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Everything you need to now about cognac from its history to how to drink it.


It’s true: cognac is most undoubtedly all over the place today. You may be noticing it as an ingredient in artistic cocktails on menus, or perhaps your in-the-know buddies are consuming it neat from a tulip. Both method, there’s no denying that ‘nac is back – and here’s what you need to know.

So as to be categorized as cognac, the spirit – a kind of brandy – have to be produced within the Cognac area of France (sort of like champagne and Champagne), 75 miles north of Bordeaux. Outlined by its maritime local weather, chalky soils and the Charente River crossing the size of the area, Cognac has been producing spirits because the 16th century utilizing the Dutch system of distillation, which the French helped to superb tune by creating the double distillation system.


Picture: Benoit Linero

“Cognac is interesting because  there is true diversity in all aspects regarding the product,” says David Boileau, Cognac Ambassador for Bureau Nationwide Interprofessionnel du Cognac, and interprofessional group whose mission is “to develop and promote Cognac, representing the best interests of all Cognac professionals including growers, merchants and members of other activities related to the Cognac trade.”

Now, cognac is loved all around the globe, and particularly in the USA, the place 82.6 million bottles (!!) of cognac have been exported in 2017 alone, from manufacturers together with Cognac Park, AE Dor, Courvoisier, Delamain, Pierre Ferrand, Hine, Deau and lots of extra. Let’s get to know a bit of extra about this effective French spirit, we could?

The Grapes and Terroir Are Essential

Cognac has been round for a really very long time. It’s made by double distilling white wines from quite a lot of grapes, together with Folle Blanche, Colombard, Sémillon, Montils, Folignan and, the most typical, Ugni Blanc.


Picture: Benoit Linero

“Cognac is a region, a town and a spirit,” explains Cognac Park Proprietor and Grasp Blender Jérôme Tessendier. “That is, indeed, very hard to beat. It is made from white grapes; the dominant variety is Ugni Blanc. Cognac must be distilled twice and the distillation season lasts from October 1st through March 31st. After distillation, the eau-de- vie is aged and blended. The blending is what really makes cognac special. Cognac is the most complex spirit in the world to make and it takes the longest time to produce — centuries, in some cases. We work, today, for the future generations.”

Cognacs are born from a mix of terroir, know-how and keenness, says Boileau. “The grapes from a specific region, double distillation in copper stills on an open flame, long aging process in oak casks, and the patience in terms of time all make cognac special. Cognac is about blending, which allows the master blender to “create” the tastes he/she is on the lookout for. The Cognac appellation has an extended history and a singular heritage. There’s a man or a lady behind every step of the cognac making course of and unimaginable know-how. There are as many cognacs as individuals who make it.”


Picture: Benoit Linero

Cognac is made from white grapes, coming from six numerous terroirs of the Cognac area. “Each terroir has different soil characteristics capable of producing different-tasting eau-de-vie,” says Cognac Park Proprietor and Grasp Blender Jérôme Tessendier. “Therefore, cognac can develop a great variety of fruitful aromas that cannot be found in other spirits.”

The grapes have a serious position, because it has been confirmed that wine is 20 occasions extra fragrant than grain, provides BNIC’s Boileau. “The wine, which serves as a base, has no additives (there are no sulfites allowed in the cognac making process) and made mainly from the Ugni Blanc grape—which is the most common grape used in the area. Distillation allows concentration, and with double distillation we can preserve and enhance the fruity and floral aromas present in the wine.”

It’s All About The Double Distillation and Ageing

As soon as the grapes are harvested and pressed, the juice ferments for about 2-Three weeks, which helps convert the sugar to alcohol. The completed product – with a 7-Eight% alcohol content material – is then distilled twice in copper pot stills. This double distillation is completed in Charentais copper alembic stills, of which the design and dimensions of that are additionally legally managed; as soon as full, the ensuing “eau-de-vie” is a transparent spirit with an roughly 70%  alcohol content material.


Picture: Benoit Linero

Subsequent up is the getting older. So as to be categorized as cognac, the getting old have to be achieved for no less than two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais, comparable to how whiskies and wines barrel age.

Cognacs are then categorised based mostly on the period of time they’ve aged. (The age of the cognac is calculated as that of the youngest element used within the mix):

• V.S.: youngest eau-de-vie is at the very least 2 years previous; class accounts for 50% of cognac gross sales

• V.S.O.P.: youngest eau-de-vie is no less than four years previous; class accounts for 39% of cognac gross sales

• Napoléon: youngest eau-de-vie is no less than 6 years previous

• X.O. or Hors d’Age: youngest eau-de-vie is at the very least 10 years previous; class accounts for 11% of cognac gross sales

The Flavors Are Numerous – and Pleasant

The flexibility of cognac is what makes it such a particular spirit. “I love cognac for so many different reasons,” says Erick Castro of Well mannered Provisions and Raised by Wolves in San Diego and Boilermaker, NY. “While I tend to drink it mixed in cocktails, sipped neat after a nice meal has got to be one of the most pleasurable ways to enjoy it. Particularly, a nice X.O., as the flavors can be so expansive and unlike any other spirit. You can find every aroma from dried peach to black tea to shiitake mushrooms all in the same glass, and all in perfect harmony. There is truly nothing like it.”


Picture: Benoit Linero

Cognac Educator Kellie Thorn of Atlanta’s Empire State South provides, “Cognac displays a myriad of flavors on the palate. Younger expressions are often vibrant and fruity with notes of fresh pressed grapes, daisy, and oak spice. As they age the fruit becomes more developed, the oak characteristics more integrated, and the florality more complex. Nutty notes appear as well as cocoa and earthier flavors and aroma like forest floor and mushroom. Depending on the age range and the desire of the blender, it can be fruity and bright with tropical fruits and jasmine notes, or chocolatey, earthy, and show notes of tobacco, and everywhere in between. Cognac is truly a journey of the senses which is what makes it such a special spirit.”

Cognac can also be fairly fruit ahead. “I love the vibrant orchard and stone fruit qualities of cognac — think juicy pears and chewy, dried apricots,” says Bartender Sophia de Oliveira of Good Measure in Chicago. “The aromas of cognac are provocative and intoxicating; they draw you in with luscious fruit, revealing more complexities each time you revisit your glass. Bright citrus leads to raisins, to vanilla, to nutmeg, to chocolate, to earthy truffles. Sip a cognac over the course of many hours and you will be rewarded with aromas that only reveal themselves after some time spent swirling in your glass.”

What makes cognac fascinating is its preliminary notes of flowers and fruits introduced on by the clear eau-de-vie produced after distillation and earlier than it’s put in casks for ageing, provides BNIC’s Boileau. “Those notes are then enriched by spicy and woody notes, thanks to the longer maturation in oak casks. The natural evaporation that occurs during aging will allow the aromas to develop and evolve.The level of alcohol will progressively disappear and will leave room for an exceptional aromatic richness.”


Ophelia’s Drift cocktail by Kellie Thorn (Picture: Adam Komich)

However with cognac, it’s all about the stability. “For me, it’s about cognac being simultaneously bold and delicate, that makes it unique,” says Cognac Educator Miguel F. Lancha of ThinkFoodGroup in Washington DC. “The baking spices and coffee notes with a floral, fruity backbone make it interesting.”

Cognac Is Nice in Cocktails – However Make Positive to Attempt It Neat

Many basic cocktails just like the Sidecar, Vieux Carre, French Connection and Corpse Reviver #1 have been made that includes cognac as the bottom spirit, thanks to its versatility and distinctive taste profile.

“Cognac is incredible for mixing in cocktails, both refreshing and direct,” says Castro. “It is a shame that it is not on more cocktail menus, because if you look back through the ages, it has always played center stage in mixed drinks — particularly, when you look into the golden age of cocktails. Drinks, such as the Brandy Milk Punch and the Brandy Crusta, were benchmarks in the cocktail hall of fame and paved the way for what we drink today.”

