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Cognac - A Quick Guide to the Classic French Spirit

June 7, 2023

How familiar are you with cognac? Most people picture something luxurious when thinking of cognac - a rich high-end drink that you sip slowly. That's true! But there's so much more to know about cognac. 

In honor of Cognac Day celebrated this week, let's test your knowledge about this drink.

How Much Do You Know About Cognac?

Is cognac more of whiskey or brandy?  

If you guessed brandy, then you're correct. Technically, cognac is a type of brandy made by distilling wine.

What is the difference between cognac and brandy?  

While all cognacs are brandy, not all brandy is cognac. Brandy can be made from any type of distilled fruit juice, while cognac uses a specific process with at least 90% Ugni Blanc grapes.

Where is cognac made?

It's made at one of six "crus" (vineyards) in France. They are Fin Bois, Petite Champagne, Grand Champagne, Bon Bois, Borderies, and Bois Ordinaires, all centered around the town of Cognac. If it's not made in this region, it's not considered cognac.

How is cognac made?  

Cognac must be made from mostly Ugni Blanc grapes, though blending with other white grapes grown in the six French crus is acceptable. The wine is distilled twice between early October and March 31 using copper pot stills, then aged in French oak barrels for at least two years. If it doesn't meet this precise process, it's not considered cognac.

How many ways can cognac be classified?

The correct answer is six. Cognac is classified according to how many years it's aged, using these standard, and generally recognized designations:

•            V.S. (Very Special) - aged at least two years

•            V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) - aged at least four years

•            Napoléon -aged at least six years

•            XO (Extra Old) - aged at least 10 years 

•            XXO (Extra Extra Old) - aged at least 14 years

•            Horsd'âge (Beyond Age) - beyond the official age scale

What is the most popular way to drink cognac? 

The most popular way to drink cognac is neat, served in a brandy or tulip glass. You can also enjoy it on the rocks, and younger cognacs are excellent in cocktails.

Bring Cognac Week to Your Bar or Restaurant Every Day

Now that you expanded your cognac knowledge, share what you know with your customers. Celebrate Cognac Day this week (or any day) with a special cognac tasting comparing the six classifications. You can also offer a special cocktail menu featuring cognac. 

Some of our favorite cognac cocktails include:

• Sidecar - a classic made with cognac, lemon juice, and Cointreau

• Sazerac - another classic made from cognac, rye whiskey, absinthe, Peychaud bitters, and a sugar cube

• Between the Sheets - a sexy, Prohibition-era spin on the Sidecar made with cognac, white rum, orange liqueur, and lemon juice

• Brandy Alexander - this decadent cocktail combines cognac, crème de cacao and heavy cream

You can also pair a top-flight cognac with appetizers to enhance the tasting - go with the luxury theme and serve oysters, caviar, duck, aged cheeses, or rich dark chocolate.

Share your cognac experiences with us on Instagram!