Cognac. Even Ludacris is enamored by this alcoholic beverage. The Gentleman gives you the lowdown on the drink that warms your soul.
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In the Gentleman’s Glass: Conjure Cognac
As one who watched his fair share of SNL in his days, I cannot hear the name Courvoisier without thinking about The Ladies Man. Numerous lyrics roll through my mind when I hear the name Hennessy. Considering how Cognac has penetrated our popular culture it is surprising that this spirit has not received very much attention.
Horse Before the Cognac Cart
The taste of Cognac is quite pleasant. Imagine something that occupies both the tastes of wine and bourbon. There are hints of fruitiness from the wine while having some caramel and toffee hints that are more indicative of bourbon.
Before I get into the specifics of Cognac the broader category of brandy must be tackled. At its core, Brandy is wine that has been distilled, though it can be wine that is made from different fruit other than grapes. This means that wine has been placed in a still and the alcohol has been extracted to create a stronger beverage—though this is a very simplistic explanation. There are some beliefs on why this was done. One explanation is that it was done to avoid the taxes placed on wine—which was levied based on volume not ABV. After the beverage was sold the buyer would then add water to it to decrease its ABV. Alternatively, it might have been that it was distilled for the sake of transportation. With this belief, wine was distilled and packed into oak barrels for transportation, decreasing its volume while at the same time ageing the beverage in oak contributing to the characteristic taste of brandy.
Brandy is one of those spirits that the way that it is drunk is almost regional—almost. In western countries it is traditional to drink it in a brandy sniffer at room temperature or “hand” warmed. A brandy sniffer is a perfectly designed glass to be cradled in the hand, and thus the spirit is warmed by the hand and helps to bring out some of the more aromatic notes of the spirit. The farther east you go you might see people drinking brandy on the rocks. Honestly either way is appropriate. I personally find that hand warmed is great as a desert drink, while on the rocks is good for with a meal or anytime not after a meal.
Cognac the Progeny
Cognac has some characteristics of the production process that distinguish it from other brandies. Cognac is a town of France from which the spirit gets its name. As such Cognac must first start as a white wine made from the grapes of the regions surrounding the town of Cognac. If the grapes are from anywhere else, the spirit cannot be called cognac. Next local yeasts must be used in the fermentation of those grapes and only those grapes. This means that there can be no added sugar or sulfur to the mash. Lastly, and the most unusual, is that the wine produced is distilled in copper stills that must meet specific dimensions. All of these factors are actually regulated by the government of France, requiring a specific application be submitted for the production and designation as Cognac.
The taste of Cognac is quite pleasant. Imagine something that occupies both the tastes of wine and bourbon. There are hints of fruitiness from the wine while having some caramel and toffee hints that are more indicative of bourbon. If you have not tried Cognac or brandy I highly suggest having a large meal, preferably with some rich food flavors, then having a glass hand warmed when you have finished. It truly makes a great desert drink. If you order your Cognac at a restaurant, be careful. Cognac can be pricey, especially by the glass. I have had a chance to try one of the top, if not the top Cognacs, Remy Martin Louis XIII…once. This bottle of Cognac has a blend of cognac wines that are aged from 40-100 years, comes in a true crystal bottle, and will set you back about $2,000. At the restaurant that I ate at just today, they served a glass of it for $170. Don’t get me wrong it was exquisite, but I do not foresee myself throwing down $170 on one drink for a dinner anytime soon.
Cognac has had a strong presence in hip-hop culture. Such references have increased the sale of Cognac sales to the tune of $1 billion per year. This boost in sales is almost purely from product placement and endorsements. Take the Conjure Cognac in my glass right now. This specific brand has some of its taste direction from Chris Bridges. You might be more familiar with his other name, Ludacris. Now I will have to say that Chris actually taking part in the production process and not just slapping his name on it is quite admirable. I will say that it is tasty, though it borders more on the bourbon side than other Cognacs that I have had—but then again I am a whiskey-crat, so I like that fact.
If this article has not peaked your interest in Cognac, let me paint a picture for you: You’re holding a distinguished glass filled with an enticing caramel colored liquid. The aroma of this liquid sneaks into your nostrils, seducing you to sip it. With that sip, you taste a viscous, sweet fruity taste that warms your soul as it traverses your throat into your stomach. You have just tried Cognac.