Cognac Cocktails


By Joel Levin
New Jersey Newspaper Group



Cognac is a noble drink, hardly able to escape its reputation as a serious swallow...yet it has a place as a cocktail ingredient.  Those new to the spirit should know that although there is room for creative artistry to shine, the official Cognac agency in France has established inviolable rules regarding grape (yes, grape) varietals, regional boundaries, production methods, and ageing.  Simply defined, Cognac is an 80-proof or higher brandy, a liquor distilled from wine from France's Cognac region, and it can be heavenly.

Through most of the years beginning with 19, the royal spirit carried a cachet of old leather club chairs and cigar-smoking three-piece-suited aristocrats.  I started tasting Cognac when it was a cultural imperative to go through the silly ceremony of warming a precisely-tilted 18-ounce snifter between gimbals and above a candle cradled in a purpose-built device.

I remember recoiling from the vapors, enjoying the taste only after I mercifully moved my nose from the torture chamber.  Now, in the enlightened 21st century, we've ended the cringe factor by  learning to sip room-temperature Cognac from smaller tulip-shaped glasses.

Producers bottle in different and fascinating house styles, so I'm a firm believer in stocking the home bar with at least a handful of Cognacs.  From the humbler VS classification to VSOP, XO, and beyond, each variety and brand has a distinct character.  Factor in the infinite permutations made possible from blending the three permitted grapes sourced from a variety of microclimates, and it's plain to see that the easy way out is to own a library of Cognacs instead of forcing a choice of one favorite.  The more precious bottlings are obviously meant to enjoy neat as a serious tipple, while others can double as mixers.

Many classic cocktails combine Cognac with either citrus-family flavors, dairy, or cocoa, but my new fave, the SMOKY JOE MEX developed at LevinLabs after much experimentation, is the first mixed drink I know of that features Cognac and Mezcal.  The smokiness of mezcal's roasted agave marries brilliantly with the chocolate and vanilla notes of an aged Cognac.
SMOKY JOE MEX cocktail
2 oz.  XO (preferred) or VSOP Cognac
1/2 to 3/4 ounce joven (silver) mezcal (Negramano or Scorpion preferred)
1/2 ounce serious coffee liqueur (Montoro if you can find it)  Avoid the popular, but overly-sweetened vanilla-heavy brands
3 oz. cold black coffee
2 oz. milk (skim is OK; cream is too much)
1 two-inch strip of cooked smoky bacon for garnish, previously prepared

Stir liquid ingredients with minimum amount of small ice cubes or coarsely-chopped ice. Pour into 12-ounce highball glass, retaining ice.  Heat cooked bacon in microwave for 15 seconds and drop into glass while sizzling.  It makes a better end-of-drink crunchy treat than an agave worm does.


Ginger and lime both possess citrus-y notes.  Using King's Ginger in the bracing Limey-Ack is more convenient than grating ginger root, and it makes a fine digestif on its own, so it's a good liqueur to keep close-at-hand on the back shelf. 

Bulldog gin in the London Dry style is a smooth mixer, due in part to its lower 80 proof. (Many of the classics of the type score north of 90.)  Its piney flavor also harmonizes with ginger and lime.  Think gin 'n' ginger ale, and the summery G & T with a twist of lime.
2 oz. VSOP Cognac
1 ounce Bulldog gin
3/4 ounce King's Ginger
ice for shaking
lime twist
basil leaf
optional:  soy sauce (trace) and sea salt
Shake with ice.  Strain into medium highball glass or goblet whose rim has been
moistened with light soy sauce or tamari and rolled in coarse sea salt.  Curl a
long lime twist over drink without tearing it, and drop in.  Float a medium basil
leaf whose edges have been fringed with a paring knife or scissors.
For sodiumphobics and the soy-averse or allergic, skip the sauce and the salt.




© July 2012 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.