls. “I think similarly, to many of us, we haven’t been given the time and chance to re-drink brandy with a more refined palate to enjoy its flavors. I would love to create cocktails that lean into the precious notes and sweetness that brandy can have.”
Justin Collins – Sloe Hand, Easy Touch
“Being from Wisconsin, I grew up around bars and restaurants doing Wisconsin style brandy Old Fashioneds or brandy waters,” says Justin Collins, former bar manager and now current bartender at The Farmer and the Fishmonger in Apple Valley, Minn. “So many people don’t know much about brandy beyond what they saw an older generation drinking.” Where can the next generation take it? With some awareness and experimentation, the sky’s the limit. “Investing in education and getting bartenders talking to guests about amazing brandy expressions and not being afraid to feature pairings or brandy on menus within cocktails is certainly a good start,” Collins says.
Bryson Ryan – Cherrity Starts At Home
There’s a reliability to brandy as a cocktail component, argues Bryson Ryan, a beverage manager in Chicago, IL. With St-Rémy Signature in particular, the wood, honey, candied fruit, butternut, and spices make it a masterful mixer. “This brandy is of a lighter blend that can be a bridge from the older generation to the younger generation,” he says.
Tracy Graziano – Banana Street
Graziano puts her shifts in at Lala’s Lounge in Bayshore, New York, where she’s a bartender. Her cocktail submission played off the vanilla and woody notes of the brandy by way of complementary banana.
“Brandy has always had a special place in my heart,” Graziano says. “I think the constant need to stay on trend drowns out some of our more classic options,” she says. “I would simply try to incorporate it into more progressive recipes to coax the modern-day drinker to delve a little more into the product.”
Trinh Quan Huy-Philip – LES AMIS-Signature
Trinh Quan Huy-Philip, General Manager at Mercy Me in Washington DC, believes brandy is a great fit in classic cocktails as well as new-age ones that might go for a lower ABV overall.
Huy-Phillip’s recipe combined elements of his native Vietnam as well as France, where he worked for seven years. The cocktail combined the brandy with coffee liqueur cold brew, lemon juice, black walnut bitters, and a Saigon syrup composed of demerara sugar, bananas, and cinnamon. “For me, this drink doesn’t just tell time, it tells part of the history of my life,” he says.
Nial Harris Garcia – Before and After
When dreaming up the Before and After, Nial Harris Garcia’s entry, he was inspired by the oaky elements of the St-Rémy brandy. Garcia is the beverage director and sommelier at the Conrad Hotel in D.C. “The coconut bounces inspired me to use amontillado sherry,” he says. The final cocktail also brings PX sherry and a couple of dashes of chocolate bitters.
“Nowadays there is a big array of brandies and qualities that should be approachable for younger generations,” Garcia says. “Younger generations should try brandies that have more fruity notes and more new oak influence.”
This article is sponsored by St-Rémy Signature.