Today, June 4, is National Cognac Day!
The origin of Cognac goes back to the 16th century when Dutch settlers came to the Cognac region in France to purchase salt, wood, and wine. Unfortunately, the wine tasted pretty awful after the long journey back home so they started by distilling it for preservation, but eventually they realized a second distillation made for an even better product. And brandy was born! In fact, the word “brandy” comes from the Dutch word “brandewijn” which means burnt wine.
Brandy is made all over the world, but only brandy made in the Cognac region, and under the very strictest guidelines, can be called “Cognac.” The Cognac region stretches over two different regions in western France, Charente-Maritime (bordering the Atlantic Ocean) and Charente (a little further inland). There are six Crus (or growth areas) designated for producing Cognac. Listed in descending order of ageing potential and quality, they are as follows: Grand Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaires.
And by now you should know that I have a “thing” for cocktails, so below are some of the classic Cognac cocktail recipes that I’ve enjoyed over the years from some of the leading producers of this fine spirit:
- 1.5 ounces Hennessy V.S
- 3.5 ounces ginger ale
Directions: Pour the Hennessy cognac into a highball glass. Add cubed ice to fill the glass. Top with ginger ale. Garnish with a lime wedge and/or fresh slices of ginger.
- 1.5 ounces Martell Blue Swift
- 0.5 ounces Cinnamon syrup
- 0.5 ounces Lemon juice
- 3 ounces Campo Viejo Rioja
- 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Instructions: Add Martell Blue Swift, cinnamon syrup, lemon juice, Campo Viego Rioja, and bitters into a wine glass. Stir to combine. Garnish with orange slices.
- 1 ounce Grand Marnier® Cordon Rouge
- 1 ounce Wild Turkey® 101 Bourbon Whiskey
- 3 dashes aromatic bitters
- large ice cube
Directions: First, combine aromatic bitters, Grand Marnier®, and, finally, whiskey in an old fashioned glass. Add large ice cube and stir until cold and well incorporated. Garnish surface of liquid with orange twist, expressing oils over glass rim.
- 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
- 1 lemon wedge
- 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) Cognac
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) Cointreau or other Triple Sec orange liqueur
- 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup ice
Preparation: Spread superfine sugar on small plate. Rub lemon wedge halfway around rim of chilled martini or coupe glass. Dip moistened side of glass in sugar to lightly coat outside rim of glass. Set aside. In cocktail shaker, combine Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice. Add ice and shake vigorously until well chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into prepared martini or coupe glass and serve.
Years ago, in Chicago, I dropped into a little Italian restaurant downtown that featured Steak Diane. I cannot remember the name of the place or exact location to save my life but it was most definitely the best I’ve ever had and it has stayed in my subconscious all this time. Anyway, I found this recipe online with similar ingredients (at least to my memory and palate) and I will try it someday soon…
- 1 1-1/2-lb. flank steak
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsp. peanut or vegetable oil
- 3 Tbs. finely chopped shallot
- 3 Tbs. medium sherry, such as amontillado
- 2 Tbs. Cognac
- 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 2 Tbs. lower-salt chicken broth
- 2 oz. (4 Tbs.) cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
- 3 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives
- 2 Tbs. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice, more to taste
Preparation instructions can be found online on Fine Cooking.
And for those who think Cognac is best enjoyed neat (with a fine cigar, of course), Esquire has plenty of other suggestions (i.e. mushrooms, cheese, seafood, etc.) in their What to Eat When You Drink Cognac article.