From the French 75 to the Sazerac: Why you should be fixing Cognac Cocktails
Cognac isn’t just for sipping. The French spirit works beautifully in classic and modern mixed drinks.
Bartenders are now rediscovering one of the greatest cocktail ingredients ever created: Cognac.
While the historic and elegant French spirit is usually served neat in a fancy balloon-shaped snifter, it works incredibly well as the base of a mixed drink.
In fact, Cognac was a favorite of bartenders during the golden age of the cocktail in the late 1800s, when many of the classics were first created. The liquor was used in a wide variety of drinks and was even the featured ingredient in many concoctions that today are routinely made with whiskey, like the Mint Julep.
Why was it used so often? Thanks to years of aging in French oak casks the liquor picks up hints of baking spice (think vanilla) that complement its natural fruit notes. The finished product is wonderfully balanced and works beautifully with fruit and citrus juice, which, no surprise, it is frequently paired with in drink recipes.
Cognac’s reputation as a mixing spirit, which was on par with gin, whiskey and rum, took a giant hit at the turn of the century. Phylloxera, a small bug, destroyed European vineyards—and without grapes you, of course, can’t make Cognac. While a solution was sought, which ultimately came from Texas, there was a global shortage of Cognac and other types of liquor, including Scotch and American whiskey, were able to steal Cognac’s market share and bartender attention.
There is, of course, no shortage now of the liquor and both home and professional bartenders are using it in classic and modern cocktails. “I love the fact that I can work with a spirit that on its own has incredible balance,” says Joaquín Simó, one of New York’s top mixologists, who was named American Bartender of the Year at the Tales of the Cocktail conference in 2012. He jokes, “Mixing with a great Cognac makes me look like I know what I’m doing.”
One of the most popular recipes calling for the spirit is the refreshing French 75 (Cognac, lemon juice, sparkling wine and a hint of simple syrup), which is the perfect tipple for a lazy brunch or a summer afternoon party.
The cocktail can also be made with gin, but the Cognac version adds a richness and a surprising chocolate note. “It’s a great aperitivo,” says Simó. “There’s something festive about drinking bubbly, too. Everybody just wants to raise a glass. Having Cognac in that glass as well, not just Champagne, makes it extra decadent, which I think makes a celebration a little more special.”
Another classic that really showcases the versatility of Cognac is the Sazerac (Cognac, simple syrup, absinthe, Peychaud’s Bitters). While the drink is now synonymous with New Orleans and is usually made with spicy American rye whiskey, the Cognac version also has historic roots and is a delicious alternative. “We’ve basically barely adulterated booze here, seasoned it lightly and we’re just allowing the spirit to speak for itself,” says Simó.
The best part? It’s incredibly easy to fix. You just may never make the drink with whiskey again.
Ingredients:2.5 oz Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilége.5 oz Simple syrup (one part sugar, one part water)1 dash Absinthe5 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Garnish: Lemon twist
Directions: Rinse a rocks glass with a dash of absinthe. Pour out any excess. Add the rest of the ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir and strain into the prepared rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Ingredients:1.5 oz Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilége.5 oz Simple syrup (one part sugar, one part water).75 oz Fresh lemon juiceSparkling wine or Champagne
Garnish: Lemon twist
Directions: Add all ingredients, except the sparkling wine, to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake and strain into a flute and top with champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist.