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  • Writer's pictureJohn B. Reyna

Cognac, Keeping Brandy Cool Since 1700

Updated: May 29, 2020

The final products, making you thirsty

I found brandy far too late in life and am trying to make up for lost time. Though I could say that about many spirits, I feel most strongly about brandy because of the story behind it and the endless possibilities of what can be done with it. Brandy has been made for a very long time, from many different fruits all over of the world. Simply put, it’s any distilled spirit made from fruit juice. In today’s big box liquor stores, you can likely find grape brandy in the form of pisco, Cognac, and Armanac, as well as apple brandy in the form of Calvados and Applejack, plus a plethora of Eau-de-vie – clear fruit brandy often made from pears, cherry, apricot, or plums (I didn’t forget about you, slivovitz!). It can be sweet, dry, spicy, simple, complex, young, old….you name it, there’s a brandy for you.

Shen and John, who is all casual in his swim trunks, introduce Cognac and the cocktails to be made

I could go on all day, but for now I will focus on the type of brandy you likely heard about first, Cognac. Maybe you were first exposed to it through music or television. Perhaps even through music-television, like MTV back when it played videos. You likely saw Cognac being sipped neat in a snifter, which makes it seem intimidating and expensive. Yet, it’s been the most popular brandy product for over 300 years. It’s kind of a big deal.

Like wine in France, it must be made in a specific region with certain types of grapes following a specific process and guidelines. First wine is made, and then distilled and barrel aged at least 2 years, giving it a beautiful amber color and woody aromas. The label tells you the age of the youngest component since vintages are blended. VS, which stands for very special, is the youngest at 2 years minimum barrel aging– best for cocktails when the cognac is less than half the drink. VSOP stands for very superior old pale and remains in the barrel for at least 4 years. This should be used in cocktails that are mostly cognac or can be sipped neat. XO, being extra old, requires 10 years (only 6 years prior to 2016) of aging and would make a very pricey cocktail. XO and any other high-end products should be enjoyed straight.

Cognac is a great base spirit that can be substituted into many classics, especially for rye, while being complex enough to bring its own personality into the mix. Try using it the next time you make an Old-Fashioned or Manhattan! I'm certain you will find Cognac approachable yet intricate. Also, you can also get a decent bottle of VS or VSOP Cognac at a similar $30-$40 price point as your other base spirits, which makes it an easy addition to your home bar.

Now that you know some background, let’s get started making a few cocktails! You can take a traditional sour template - 2 parts booze, 1 part citrus juice, 1 part simple- and add some sparkling wine to make it a French 75. Bubbly adds new flavors and depth as well as an effervescence to lighten up the cocktail, somehow making it appropriate for drinking before noon if served with brunch.

Though often served with gin, you will also see it done with Cognac at many bars. It dates back as early as 1922 in its original form (gin, Calvados, lemon and grenadine) in Cocktails - How to mix them, and back to 1927 in Here's How for how we mix it today, when it was referred to as a Tom Collins with Champagne. Once this quarantine ends, you should request it with Cognac the next time you see it on menu. You won’t be disappointed!

Shen walks you through how to make a French 75

French 75

1 oz VS Cognac or gin

½ oz fresh lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup (see recipe here: Simple Syrup Recipe)

4 oz cold dry sparkling wine

Shake all ingredient except the sparkling wine. Strain into a flute and pour in the sparkling. Gently mix with bar spoon. For a garnish, add a lemon twist.

Next, the sidecar is one of the original Cognac cocktails that now has endless variations. It was first recorded in 1922 in Cocktails - How to Mix Them. Yes, it was first recorded along with the French 75! You can learn more about the sidecar here: Sidecar Recipe. John is going to go through one of those variations that has reached classic status on its own, Champs-Élysées, record only a few years later in 1925 in Drinks - Long and Short. The forcefully herbal and boozy Chartreuse is used instead of Cointreau, with the recipe adjusted slightly to keep its balance.

John walks you through the Champs-Élysées recipe. He even drops an "F-bomb" for your viewing pleasure.


2oz VSOP Cognac

½ oz green Chartreuse

½ oz fresh lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup (see recipe here: Simple Syrup Recipe)

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a coupe glass. For a garnish, add a lemon twist.

Thanks for tuning in. Hopefully, you’ll never view Cognac the same again, and you'll find your own fun uses for it. Keep mixing, my friends. Sending love!














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