It might be hard to believe today, but cognac was as popular through the end of the 19th century as vodka is today! In fact, cognac was the original “must have” spirit and it was hard for cognac producers to meet demand. In the 17th century, the Dutch ruled the oceans and went from country to country trading wares. The Dutch realized that the wine they traded frequently spoiled on the voyage but the brandewijn, or burnt wine, that they purchased from the Cognac region, which was a major trading region in France given its proximity to river ways, did not spoil, in fact, it improved during the voyage. What made the brandewijn special was that it had been distilled. The Dutch exported this bradewijn throughout the world and demand continued to grow. The distilleries quickly branded it cognac and it’s popularity exploded.
100 years ago, cognac (and brandy) was a bartender’s friend. If you look in vintage cocktail books, the number of brandy drinks rival, if not, exceed the number of gin drink. Today, cognac and brandies are no longer viewed as the bartender’s friend. I don’t know why this is – cognac is infinitely mixable and as versatile as whisky. Maybe this is because cognac is viewed as a luxury spirit (and there are a limited number of brandy producers). I am hoping that this spirit will eventually be revived in the ongoing cocktail renaissance. Growing up in brandy drinking country, I can attest that while brandy cocktails are good, cocktails made with cognac are even better! There is nothing that I like better than a Sidecar made with a good cognac.
Give cognac a try this June 4. Try a VSOP or XO neat or substitute a VS or VSOP in your favorite whisky drink. Or, give these favorite brandy drinks a try (substitute the brandy for cognac):
Sidecar – my favorite drink for 15 years running. Take my word, it’s delicious.
Wisconsin Old Fashion – a bastardized Old Fashion made with brandy and soda. I grew up on these.
Cognac and Squirt – another Wisconsin specialty for when you don’t have time to make a Wisconsin Old Fashion.
Manhattan – shockingly good with Cognac.
Brandy Alexander – with ice cream, yummy!
More more, check out our Brandy Drink Recipe Page.