Review: Ciroc VS French Brandy

Ciroc is a brand known best within the United States for it’s affiliation with Sean “P Diddy” Combs. The American rapper, recording artist, and record producer single handedly brought this brand from obscurity into mainstream consciousness, but there is far more to this brand than it’s famous fan. Ciroc actually got its start as a vodka made entirely from French grapes (which seems like a waste), but more recently has gone back to their French roots and released a French brandy that is a little more traditional in its treatment of the fruit.



The Robicquet family has been growing grapes and making wine in France since at least the 17th century. Jean-Sébastien Robicquet was born in 1966 and followed in that family tradition, studying winemaking in university before being entranced by the world of distilled spirits.

After graduation, Robicquet spent ten years working for the French cognac manufacturer Hennessy, where he learned and practiced the art of distillation. It was during this time that he was approached by the British spirits company Diageo, who had an idea for a new product and wanted his help: they wanted to create a premium vodka that was made from 100% French grapes rather than the typical grain or potato based raw materials.

Robicquet jumped at the opportunity and together they founded Ciroc, a name they chose as a portmanteau of the French words “summit” and “rock” in honor of the high altitude vineyards that they had chosen to supply the grapes for their new venture.

The brand was launched in 2003, specifically targeting American night clubs and similar venues. Bottles didn’t sell very well initially. Then, in 2007, Combs (aka Puff Daddy / P Diddy / Diddy / I’m sure I’m forgetting one) started promoting the spirit and within a decade the brand was moving more than two million cases per year.

Ciroc continues to be a popular brand of vodka in the United States and has expanded to other types of spirits as well, and remains owned by Diageo.


Ciroc got its start with vodka made from French grapes, so expanding into a brandy in 2018 was a natural next step.

Something to note here is that while this is a “French brandy”, there is no claim whatsoever that this is a cognac or armagnac or calvados or any other kind of specific, protected form of French brandy. This is just plain old French brandy, which gives the distiller a lot of leeway in terms of how it can be made.

And after some research, this actually gets even murkier — this is a “blend of French brandies”, meaning that it is unlikely that the Ciroc distillery made this themselves. Instead, it appears to be sourced from other distilleries in the country and blended together.

Right off the bat, because there’s no notion of what region this brandy is from, we can’t really figure out what kinds of grapes have been used to make it. We do at least know that it was made from French grapes, as the bottle helpfully lets us know.

For French brandy, grapes are grown and harvested pretty much the same way that they are in the wine production process. These grapes are then shredded and pressed to release the juice from within the fruit, which is a naturally sugary liquid which will readily and spontaneously ferment even without the typical addition of lab grown yeast.

Once the grape juice has been produced and fermented, it is now ready for distillation. Depending on the region in France and the type of spirit being produced, this process can have some severely strict controls around it; however, since this is only labeled as a “French brandy”, none of those restrictions apply here. We can probably assume that this was distilled in the most efficient way possible (both for time and cost) and to the highest alcohol concentration they can get, which means a less flavorful spirit in the end.

Once the spirit has been produced, it is then added to French oak barrels for a period of time to mature. This bottle is marked as “V.S.” or “Very Special” which, depending on the specific spirit you are talking about, has a different definition ranging from 1 to 2 years of maturation. But since this isn’t a defined type of brandy and instead is a generic brandy, those words don’t actually have any meaning. They could be adding food coloring to their spirit straight off the still and get away with slapping the “VS” label on the front without any repercussions.


To be honest, I think they took my usual advice a little too far here.

In terms of the overall shape of the bottle, the brandy follows the same pattern as their vodka. Ciroc uses this unique design for their bottles, with straight walls that slightly slant inwards, a sharp shoulder, and almost zero neck leading to the actual mouth of the bottle. It looks great on the back of a bar and is an interesting design, which seems to pay homage to some of the more traditional medicine bottle designs while also updating it for a modern look.

The front of the bottle sports a wood-patterned disc embedded in the front, which is a design feature with their vodka as well — that disc is differently colored for the different varieties it seems. Otherwise, all of the labeling is done with a metallic gold colored ink printed directly on the bottle, allowing for the maximum level of visibility into the bottle.

On the one hand, this is good — it lets you clearly see the color of the spirit inside and lets the spirit be the star of the show. But it’s also a bit of a problem, as the metallic gold color easily gets lost among the dark brown tones in the liquid. It doesn’t stand out clearly on the shelves and isn’t very legible.

(One minor note, for the record: pictured here is a half sized bottle of this spirit. The full size version looks pretty much identical, just, you know, twice the capacity.)



While this might not have an impressive age statement, the liquid in this glass is remarkably dark. It certainly gives the impression of a well aged spirit (even though there’s probably a good amount of artificial coloring in here doing most of the heavy lifting).

The aroma is sweet and well saturated, with toffee and brown sugar being the first notes that come to mind. Underneath that blanket of richness are some crisp apples, dried raisins, and baking spices that all combine to make something that smells like a fruitcake without the nuts. It’s sweeter, spicier, and richer than a typical cognac.

That sweetness is also the first thing that you taste when taking a sip, with an almost syrupy texture and viscosity to the liquid. Slightly burnt brown sugar or toffee is the next flavor to arrive, supported by a hint of crisp apple, vanilla, and some baking spices. Repeated trips to the well reveal some dark chocolate or cocoa nibs in there, with a bit of bitterness and a little more depth and richness to the flavor profile. On the finish, more of those traditional raisin flavors start appearing, but the lingering taste is burnt brown sugar and toffee.

On Ice

When taken neat, there’s a little bit of bitterness and bite in the flavor profile that might be a touch unpleasant. It encoded itself to me as burnt brown sugar and cocoa nibs, which do a good job of providing some depth and richness but the bitterness is an unfortunate side effect. With added ice, though, that bitterness thankfully is significantly reduced and leaves most of the rest of the flavors in tact.

At this point, I’m getting more darker and richer components like dried fruits — apricots, figs, raisins, plums .All that good stuff. The delicious section of a charcuterie board. That’s supported by a bit of brown sugar sweetness and some vanilla, with a hint of baking spices adding some welcome complexity.

It’s on the finish where the bitterness is still detectable. Like the tangy aftertaste of a bite of dark chocolate, it’s not entirely unpleasant… but it is just enough to be noticeable and prevent this from being a completely silky smooth experience.

Cocktail (Sidecar)

I think we finally found where this spirit really shines, and that’s with mixed drinks.

The dominant flavors of this flavor profile are rich, deep, and fruity — things like dried fruits and baking spices. So when added to some mixers like lime juice and Cointreau, the spirit makes a huge contribution to the combined flavor of the cocktail. There’s a great balancing act going on here (especially compared to something like an overly tart margarita), and as a result I could absolutely order an endless supply of these.


Overall Rating

To be frank, my expectations were pretty low when I first picked up this bottle. The fact that it is labeled as a “French brandy” (a blend of different distilled grape juices all combined together) seems like the perfect environment for the creation of a pretty mediocre spirit at best. But that’s a bar that this bottle has nevertheless cleared.

The flavors present in this bottle are tasty and well chosen, with a good mix of depth and richness combined with some spicier and fruity notes. My biggest complaint is that they all seem to be maturation flavors (dried fruit, caramel, brown sugar, dark chocolate, etc) picked up from the barrels themselves and not necessarily picked up from the raw materials. French brandy is supposed to be about the crisp apple and pressed grape juice flavors from the grapes themselves, and those are flavors that I don’t really get here.

What I think happened is that these distilleries created an over-proof high alcohol spirit to maximize their revenue, which distilled out a lot of those lighter and more complex flavors. In their place, the barrels (probably previously-used cognac and other brandy barrels) imparted some of those fruitcake-esque elements to give it the flavor of a good French brandy. It’s a solid business decision — but also the reason why varieties like cognac and calvados have strict controls on their manufacturing process to prevent exactly this kind of situation.

In the end, I think this is a perfectly fine mixing spirit. The flavors in here work well in cocktails, and even on the rocks there’s plenty to be happy about. I just don’t think I would necessarily drink this neat. And at this price point, that seems like a perfectly fine result.

Ciroc VS French Brandy
Produced By: Ciroc
Owned By: Diageo
Production Location: France
Classification: Brandy
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $30.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 3/5
Deep, rich flavors of dried fruit and brown sugar combine to make this a great mixing spirit, but a bit of tart bitterness keeps it from being a good sipper when taken neat.


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