Art of Enjoying Cocktails
What Exactly Is Cognac?
Sipping a rich, caramel-colored cognac or brandy cocktail is always a classy way to end the night. And before you begin to wonder if cognac and brandy are the same, the answer is yes…and no.
Similar to how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares, all cognac is brandy, but not all brandy can get the distinguished label of cognac.
Brandy is the umbrella term for spirits distilled from wine. Cognac, on the other hand, is a French Brandy, made in the Charente region of France. Like tequila, bourbon or champagne, the coveted label is location specific. The spirit needs to be made in the Cognac region, in one of six key areas called ‘crus,’ to be classified as cognac. It also must adhere to strict guidelines and a regulated process to be considered a cognac, rather than brandy.
Cognac starts out as a simple grape on a vine. However, only specific white grapes can be used, the Colombard, Folle Blanche, or Ugni Blanc grape. After the grapes are harvested, they are pressed using nomadic presses, which bust the grapes open, preventing the seeds and the skin from slipping into the juices. The juice is then fermented between 7 and 14 days, in order to bring out the creamy and aromatic flavor. The white grapes make an unpalatable wine, due to the acidity, so they must be distilled to harness their full potential. Cognac goes through two rounds of distillation in copper pot stills – each distillation lasting about 12 hours.
The distillation must take place from November 1st through March 31st. Products distilled outside of this timeframe are not considered cognac. From there, the distilled product, known as eau-de-vie, is put in Limousin or Troncais oak barrels and aged for a minimum of two years. However, most cognacs are aged even longer than the minimum requirement, giving the spirit a complex and smooth flavor. While cognac is distilled from wine, it has a taste more similar to a light and floral whiskey, with notes of spice and caramel throughout. Within the first 60 seconds after pouring cognac, take a second to inhale the rich aromatics that have been locked in the cognac for years.
Snagged a bottle of the good stuff lately? You may have noticed letters on the label that seem like code. That code is there to help you know how long the bottle has been aged.
VS: Very Special. This label means the bottle has been aged at least 2 years
VSOP: Very Superior Old Pale. The bottle has been aged at least 4 years
XO: Extra Old. Bottles with this label have been aged at least 6 years.
End your evening on a sophisticated note with one of these Cognac Cocktails: