Cognac used to be seen as the drink of choice of old white men sitting by a roaring fire and smoking their stogies. However, now it's all the rage in North America among rappers like Jay-Z. Today, cognac, a.k.a. yac, is decidedly hip or, should I say, hip hop.
The classiest of brandies is produced only around the town of Cognac, which is located in southwestern France. The most delicate, complex and expensive cognacs, such as Hine Antique ($130) and Hennessy X.O. ($185), hail from vineyards where the soils have a high concentration of limestone and chalk. As well, the length of time that the grapes spend in oak casks has a huge impact on the taste of the finished product (see The Art of Aging below).
V.S.O.P., X.O. and other old cognacs like those mentioned earlier should be sipped neat in a snifter or tulip-shape tasting glass.
V.S. and other young cognacs like Rémy Martin VS ($50) can be enjoyed neat but there are better uses for them. And we're not talking flambé fluid here. They're the basic ingredient for a wide variety of terrific cocktails, highballs, spritzers and punches that are served in a variety of glasses (see below). The French often mix cognac with tonic water, but I've created a few more interesting concoctions to get you started.
3 oz orange juice, 1-1/2 oz cognac, 1/2 oz orange or mandarin liqueur, 1 egg white.
In shaker, combine orange juice, cognac, orange liqueur and egg white with cracked ice. Strain into sour glass.
1 oz cognac, 1/2 oz Cointreau, 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice.
In shaker, combine cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice with cracked ice. Strain into chilled martini, a.k.a. cocktail, glass.
1-1/2 oz cognac, 1-1/2 oz Chambord (black raspberry) liqueur, mint sprigs
Toss 2 or 3 ice cubes into old-fashioned or rocks glass. Add cognac, then Chambord. Stir gently. Garnish with mint sprig and add swizzle stick.
The art of aging
The age of cognac is always counted from March 31 following the actual date of distillation. It cannot be sold before spending two years in cask.
• V.S., Three Stars (hhh) and Cognac Authentique must be aged for at least two years, and up to a maximum of four.
• V.S.O.P., V.S.O., V.O. and Réserve must be aged for a minimum of four and a half years. There is no maximum.
• X.O., Extra, Napoleon and Vieille Réserve must be aged for a minimum of six and a half years. There is no maximum.