Cognac is hot – for sipping and mixing

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The spirits fates can be fickle. Remember the great vodka wars – Ketel One, Grey Goose, later Tito’s, etc. – “What does your vodka say about you?” Nowadays Cognac is the new favorite cocktail base for many bartenders and consumers. Sophisticated palates appreciate sipping it to enjoy the many subtle layers of flavors to be found in various iterations of the spirit, including in the gradations of VS, VSOP and XO.
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Cognac Rémy Martin
Cognac Rémy Martin

Rémy Martin Cognac, for example – a name well-known among aficionados – recently set up pop-up “experiences” in major cities in the U.S., Chicago included. Titled “La Maison Rémy Martin,” the pop-up included 80 minutes of workshops and masterclasses in which consumers met and interacted with some of the world’s preeminent progressive thinkers from music, fashion, cuisine and art – for example, French Kinetic Artist Vincent Leroy who was commissioned to create a piece and to design the box featured at La Maison Rémy Martin experience. All the while participants learned about the process of making Cognac and got to blend their own. Cool, eh?

Curious about the new popularity of this spirit, we asked Mixologist Dan Rook of South Water Kitchen in Chicago a few questions about the phenomenon:
 
How would you explain the cocktail sensation going on in the U.S. today? 
The cocktail Renaissance going on in this country lately has to do with the evolving tastes of the consumer. Nowadays people are much more informed about what they put into their bodies, even when it comes to cocktails. Many people now expect fresh juice in lieux of sour mix, all natural ingredients, and house-made custom recipes. It’s becoming the norm rather than the exception, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
What is it about Cognac that mixologists like and why is it becoming so attractive to cocktail lovers?
I think Cognac has always been attractive to cocktail lovers. Some of the best classic cocktails – Sidecar, Sazerac, and Vieux Carre’ – all call for Cognac. The more educated modern bartenders become about the history of the craft cocktail, the more often they’ll reach for a bottle of Cognac. Cognac is a form of brandy, and brandy has been a bedrock in cocktails for a long time.
Cognac is unique in that it is an appellation and can only be distilled in one specific place, using Ugni Blanc grapes from a handful of regions in France. That makes for a very specific flavor profile that can be mimicked, but not replicated. Of course, there is still some diversity within the variety of Cognacs, based on the terrior where the grapes are grown, how long it’s aged, etc. That exclusivity of region and production method is really what sets Cognac apart, providing bartenders with a unique flavor for their drinks that they cannot get anywhere else. One of my go-to premium mixing Cognac is D’USSÉ™ VSOP. It has a full-bodied, bold taste that’s versatile and adds a unique twist to classic drinks.
Are some generations more into this trend than others?
Younger generations today grew up with more options than ever before – particularly Millennials. Instant gratification is the norm now; everything is one Google search away. A side effect is that these tech-savvy consumers tend to be more aware of current options that help them make more-informed choices. As an example, we recently had an older woman come in for a Gimlet and specifically request Rose’s Lime juice – something we simply do not carry. I suggested she try it instead with fresh juice, and she was over the moon for it. For us as bartenders, it’s really about taking that first step with a guest without being pretentious.
Which cognac-based cocktail do you recommend for newbies to the spirit? Or does it matter – since expertly crafted cocktails sometimes mask the strength/sensations of the main spirit?
Rather than mask anything, expertly crafted cocktails should showcase the flavors of the main spirit in a balanced and appropriate way; that’s how I approach it. I think the perfect Cognac-based cocktail for a newbie would be the classic Sidecar. It’s very easy to make, very well balanced, and always seems to please. My go-to build for it is 2 oz D’USSÉ VSOP Cognac, 3/4 oz of fresh (always fresh) lemon juice, 3/4 oz of quality orange curacao, shaken, up, in a half sugar rimmed cocktail coupe.
Among classic cocktail recipes with Cognac, which are your 3 favorites:  
My favorites are The Sidecar, Sazerac and Vieux Carre’, all of which pair well with the unique flavor profile of D’USSÉ VSOP Cognac.
SIDECAR
  • 2 oz of D’USSÉ™ VSOP Cognac
  • 1 part triple sec
  • 3/4 oz of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz of quality orange curacao

SERVE: Shake and strain all ingredients into a sugar-rimmed coupe glass.  GARNISH: Lemon peel and a sugared rim. TIP: To create a unique take on the Sidecar, substitute the triple sec with ¾ part of Giffard Framboise to create the D’USSÉ™ Framboise Sidecar.

THE SAZERAC
  • 1 ½ oz D’USSÉ™ VSOP Cognac
  • ¼ oz Absinthe
  • Half a tea spoon demerara sugar
  • Three dashes Peychauds Bitters

SERVE: Rinse a chilled old-fashioned glass with the absinthe, add crushed ice and set it aside. Stir the remaining ingredients over ice and set aside. Discard the ice and any excess absinthe from the prepared glass, and strain the drink into the glass. GARNISH: Lemon Peel.

VIEW CARRE’
  • 1 part D’USSÉ™ VSOP Cognac
  • 1 part rye whisky
  • 1 part NOILLY PRAT® Rouge Sweet Vermouth Dash Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Dash Angostura® Bitters
  • ½ part BENEDICTINE® Liqueur

SERVE: Combine all ingredients, stir and pour into a glass of choice. GARNISH: Lemon peel.

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