A Deluxe (Inexpensive) French Brandy Choice for Drinking and Cooking

Brandy-drinking weather may be blasting into most of the country, but I'd be hesitant to declare any sort of brandy season in subtropical Houston. Still, there seems enough colder air coming deeper into the heart of Texas to demand at least one bottle of the spirit per winter, and in addition, brandy is a common ingredient in holiday cooking.

I was surprised when an oil-business uncle, who could easily shell out the cash for a bottle of France's better XO Cognacs, served me a glass of St. Rémy Napoleon VSOP Brandy, as I'd seen it in liquor stores lumped together with low-priced American brandies such as Paul Masson Grande Amber and E&J XO. It was just a shelf above cheap Korbel brandy, which is, along with Sprite or 7UP and no whiskey, a main ingredient of a Wisconsin Old-Fashioned cocktail.

Uncle explained that he'd never acquired a taste for Cognac, but enjoyed the milder taste of the Napoleon as a nightcap. Indeed, it is very smooth and delicious and warming, and though no replacement for Cognac in a Sidecar or French 75, it's certainly worth the $13.59 price at Spec's. As far as cooking goes, St. Rémy actually tastes better than Cognac in making fruit-based dishes or dessert. It can even turn a boring jar of applesauce into something more special (recipe follows).

A Most Excellent Glass for Drinking Brandy.

The Glencairn Single Malt Whiskey Glass, as the name suggests, was deftly designed for drinking Scotch, but it's now busting through the clutter of owning various brandy snifters, midget wine glasses, aperitif and shot glasses. Glencairns are superb for drinking anything neat, even rum, and they were used for a tasting of rhum agricole featuring Ed Hamilton of the Ministry of Rum, this past summer at Anvil.

At $10 per glass (also at Spec's), they're not much cheaper than the bottle of St. Rémy brandy. You may pause before breaking them in the fireplace after a toast, and I surmise there will be cheap knockoffs, so look for "The Glencairn Glass" etched into the bottom.

Brandied Applesauce

32-ounce jar of regular applesauce 1½ tablespoons of St. Rémy Napoleon brandy ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (Chinese Tung Hing from Penzeys is great)

-- Remove about 4 tablespoons of applesauce from the jar, add the brandy and cinnamon, put the lid back on and shake. Serve.

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