Cognac Neat or in Cocktails?

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Cognac Neat or in Cocktails?

Postby Hoke » Sun Dec 29, 2013 3:00 pm

Here's a tidy little article on Cognac addressing the "neat or cocktail" question.

http://www.winemag.com/Web-2012/Cognac-Straight-or-Mixed/?utm_source=hootsuite&utm_campaign=hootsuite

If you're going to experiment with cognac made for cocktails, I'd suggest

1. Pierre Ferrand Original '1840' Grande Champagne---slightly higher proof and formulated by PF and bar guru David Wondrich to approximate the pre-pylloxera style of cognac made in the 1800s. Bartenders love it.

2. Hine "H by Hine" VSOP---again, formulated with the idea of being used in cocktails or with mixes. Very different from the Hine Rare VSOP, which is primarily consumed neat. Try the two side by side and you'll understand.

3. Louis Royer "Force 53"--again, conceived primarily for cocktail use. 53%abv/106 Proof. Packs some authority.

There are other cognacs coming out from the big boys...like C by Courvoisier, Hennessey Black---that are made for the younger set who want more burly, "manly," assertive styles of cognac and can be consumed neat or in cocktails. I'm not generally a big fan of these myself, as they tend to be very young, rough, not very complex, and dominated by added boise' (oak tannin soup) and caramel sugar. But to each his own.
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Re: Cognac Neat or in Cocktails?

Postby Thomas » Sun Dec 29, 2013 3:23 pm

The first time I ever drank Cognac was in 1975, during a few days in Geneva, Switzerland. The custom, at least in the places I frequented at the time, was to slip a sugar cube into one's mouth and sip Cognac through it. I considered it a so, so experience.

The next time I drank Cognac it was in Tehran a few days after Switzerland. I drank Bisquit V.S.O.P.--neat. That certainly was a neat experience.

Never had the desire for Cognac in a cocktail, but I'm not much of a cocktail fan, and haven't had a Cognac in quite some time.
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Re: Cognac Neat or in Cocktails?

Postby Hoke » Sun Dec 29, 2013 3:43 pm

Thomas wrote:The first time I ever drank Cognac was in 1975, during a few days in Geneva, Switzerland. The custom, at least in the places I frequented at the time, was to slip a sugar cube into one's mouth and sip Cognac through it. I considered it a so, so experience.

The next time I drank Cognac it was in Tehran a few days after Switzerland. I drank Bisquit V.S.O.P.--neat. That certainly was a neat experience.

Never had the desire for Cognac in a cocktail, but I'm not much of a cocktail fan, and haven't had a Cognac in quite some time.


And I, in turn, have not had Bisquit for a while. Used to be a favorite cognac for casual sipping but sorta fell out of distribution.

As a southern boy, I was bred on whiskey, mostly bourbon but a few blends. Didn't taste cognac until I was a teenager in Germany. Had it neat, small snifter. Delicate sips--it was not a particularly good grade of cognac, but I wasn't to realize that until much later when I could afford the better grades.

I quite like cognac, for a variety of reasons. I like eau-de-vie, for its precise and focused essence of fruit. And I like cognac because it takes eau-de-vie and encourages it to mature and develop in barrels, thus adding interesting facets to the fruit base (which are entirely different from whiskey with its grain base). I further appreciate cognac because it is a time-tested traditional way of making spirits, positioned somewhere between the true artisanal small-batch and the industrial refinery production methods.

I also like it because magic happens. At a certain point, cognac in the barrel takes on a life direction all its own. Man grows the grapes. Man makes the wine. Man distills it. Man puts it in carefully selected barrels. THEN man ceases to have control of cognac and it develops all by itself, and becomes what it becomes. There's that magical moment, starting generally right around that ten year mark, where a cognac asserts what its nature will be. No one really understands what happens (although they can explain the process, they don't really understand it, so it feels like magic to us humans, and that's okay with me).
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Re: Cognac Neat or in Cocktails?

Postby JC (NC) » Sun Dec 29, 2013 6:12 pm

Hoke is no slack
When it comes to the poetry of Cognac.
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Re: Cognac Neat or in Cocktails?

