As an industry professional when I question consumers about spirits preferences, an opinion often starts with, “I don’t, I won’t, I only…” Circa 1998, I was a wine salesperson and first heard the statement, “I don’t drink brown liquor.” I cannot remember the woman who made the statement, but I clearly remember her voice tuning from second soprano to tenor as she emphasized each word.  I since have heard other express this same opinion.  “I – don’t – drink – brown – liquor.”

Most adults who drink alcoholic beverages have clear (or cloudy) memories of certain spirits that endear them, repel them, or limit their consumption. I admit, in the past I bought into the motto, “gin makes you sin.” Not because of my own experience with gin, but I have a friend who drank gin, and boy let me tell you, when he drank…Ok, I’ll stop, this is a post about spirits, not teatime. In my twenties I swore off tequila, shamed by the days lost after my friend and I shut down El Barco Mariscos Mexican Seafood Restaurant in Chicago.

Maturing, self-awareness, and exposure made me a fan of gin, brought me back to tequila and opened me up to search more spirits. After all it was not the spirit that was the issue, I was (and still am) drinking top shelf. The issue (in my twenties) was over consumption. That’s adulting!  Today, my grown-up exploration brings me to back cognac. I have a shelf with six different expressions from three cognac producers and I have barely made a dent in those bottles.

The Cognac Connection

My recent attendance of the Cognac Connection industry and media event made me realized that I reserve cognacs for night caps with my guy friends in the fall or winter seasons. What is up with that? Have I gendered cognac? Have I seasonalized it? I preach against this and wow, I discovered that I am a part of the problem. Ok, let’s course correct.

August 5, 2020 Cognac Connection event was moderated by Cognac evangelist, Ms. Franky Marshall. On the panel were Speed Rack co-founders Lynnette Marrero and mixologist and author Ivy Mix.

The cognac connection is a virtual program with the core objective of educating and inspiring cocktail professionals on the Cognac region and spirit, as well as providing support during these challenging times.  They have an amazing opportunity for 10 bartenders to earn $1000 each.

The event started with a history of Cognac, location, and styles (info below). We then went on to the tasting,      creating cocktails, and discussed food pairings. There were so many aha moments. It’s worth repeating, the biggest wake up call was the realization that I have limited my uses of cognac. Bad influencer, bad! No wonder these bottles sit nearly full on my shelf. I probably should not admit this… ok we are friends; I will be vulnerable. Until this event I had never made a cognac cocktail. Ms. Franky taught us to make a Cognac Coconut Cooler!! It was so delicious! Ah, readers and Shall We Wine video watchers, I have failed you and kept you from this deliciousness. I will make it up to you! Check out Shall We Wine IG this week for this cocktail recipe.

Why Cognac?

  1.  It is delicious. Period.
  2.  Cognacs are made in different styles from young, fresh with some sweetness to mature, bold and spicy. You can find a style to suit  your mood or your palate. See the cognac styles below.
  3. Cognacs are amazing in a cocktail. There are gorgeous cognac-based cocktail recipes that are perfect for warm and hot months.
  4. Cognacs pair well with food. Check out Culture Cognac for Cognac and food pairing recommendations! Try cognac with; cheese, charcuterie, oysters, grilled cheese sandwich, fruit pies and chocolate.
  5. Cognacs are delicious. Yes, I said it, but it is worth a repeat.

Cognac 100 (Notes from Cognac Connection Media Event)

Where is Cognac:

The Cognac region is in western France The city of Cognac is located in the department of Charente of the french region Poitou-Charentes..

What is it? Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy can be considered Cognac. Cognac must come from the Cognac AOC in France, made from specific grapes, meet a minimum aging requirement, must be double distilled in copper pot stills and must be minimum of 40% alcohol.

The Vineyards: Covering approximately 186,000 acres, the region is divided into six crus with their own characteristics: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaires.

The Grapes: Ugni Blanc (a high acid, low alcohol grape that is good for distillation) comprises most of the plantings (98%). Five additional varieties are authorized for Cognac production: Folle Blanche, Colombard, Sémillon, Montils and Folignan (Only 10% maximum of these other grapes is allowed)

How Cognac is Made: Cognac starts off as a white wine.  After alcoholic fermentation is completed; the wine is distilled to make the eau-de-vie. Charentais copper stills are used to distill. “”Cognac distillation is performed in a two-stage process. At the first stage, a first distillate is obtained, referred to as “brouillis”. The “brouillis” enters the stills for a second heating, known as “la bonne chauffe”. Slow ageing in oak casks is what turns an eau-de-vie into a cognac . Contact with the wood will give each eau-de-vie its unique color and bouquet and character.”

Styles of Cognac 

V.S. (VERY SPECIAL) OU *** (3 STARS)… : Indicates that the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend is at least two years old. Great place to start if you’re new to cognac.

V.S.O.P. (VERY SUPERIOR OLD PALE), RESERVE: Indicates that the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend is at least four years old. I recommend these for more seasoned drinkers or if you prefer spicy, woody characteristics in your spirits. 

XO or Hors d’Age: youngest eau-de-vie is at least 10 years old. I highly recommend exploring XO. They are higher priced, but so rich and complex.  

Vintage cognacs: Cognacs made with eaux-de-vie from a single harvest (harvest and distillation). The year of the harvest is specified on the label.

NOTE: Fine Champagne refers to a blend composed of Grande and Petite Champagne eaux-de-vie,with at least 50% Grande Champagne