Calling all devotees of fine spirits! Today in honor of National Cognac Day, we’re celebrating with three unique cognac-based cocktail recipes and some little-known cognac trivia sure to impress your guests.
What is Cognac?
Cognac is a well-known variety of brandy originating from the town of Cognac, France in the French Departements of Charente and Charente-Maritime. During the 16th Century, Dutch trading
partners experimented with gin distillation and wine distillation.
French winemakers imported this distillation method and by the 17th century, the double distillation process made its appearance in the region. While the Dutch built the first stills in Charente, the process was constantly refined to arrive at the copper pot double distillation technique we see today. The distillation process resulted in two very desirable outcomes: first, the distillate could be transported by sea without spoiling, and two, due to delays in shipping, spirit makers learned that the distillate tasted better the longer it stayed in the oak casks.
What Makes A Cognac?
There are six Cognac growing areas aka Crus, as delimited and decreed in 1938:
- Grande Champagne
- Petite Champagne
- Fins Bois
- Bons Bois
- Bois à Terroirs
Don’t confuse “champagne” with the Champagne (sparkling wine) region of France. In this context, “champagne” means “chalky soil”, a characteristic adding to the complexity of the grapes and resulting drink.
Next, Cognac must derive from specified grapes, predominantly Ugni Blanc/Saint-Emilion. The resulting brandy must then be twice distilled in copper pot stills and aged at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais.
The double distillation produces eau de vie, which forms the basis for Cognac blends. Eau de vie varies widely depending on location and aging. As you will see below, the age of the eau de vie is calculated from the youngest brandy in the blend. After that, it is taster’s choice. Blending many eau de vies is what finally makes a Cognac a Cognac.
There are three popular (and one rare) classifications for Cognac:
- V.S. (“very special”) – youngest brandy has been stored for at least two years.
- V.S.O.P. (“very superior old pale”) – youngest brandy has been stored for at least four years.
- XO (“extra old”) or Napoléon – youngest brandy has been stored for at least six years. Starting 2016, the minimum storage age of the youngest brandy used in an XO blend will be set to ten years.
- Hors d’âge (“beyond age”) – high-quality product beyond the official age scale.
The Grades/Classifications of Cognac are named in English because so much Cognac was exported to England. In fact, the French consume little Cognac to this day. In the past half-decade, Cognac popularity has spiked in China and Asia and demand remains strongest in the U.S.
5 Boutique Cognac Brands To Try
You’re likely already familiar with the “Big 4” who produce well over 85% of the world’s total cognac supply: Courvoisier, Hennessy, Martell, and Rémy Martin. We recommend tracking down one of these boutique brands to taste– all producing stellar cognac with fascinating histories.
- Kelt Cognac: Until the turn of the Century, cognac was still shipped in barrels and matured at sea. Kelt Cognac follows this century-old tradition, sending its cognac on a 3-month sea voyage where movement, temperature variation and air pressure changes combine to create Kelt’s smooth taste.
- Baron Otard: After narrowly escaping death in the French Revolution, the Baron returned to Cognac and transformed his family’s stock of eaux-de-vie into a famed cognac house. Three centuries later, his legacy lives on in limited, heritage vintages, like the Baron Otard Vintage 1972.
- A. de Fussigny: Thanks to extended aging and exclusively using the Petite and Grande Champagne eaux de vie, the flagship Creation line offers greater balance and complexity than typically founded in Cognac.
- Cognac Croizet: Founded in 1805 by Leon Croziet, the former Sommelier to Napoleon I’s High Command, Cognac Croziet is one of the oldest and most revered Cognac producers and one of only three Cognac houses allowed to sell vintage cognacs.
- Meukow: After Russian Tsar Alexander ll sent to young brothers to France to secure a steady supply of cognac for the royal court, the brothers founded the Meukow House. Today, the house is known for its masterful blending, with some blends aged for more than 50 years.
Cognac Cocktail Recipes:
On this fine Cognac day, traditionalists will demand the drink neat, with a drop of water, or a small bit of ice. Creative mixologists have other plans in mind.
Ready to experiment? Try one of these three unique cognac recipes from Saveur and Cognac Expert, which will be sure to excite the taste buds and impress your guests. Tell us what you think!
Incorporating mezcal, sherry, dark rum, and cognac, the Last Pontoon takes its cues from mole’s well-known combination of smoky and sweet flavors.
- 1 1⁄2 oz. cognac, preferably Remy Martin 1738
- 1⁄2 oz. orgeat
- 1⁄4 oz. dark rum, preferably Cruzan Black Strap
- 1⁄4 oz. mezcal, preferably Del maguey Chichicapa
- 1⁄4 oz. sherry, preferably Pedro Ximenez
- 3⁄4 oz. beer, preferably IPA
- Grapefruit peel, for garnish
- Combine cognac, orgeat, rum, mezcal, and sherry in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
- Stir and strain into a chilled rocks glass filled.
- Top with beer.
- Garnish with grapefruit peel.
For a sophisticated twist on a classic spirit, mix up a New York sour.
- 2 oz. cognac, such as Pierre Ferrand Ambre, Rémy
Martin VSOP, or Hennessy Black
- 3⁄4 oz. fresh orange juice
- 3⁄4 oz. fresh lemon juice
- 2 tsp. superfine sugar
- 1⁄2 oz. dry red wine
- Shake cognac, juices, and sugar in a cocktail shaker filled with ice until chilled, about 15 seconds.
- Strain into a chilled champagne coupe.
- Gently pour wine over the back of a spoon set on the surface of the liquid so that the wine floats at the top of the glass.
Created in 2008 specifically for the “International Cognac Summit”, an event by the BNIC, the Summit Cocktail is clean, crisp and refreshing– perfect for a hot summer’s day.
- 4 slices of ginger
- 1 lime slice
- 4 cl (about 1.35 oz) VSOP Cognac
- 6 cl (about 2 oz) lemonade
- a fine peel of cucumber
- Place the lime and ginger into a glass, and add 2 cl of Cognac.
- Add ice and stir.
- Add the rest of the Cognac to the lemonade.
- Garnish with cucumber peel.
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