Movie legend Cary Grant once said, “A shot of brandy can save your life, but a bottle of brandy can kill you.”
And even though Grant was someone who drank coffee liqueur with lime juice (not exactly the norm), he echoed the attitudes of the time about brandy. It’s been hailed throughout history for its supposed health benefits.
But how real are the benefits of brandy? Does its red wine origins make it good for your heart? Is it a way to become 20 times more sophisticated instantly?
We crack open a case of the truth — but only because it’s a special occasion.
Winemakers — and, to be fair, some scientists — have been shouting like college kids at a frat party for years about the possible benefits of red wine, especially about its effects on cardiovascular health.
Brandy, a distilled spirit that sometimes (but not always) derives from red wine, may share such protective benefits. Brandy also contains high levels of vitamin C, an antioxidant with a wide range of health benefits.
(And yes, brandy also includes cognac, Armagnac, Pisco, Calvados, and grappa if those are your tipples of choice.)
Back when bleeding people with leeches was considered cutting edge healthcare, brandy played a role in medicine.
French monks were so impressed by its supposed healing powers that they dubbed it eau-de-vie — the “water of life.” Even into the 20th century, doctors prescribed brandy as an emergency stimulant, fever reducer, and sedative.
These days, no doctor who wants to keep their medical license would prescribe booze to their patients, and the latest medical consensus is that there’s no level of alcohol consumption that provides a net benefit to health.
The American Heart Association (AHA) does not recommend drinking wine or any other form of alcohol to gain potential health benefits. Not even a snifter-full of brandy. They don’t rule out drinking moderate amounts for fun, though.
Does brandy provide skin benefits?
Because brandy contains antioxidants, some claim that it can help improve the appearance of your skin — even recommending that you rub it on your face like a fermented wrinkle cream.
But no actual scientific research supports this notion. So maybe just, y’know, use a skin cream or something.
Brandy vs. whisky: Which is better for health
Brandy distilled from red wine may provide more healthy antioxidants than whisky. But again, not enough to offset the health problems associated with drinking too much alcohol — and the distillation process might kill off some or all of its nutritional benefit.
Is brandy good for people with diabetes?
At best, it’s a wash. The AHA says that flavonoids and other antioxidants in wine may protect the heart and blood vessels from dangerous free radicals — and peeps with diabetes produce a whole bunch of free radicals that cause damage around the body.
A 2018 review found that red wine drinkers may have lower glucose levels and a lower risk of diabetes compared to people who don’t drink wine.
But heavy drinking can also play havoc with blood sugar, which is very not cool if you live with diabetes. (Or for anyone, really — who needs mad blood sugar?)
If you’re going to sip a brandy after dinner, make it just one.
Healthy brandy brands
For a drink with “brand” right there in its name, there are no “healthy” brands of brandy. Stop digging for excuses to have a glass of brandy, and just enjoy it in moderation.
But since most of the antioxidants in red wine come from red grape skins, brandy made from red grapes as opposed to white grapes or other kinds of fruit might be marginally better for your health.
Again, it isn’t really clear how many antioxidants are destroyed in the distillation process.
Distilled at 100 proof, brandy provides about 64.7 calories per fluid ounce, which is actually less than other similarly strong distilled spirits.
If you’re on a low carb diet, brandy might be a great alternative bevvie.
Does alcohol provide *any* health benefits?
Some research has linked moderate alcohol consumption to a lower risk of stroke and other cardiovascular problems. One study also claimed that moderate wine drinking could reduce your odds of developing clinical depression.
Combined with a healthy diet, test-tube studies have also found that the resveratrol in red wine may reduce the growth of cancer cells — although there’s little evidence it has the same effect in the human body.
But a large global study published in 2018 found that mortality in general, and death from cancer in particular, rises alongside increasing levels of alcohol consumption. They concluded that “the level of consumption that minimizes health loss is zero.” Ouch.
In other words, your best bet for good health is to not drink alcohol at all.
An occasional snifter of brandy probably isn’t going to kill you. That said, all alcohol consumption carries risks, especially when that one brandy becomes two, three, or more per day.
Among the many risks associated with excessive alcohol use are:
As anyone who has had a few too many at a bar can tell you, drinking can also lead to risky behaviors, injuries, and sex without contraception.
Brandy was used as medicine for centuries. However, modern doctors don’t suggest it as a cure-all anymore — because it doesn’t.
Some brandies may share the benefits of red wine.
But, like alcohol consumption in general, drinking brandy in excess can quickly become a health problem that far outweighs any benefits.