Cognac is no longer the poison of choice of aged gentlemen, nor is it the nightcap most people consider it to be. It is the preferred spirit of choice for discerning drinkers and widely enjoyed by wine drinkers. Moreover, cognac cocktails are a growing trend in bars worldwide. The brandy is double distilled from white wine produced from grapes grown in the Cognac region of France. White grapes are double distilled in copper pipes, the result of which is aged for at least two years to become this premium spirit. But there is much more to know about it, and here is our beginner’s guide to cognac.
Lesser-known facts about cognac
The labels you see on cognac bottles — VS (Very Special), VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale), and XO (Extra Old) are an indication of how many years the bottle of cognac has been matured and aged. VS signifies that the cognac has been aged for at least two years, VSOP for four years, and XO (Extra Old) for 10 years. However, cognac is usually aged much longer and can also date back decades.
Myths about cognac
Through the years, numerous misconceptions have surrounded cognacs. “The two most common myths about cognac is that it should be warmed and it should be swirled in the glass before drinking,” says Maxime Pulci, international ambassador of Rémy Martin. “Both are false. As cognac is 40 percent alcohol, and swirling it or heating it will make it too strong to drink.”
The art of tasting
Maxime further adds that the best way to taste cognac is to drink it neat at room temperature. “Smell it before sipping it and start with small sips. Give it a chance to express itself. Another option is to add a drop of water, which reveals the more fruity, floral, and spicy flavours of cognac, and makes the tasting experience smoother. Similarly, adding two or three large ice cubes will dilute cognac and reduce the alcohol percentage, which reveals aromas while making the taste more refreshing. The goal is that the ice cubes melt slowly, revealing new aromas at each step.”
Pairing with food
Tasting cognac with food brings out different flavour notes and aromas in the spirit. Roquefort and aged parmesan cheeses with their spicy or full-bodied tastes pair very well with cognac. Chocolates, fruits such as dried apricot, grapes, and apples, as well as licorice make a good pairing. A bar of pure, dark chocolate with its fatty and bitter flavour notes tastes well with the floral, spicy notes of cognac.
In Cognac, France, locals drink cognac neat or with tonic or ginger ale to bring out the notes of fresh fruit in the spirit. However, for beginners, it’s best to start with cognac cocktails. Cognac has a rich aromatic profile with notes that are fruity and floral yet spicy. This gives drinkers a variety of options where they can choose to reveal any particular flavour. Some of the most delicious and commonly made cognac cocktails are Cognac French Mule, Cognac Sidecar, Cognac Sour, Cognac Cranberry, and Cognac Old Fashioned. Surprisingly, cognac is a refreshing change in classic cocktails such as the Manhattan, Tom Collins, a Mint Julep, and Mojito.
All images: Courtesy Rémy Martin