June 4th is National Cognac Day, a legendary spirit that has been making a move in recent years, with spirit enthusiasts rediscovering and adding it to their bars and American rappers famously touting it.
It’s growing popularity is exemplified by the latest installment of the Amazon Prime series, The Three Drinkers, which focuses on Cognac. Available to stream this month, “The Three Drinkers in Cognac” is a four-episode collection – and the third installment within the series – which takes viewers on a cultural and gastronomic journey in and around the picturesque French region of Cognac and the prestigious House of Rémy Martin.
Yet, despite this renaissance of sorts, Cognac is still misunderstood. Here are some basics to get to know the spirit, some of its most famous producers, and a couple of cocktail recipes to get started.
What is Cognac?
Cognac is a spirit produced from wine, primarily from Ugni Blanc grapes. Low alcohol wine is double distilled in a Charentais copper still to produce eau-de-vie, a clear spirit. Eaux-de-vies must be aged a minimum of two years in oak before they can be called Cognac.
Where is it made?
Located on France’s Atlantic Coast and 75 miles north of Bordeaux, the Cognac region and its resulting spirit both take their name from the town at its center. Covering more than 200,000 acres, Cognac’s vineyards are primarily planted with Ugni Blanc, although area viticulturists also cultivate Folle Blanche and Colombard. The Cognac region is the second largest French wine producer, with 10% of all vineyards in France.
What do the different designations mean?
VS – the youngest eau-de-vie is at least 2 years old
VSOP – the youngest eau-de-vie is at least 4 years old
XO – the youngest eau-de-vie is at least 10 years old
XXO – the youngest eau-de-vie is at least 14 years old
Important Cognac producers
Since 1724, the house of Rémy Martin has produced premium spirits. A profound love of the land, a continuity of family ownership and a passionate commitment to excellence has sustained Rémy Martin for nearly three centuries. Today, as a result of its masterful production and generations of tradition in Cognac, Rémy Martin produces Cognacs Fine Champagne, including Rémy Martin® XO, Rémy Martin Tercet®, Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal®, Rémy Martin Club® and Rémy Martin® V.S.O.P.
The Merlet family has been elaborating Cognac for merchant houses since 1850. Five generations and over 160 years of experience as distillers have led the family to produce Cognac under their own name. In 2010, Gilles Merlet and his sons Pierre and Luc, began producing their first Brothers Blend, alongside a line of liqueurs. The family owns its own vineyard and distillery, controlling all aspects from wine sourcing to distillation, aging, blending, and bottling.
Established in 1824, Delamain crafts only X.O, X.X.O and above cognacs, from eaux-de-vie sourced only from the Grande Champagne, Cognac’s finest terroir. With its roots in the Cognac soil dating back to shortly after the arrival of Irishman James Delamain in 1751, Delamain has evolved across nine generations and almost 200 years into a cognac house unique in approach and style.
“Delamain’s iconic Pale & Dry XO is intensely aromatic and elegantly fruity, characterized by refreshing citrus notes and rich apricot flavors,” says Delamain’s master blender Dominique Touteau. “With summer and hot weather coming, my recommendation for an exquisite tasting experience, is to serve Pale & Dry XO frozen. I would pair it with oysters topped with just a hint of grapefruit zest and white pepper.”
Based in the heart of the Charente region, Hennessy is also a steadfast pillar of the regional economy for more than 250 years. The house’s success and longevity are rooted in the excellence of its Cognacs, born of a unique process of transmission of know-how from generation to generation.
The first spirits house to be certified ISO 14001, Hennessy Hennessy is a major contributor to French international trade, with 99% of production sold in export, available in more than 160 countries.
“Hennessy Very Special is praised for its versatility. Its roundness and aromatic intensity gives many tasting possibilities starting with its pure apparel, neat or on ice, and also through fabulous cocktails creations,” says master blender Renaud Fillioux De Gironde.” I particularly enjoy combining our most popular blend with a touch of ginger ale that highlights its toasty and fruity characteristics.”
Maison Courvoisier offers a portfolio of Cognacs for different palates and occasions. The core expressions of Courvoisier are VS, VSOP, XO, and the ultimate expression of the House, L’Essence de Courvoisier. In 2022, Courvoisier welcomed XO Royal, an ultra-premium cognac matured up to 30 years to its permanent portfolio.
Courvoisier’s signature house-style is known as “cognac in blossom,” a floral style that sets it apart from other cognac houses, as it is exquisitely balanced, subtle, lingering and vibrant. Maison Courvoisier hopes to see continued premiumization and excitement for the Cognac category for years to come.
This spirit embodies the story of Anthony Hardy, an English gentleman who fell in love with the Cognac region and its famous product and founded this house in 1863.
“Pairing Asian food and cognacs was a discovery I made with my dad and his Chinese importer a long time ago,” says Bénédicte Hardy, the brand’s export manager and fifth generation heiress. “Hardy Legend with Peking duck is an amazing experience and a marriage of flavors that no one can forget. Rich, creamy and lush are the first words that come to mind to describe this experience.”
How to drink Cognac
More youthful blends such as VS and VSOP lend themselves well to centerpieces in cocktails, such as classics like the French 75, Sidecar, or Brandy Alexander. XO, thanks to its longer aging, is typically best savored on its own. All styles are versatile enough to pair with a variety of cuisines—from the fruity, aromatic younger blends to the richer, aged styles.
“Maison Courvoisier’s signature Gala cocktail lends itself to festive daytime consumption – the sessionable drink showcases our floral house style and evokes flavors of a summer’s day in Jarnac. The Gala’s simple and refreshing flavor makes it perfect for any occasion, be it hosting a garden gala party or a summertime picnic. This serve is quite easy to make and enjoy.” Nicolas Ricroque, Head of Global Marketing.
1 3/4 parts Courvoisier VSOP
4 parts Fever-Tree Sparkling Lemon
Method: Build all ingredients over ice in a stemmed wine glass, stir and garnish with a lemon wheel and serve.
Created by Ms. Franky Marshall, modern bartender and Cognac educator.
.5 o.z freshly squeezed lemon juice
.75 oz. grapefruit liqueur
1.25 oz. VS Cognac
1 oz. tonic water
Add all ingredients except tonic to mixing tin. Shake with ice. Strain into rocks glass over fresh ice. Top with good quality tonic water and garnish with fresh rosemary sprig.