Everyone who knows me knows that I’m a whiskey girl; specifically bourbon with a high wheat mash bill. However, seeing as today is National Cognac Day, I’m going to spend some time talking about Cognac, aka “the king of brandies.” For those who don’t know, whiskey is basically distilled beer and brandy is distilled wine.
In the 11th century, Dutch merchants bought wine from the Cognac area of France. They soon discovered that distilling the wine made it much easier to transport, as it lessened the volume. Once the distilled wine reached its destination, they would simply add water again to make it drinkable: Insta-wine. The Dutch progressed in the 12th century, with the idea that a double distillation would minimize the volume even more. This allowed for more space aboard the ships, and more space for more wine! Finally in the 17th century, oak casks became the means for transportation, allowing the double-distilled spirit to absorb those distinctive flavors.
Rich, warm, smooth, and earthy, Cognac has similar qualities to what I anticipate in a good bourbon. Similar to bourbon, Cognac is very controlled in its method of production. First, it must be produced in the Cognac region of France, and there are a few other requirements, as well. It must be made from a certain type of white grapes, It must be distilled twice in copper pot stills, and it must be aged at least two years in French oak barrels from a specific region. These strict rules and regulations are necessary in order to protect an ambrosial product.
Cognac is best on its own, in a balloon-style snifter, so that the heat of your hand can slightly warm the glass, allowing the spirit to release those delicate notes that just aren’t available at room temperature. Clink Barware makes a sophisticated glass called the Night Owl Brandy Snifter. It has an elegant shape that captures the aroma, but still allows it to breath. And, get it monogrammed. It adds a level of class and will distinguish it as your pour. All you’ll need is a fireplace, a leather armchair, and a John Coltrane album.
Since the first cocktail book, Jerry Thomas’s 1862 Bar-Tender’s Guide, Cognac has been a star in many classic cocktails. I’m going to leave you with one of my favorite classic Cognac recipes, the French 75. Wait, French 75 with Cognac and not gin? While we are used to the modern French 75 served as gin, lemon, sugar and Champagne, Cognac has long been an option as a replacement for gin, which some argue is actually the original recipe. Whether or not this is true, it certainly makes it more French. As Sherlock Holmes said, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact,” and a New Orleans bar called Arnaud’s French 75 indeed mixes the best French 75. Indubitably, they serve theirs with Cognac.
Arnaud’s French 75
- 11⁄4 oz. Cognac
- 1⁄4 oz. fresh lemon juice
- 1⁄4 oz. simple syrup
- Champagne, chilled
- Lemon peel for garnish
- Combine Cognac, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
- Shake and pour into a Champagne flute, preferably the Smart Champagne Flute by Clink Barware (pulled-stem glasses at this price means you can afford that XO Cognac).
- Top with Champagne and garnish with a small piece of lemon peel.