An interview on cognac in cocktails and at the bar.
I was recently invited by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) to visit Cognac for the COGNAC SUMMIT 2010 and many of the Cognac houses, including, Pierre Ferrand, Hine, Hennessy, Remy-Martin, and Courvosier.
We did daily tastings of many cognacs from bland mixtures of regional grapes to perfectly aged and crafted cognacs showing off the essence and heart of what cognac really is.
We were also invited to reinvent some classic cognac cocktails with a new or creative touch. The Sidecar, Sazerac, Alexander, Mojito, Stinger, and julep were improvised by some of the best in the business from the US and Europe. The recipe for the Mojito No. 3 follows.
I am from Wisconsin where the folks drink brandy in all their Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. While they are generally not what one would call haute cocktails crafted by creative mixologists for the most part, it does point out the wonderful array of choices for using brandy, specifically cognac, in great cocktails.
Good cognacs contain flavors and aromas of vanilla, almond, caramel, wood, fruits, stone, to name just a few. Those flavors along with a touch of sweetness make cognac amazing to mix with aromatics like vermouths, bitters, and fruits of all kinds. Particularly great with fruit, cognac has long been used as a base for liqueurs like pear and orange (Grand Marnier) and in early cocktails like the Crusta.
A more recent classic, the Side Car, uses lemon and orange. Amazing variations on that theme could incorporate pear, ginger, peach, apricot, passion fruit…the list is nearly endless.
Another great fruit use in cocktails/coolers is in sangria. A white sangria variation that I use includes a lot of cognac to steep the fresh cut fruit that we will put in the sangria. This allows the cognac and fruit to share flavors and essences with each other and create something unique in the process. Fresh juices, a good solid dry white wine, like an albariño, and an orange liqueur and you have a special summer cooler!
As a basis for preserving fruit like cherries, cognac is perfect. Again you end up with the fruit and cognac sharing with each other their flavors and essences creating something amazing in the process. A cherry cognac that you can use in cocktails and cooking, and cherries that you can use in the same things.
A general rule is that you don’t use a very fine cognac for infusions and cocktails. Generally speaking that is true. For soaking fruit for a sangria, you would not want to use anything more than a VS. The VS is perfect for such fun and inexpensive summer drinks and doesnt overpower the fruit and white wine. They are supposed to be accessible, young, vibrant and unpretentious. VS is the perfect choice for many drinks; generally fruit based.
Cocktails: Side Car variations, Crusta variations, Juleps
When making a cognac Manhattan, though, you will usually want to use a quality VSOP. More depth of flavors and aromas can stand up to the bitters and vermouth and create a masterful cocktail.
Cocktails: Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Stinger, Alexander, Hot Toddy