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Mix It Up, Baby! Cognac Rocks!

by Nannette Eaton on March 14, 2012

“The difference between cognac and armagnac? Imagine a length of velvet and another of a silk fabric. Stroke them. The velvet has a deep, rich texture. That is an armagnac. The silk is pure finesse, and that, to me, is a cognac.” — Salvatore Calabrese

The image of Cognac that’s embedded in the American mind is a velvet smoking jacket, a roaring fire, and the amber liquid lovingly poured into a snifter as a nightcap to end the day. While that picture is a classic, it really needs an update. Wine Harlots say mix it up, baby! Cognac rocks!

So what is Cognac? Brandy is a distilled spirit made from grapes and aged in wooden casks. Cognac is a brandy made in the Cognac region of France with specific grape varietals, mainly Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Folle Blanche and aged in French oak barrels for at least two years. The categories of Cognac are V.S. (Very Special) which is aged in the cask for two years, V.S.O.P (Very Superior Old Pale) which is aged for a minimum of four years, but often longer, and X.O. (Extra Old) is by law aged at least six years, but commonly sees more than a decade in the barrel.

In the United States, Cognac is commonly an after-dinner drink, but across the pond on the Continent, the French like to mix it up and serve Cognac cocktails as an apéritif, it’s a great social lubricant to whet your appetite for the meal to follow.

Cognac is versatile in mixed drinks and can be substituted for any drink that uses whiskey. With a little American ingenuity and irreverence, seek to reimage your cocktails with a French kiss. Cognac and citrus is a perfect pairing, begin by trying the straight-forward Cognac on the rocks with a twist or enjoy a refreshing Cognac & Lemonade on sultry summer days.

If you can escape to Paris, make a beeline to Harry’s Bar and order the classic Cognac cocktail, the Sidecar, a elegant drink with Cointreau and citrus, served straight up in a cocktail stem. If you’ve got a bit of jet-lag, order a Harry’s Pick Me Up, a blend of Cognac, orange juice and Champagne. The famed Hemingway Bar in the Ritz Paris hotel is famous for the ginger-ale based Horses Neck, but at 30€ a cocktail, you might have to roll up your sleeves and wash dishes to pay the bar tab.

For the Wine Harlots, the ultimate in sophistication is the French 75. Cognac with simple syrup and fresh lemon juice, topped with Champagne is about as close as you can get these days to old-school glamour. For a modern twist make a Cognac Mint Julep or Sazarac, or order a Bow Tie with pineapple juice or a Side Hatch with raspberry. And if you’ve had too much of a good thing, try the hangover cure, Corpse Reviver.

With all these delicious choices, rock your Cognac! (But if you want to curl up by fireplace with a snifter of Cognac, enjoy. The Wine Harlots will never tell.)

photo credits:
Cognac snifter  Moosterbroek 2008.
Cognac on the rocks  Jonny Hughes 2005.
Cognac Mint Julep Marleigh Riggins Miller  2010.
Cognac Side Hatch Lori Erickson 2007.

The article was written for submission to the 2012 Cognac Writing Contest, sponsored by The Cognac Board, with the support of the European Union and France.