American brandy, like American wine, suffered from a bad rap for a long time. Well past the time, in fact, when it had actually changed for the better. No more: people know now that you can get some amazing wines from California, Oregon, and other parts of the US … and some of those wines are being distilled and aged in oak, just like their French cousins. The flavor profile of American brandy is usually like that of cognac, though because the Americans are free to use a wider variety of grapes, there is a broad range of possibilities.
Like Cognac, American brandies often use the VS, VSOP, and XO classifications to denote the age and quality of the liquor within, although unlike Cognac and Armagnac, those designations are not legally enforced. Because American brandies are, shall we say, not always quite so refined as their French cousins, I recommend VSOP or better. The good news: American brandy is often a fraction of the price of Cognac or Armagnac. In fact, finding any other oak-aged liquor at these prices, whiskey or brandy or otherwise, is almost impossible. E&J XO, for example, is a terrific brandy that’s on par with many VSOP Cognacs, can be had for about $15 at many liquor stores.