Postby Keith M » Sun Dec 29, 2013 6:51 pm

Hoke wrote:I quite like cognac, for a variety of reasons. I like eau-de-vie, for its precise and focused essence of fruit. And I like cognac because it takes eau-de-vie and encourages it to mature and develop in barrels, thus adding interesting facets to the fruit base (which are entirely different from whiskey with its grain base). I further appreciate cognac because it is a time-tested traditional way of making spirits, positioned somewhere between the true artisanal small-batch and the industrial refinery production methods.
My recent cocktail experiences with brandy (Old Fashioned, Vieux Carré) haven't involved Cognac-qua-Cognac. Is there something about brandies produced from that region that make them more cocktail-worthy ? My limited experience suggests there is considerable variation within Cognac and some brandies produced elsewhere share more in common with Cognacs I like than do other Cognacs which I don't like. Terroir be damned? Dunno.
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Re: Cognac Neat or in Cocktails?

Postby Hoke » Sun Dec 29, 2013 9:23 pm

Keith M wrote:
Hoke wrote:I quite like cognac, for a variety of reasons. I like eau-de-vie, for its precise and focused essence of fruit. And I like cognac because it takes eau-de-vie and encourages it to mature and develop in barrels, thus adding interesting facets to the fruit base (which are entirely different from whiskey with its grain base). I further appreciate cognac because it is a time-tested traditional way of making spirits, positioned somewhere between the true artisanal small-batch and the industrial refinery production methods.
My recent cocktail experiences with brandy (Old Fashioned, Vieux Carré) haven't involved Cognac-qua-Cognac. Is there something about brandies produced from that region that make them more cocktail-worthy ? My limited experience suggests there is considerable variation within Cognac and some brandies produced elsewhere share more in common with Cognacs I like than do other Cognacs which I don't like. Terroir be damned? Dunno.


Hmmm. Several questions there, so let's see if I can answer them.

Is there something about cognac that makes it cocktail-worthy? I'd say yes, in that cognac, as a combination of fruit and barrel age, is particularly suitable for its ability to mingle and meld with other ingredients and its overall complexity.

To go further, although yes there are most certainly differences in cognacs (terroir, age, quality, focus of the blend) there are also fairly rigid requirements to maintain a process of creating the cognacs, so there are some category-specific attributes (double-distillation at low temps to retain flavors and aromas; use of a specifically designed copper pot still; direct heat application) that sustain that.

Terroir most definitely means something in cognac---were I to put together a simple tasting of different crus, they would immediately show you the differences among Petite Champagne, Grande Champagne, Borderies for instance.

Other brandies may---or may not---be made the same way. By far most brandies tend to be made in column stills at higher temperatures, so have less inherent complexity, and thus even when aged tend not to develop the secondary and tertiary complexities that cognac does. These brandies tend to be more simple, less complex, and have more apparent sweetness to them (not sugar, necessarily; fruit sweetness).

If you had an Old Fashioned made with American brandy (Korbel, E&J) and compared it to an OF made with a moderately good cognac, you'd recognize the difference immediately. Likewise a Vieux Carre'---with brandy, ok; with cognac, magnificent (had a VC not long ago with Mike Filigenzi; it was of necessity, since they didn't have any cognac and had to sub in Korbel. Would have been a lot better with cognac.)

On the other hand, if you've tried several cognacs---neat or cocktail---and don't care for them, try an Armagnac instead. Where cognac's process leads to high-level aromatics of fruit, flower, citrus and spice, Armagnac's differences emphasize more earthy, robust, leathery components. That may be more to your liking. (I like them both, for different reasons.)
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Re: Cognac Neat or in Cocktails?

Postby Lou Kessler » Sun Dec 29, 2013 10:41 pm

Hoke, what do you think of the brandies that Germain- Robin make in Mendocino? I really don't drink enough of those types of booze to be knowledgeable but the few times I have tried the G-R it tasted pretty good, at least to me.
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Re: Cognac Neat or in Cocktails?

Postby Hoke » Mon Dec 30, 2013 12:31 am

Lou Kessler wrote:Hoke, what do you think of the brandies that Germain- Robin make in Mendocino? I really don't drink enough of those types of booze to be knowledgeable but the few times I have tried the G-R it tasted pretty good, at least to me.


Germain-Robin does a superb job with their brandies and eau-de-vie, Lou. Can't speak highly enough of them; also can't afford too many of them <snif>. Hubert moved to Mendo from the Charente and brought the copper pot still with him, intent on making the best damn Charentaise-styled brandy he could. He succeeded.

In the early years (1980s) when they were trying to establish credibility, which wasn't easy, they would empty out some excellent bottles of cognac, put G-R in them, and then taste them side by side with the G-R, and ask which was superior. As often as not, the G-R got the nod.

Jepson in Mendo made some good brandy too; don't know if they still are,but haven't seen it in a while. Osocalis has established a pretty good rep too.
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