Thorn provides, “I love mixing with cognac. It’s such a versatile spirit it does equally well in bright citrusy cocktails like a Sidecar and its kin as well as rich stirred cocktails like a Vieux Carré or a simple Cognac Old Fashioned.”

Sidecar by Sophia de Oliveira (picture credit score: Adam Sokolowski)

Like most different spirits, it’s a should to attempt cognac neat to perceive the true flavors and aromas.

“I love cognac in so many forms,” Thorn gushes. “Neat tends to be my preferred way to drink a cognac with a great deal of age because there is so much to contemplate in the glass, I prefer not to have much in the way.”

ThinkFoodGroup’s Lancha agrees. “My preferred way to enjoy cognac is mostly neat, often very cold (from putting it in the freezer), and at times I like a sour style of cocktail with bubbles (think Collins style).”

To steer an ideal tasting session, provides Grasp Blender Tessendier, “I suggest to use a tulip shaped glass, the best for experiencing cognac in its pure form.”

In fact, there isn’t a one proper method to sip cognac. “One of cognac’s greatest qualities is its versatility!” exclaims Good Measure’s de Oliveira. “Cognac has earned itself a well- deserved role as a beautiful spirit to sip neat after a sumptuous meal, but I also enjoy cocktail-ing with cognac before and during dinner. I love topping a classic Sidecar with sparkling wine for an aperitif style cocktail, or pairing a Vieux Carré with a rustic roast rubbed with Herbes de Provence.”

And it’s all about the second and the temper. “My preferred way to enjoy cognac depends on when and with whom,” says de Oliveira, “because cognac is made to be shared. I drink it as an aperitif on ice for festive moments. I would drink it neat with friends, so we can taste it while trying to find various aromas. In cocktails, I prefer the Sidecar; it’s a very interesting cocktail because it preserves the aromatic profile of cognac, while bringing roundness through the orange and acidity from the lemon.”

Cognac Pairs Nicely With So Many Meals

Significantly. From seafood to chocolate, cheese and even duck, cognac is a mealtime should.

“Seafood: grilled and pan-fried shellfish with chilled V.S. cognacs, for example,” Lancha recommends as a pairing. “Caviar (with frozen, non-woody cognacs), lobster (with V.S.) and scallops work amazing with cognac, as well. Meat and charcuterie, especially for their fats, and seasoned with sea salt, can work beautiful with older cognacs. Roquefort and cheddar cheeses with V.S.O.P. is beautiful. Peking duck and other game go very well with X.O., as well as fruit, like cherries or pineapple. And of course, chocolate and cognac!”


Picture: Elliot Clark/@apartment_bartender

A younger cognac, like V.S., that you would put within the freezer a day earlier than, would match completely with a scallop carpaccio, advises Boileau. “The frozen sensation will reveal the very fresh aromas of the cognac and enhance the lingering saltiness of the scallop. A chocolate fondant with an aged cognac is the perfect finish.”

Empire State South’s Thorn says, “Cheese is an obvious choice, and one of my favorite pairings is a Brillat Savarin with a V.S.O.P. Chocolate and cognac are a heavenly match, especially a dark chocolate paired with an X.O. Frozen V.S. with Foie Gras or lobster are decadent indulgences that I highly recommended treating yourself to.”

Whereas Castro of Well mannered Provisions, Raised by Wolves and Boilermaker “would highly recommend a little bit of cognac with a meat and cheese board the next time you go out, don’t forget that it pairs wonderfully with dessert as well. Next to a piece of dark chocolate or gingerbread cookie, it can be truly divine.”

For de Oliveira, it’s all about the salty and candy match up. “Chocolate! Almonds! Dried fruit! Chocolate with almonds and dried fruit! Seriously, though, whenever I start sipping a well-aged cognac, I almost immediately begin craving chocolate. I recently got to taste a couple of cognacs from the Borderies region, and what stood out to me the most was a sea-like salinity — pair that with some dark chocolate sprinkled with Maldon sea salt, and you’ve got one happy woman.”

Provides, Tessendier: “Cognac  is often sidelined as an after-dinner drink, but in fact it pairs beautifully with a wide variety of dishes. There’s almost no limit to your menu choices.”

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