It’s the drink which conjures up images of cracked brown leather seats, the heady swirls of cigar smoke, and a distinctly Old World type of elegance and sophistication that we just cannot resist… and if the word on the street is to be believed, then Cognac is heading back into fashion in ways hitherto unimaginable.
There’s no getting away from the fact that Cognac is a truly impressive and fascinating spirit, and one which demonstrates the sheer excellence and expertise at the heart of France’s obsession with grapes and viticulture. It’s a spirit which bridges the divide between the world of fine wine and the world of distilling, and which provides all the pleasure of perfectly poured glass of vin blanc with the warmth and comfort of a top-notch brandy… while somehow managing to also be far more than the sum of those two parts.
As we celebrated World Cognac Day on June 4 with a glass or two of our absolute favourite brandies, we thought we’ve dive head-first into the timeless world of the Cognac cocktail. While many purists shrink in horror at the idea of diluting a quality Cognac with anything whatsoever, it’s difficult to deny that Cognac cocktails do manage to hit spots that cocktails made with other spirits couldn’t hope to reach. There’s just something about the silkiness and spiced warmth of a Cognac blended with other spirits and mixers that allows the subtleties to sing on the palate… and having a classic or modern Cognac cocktail in your repertoire never fails to make a bold impression on your guests.
As such, we’ve put together our five all-time favourite Cognac cocktails, borrowed from the low-light jazz bars of the past and from the on-trend cocktail clubs of the present. Learn them, love them, and share them with your favourite people. If you’re not already a convert, you soon shall be!
Let’s kick things off with the classic. The big daddy. The absolute king of Cognac cocktails. The Sidecar is everything a proper cocktail should be – utterly distinctive, unquestionably delicious, and capable of soothing you into a sense that everything is alright with the world. It’s a fairly simple one to make, and one which every cocktail fan and home bar enthusiast should be able to whip up for a friend, for a date, or for a comforting moment at the end of a long day.
Combine all the ingredients in a mixing tin. Add plenty of ice and give it a good shake, before straining into a chilled martini glass with a sugared rim. Heaven!
Bamboo No. 2
We love the sense of elegance and sophistication that’s present in the Bamboo No. 2, and it’s a brilliant example of how a few choice ingredients can really bring out the subtle notes and features of a quality Cognac. The Bamboo No. 2 takes your palate on a journey of discovery across some of the greatest drinks in the world, and leaves your tongue tingling for more.
Add all the ingredients into a cocktail mixer, throw in plenty of ice, and stir. Drain into a small wine glass, and garnish with the olive.
Les Fleur de ‘Lees’
Cognac isn’t the only great drink from this region of France, although it is far and away the most famous. This beautifully aromatic cocktail brings the underrated beauty of Pineau des Charentes into play – a fortified wine made from Cognac grape must and grape spirits, which displays a gorgeous honeyed character and which is destined to become a new favourite. While both Cognac and Pineau des Charentes are undeniably beautiful drinks in their own right, something truly special occurs when they’re mixed together… and this cocktail really demonstrates how some flavours, combined in a glass, become far more than the sum of their parts.
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker, and gently shake with plenty of ice. Strain into a small wine glass, and add a grapefruit twist to really bring out the subtle fruitiness of the Cognac.
There’s something wonderfully exotic and sensual about some of the secondary and tertiary flavours of Cognac, and it should really come as no surprise that it’s been a real favourite tipple of some of the most interesting characters in world history. There’s no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Mata Hari herself ever enjoyed this particular tipple… but with its Indian Chai-infused flavours and stunning colour, it’s not difficult to imagine her sipping at a glass while eyeing up potential contacts and informers at a dimly lit bar somewhere!
To make the Chair Vermouth
Add the spices to a small saucepan, and cook over a medium heat for 2 minutes to release flavour. Add the tea and 2 cups of the Vermouth, and gently boil for another 2 minutes. Allow to cool, then pour in the remaining Vermouth, and strain through a cheesecloth. Bottle and store at room temperature.
To Make the Cocktail
Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice, and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled coupe glass, and garnish with three rosebuds.
We generally think of Cognac as a drink reserved primarily for the colder months of the year, when its comforting, warming spiciness really does the trick at perking you up a bit. However, as this beautifully cooling cocktail proves, there’s nothing wrong whatsoever with getting creative with your Cognac in the summer months, either, and you can find beautiful results when striking the right balance between sophistication and relaxation!
Add the spirits and the bitters to a highball glass, along with a couple of large ice cubes. Fill with club soda and garnish with a lemon twist.
There you have it – five incredible Cognac cocktails which really show off the oft-overlooked versatility of this incredible spirit. Now go forth, and start mixing!