Vieux Carré cocktail
Once upon a time, Cognac was a go-to mixing spirit used in every kind of cocktail. Sazeracs and mint juleps were made with it in the early 1800s and only later became whiskey drinks. In the early 1900s, brandy-focused drinks like the stinger and the sidecar came along, and then, well, nothing much since.
But unlike other formerly forgotten spirits such as rye, pisco, and even genever, Cognac hasn't yet been offered a seat at the table of today's classic-cocktail renaissance, despite the fact that it has never disappeared from store shelves.
Bartenders complain that it's too expensive, too low in proof, and too soft for cocktails in the era of bold and boozy drinks. But a few brands are adapting to the times with new Cognacs, like C by Courvoisier, H by Hine, and Hennessy Black, which have also dropped or demoted the confusing labels of yore (VS for two years minimum aging, VSOP for four years, and XO for six), which allows them to focus on flavor and mixability instead of age.
Other companies are hitting higher proofs. Pierre Ferrand Cognac 1840 Original Formula was created to taste just like Cognac would in 1840, when people were still using it for Sazeracs and juleps; it's bottled at 45 percent alcohol instead of the typical 40. One-upping that at a whopping 53 percent alcohol is Louis Royer Force 53 Cognac. It was originally developed for the Scandinavian market, but when the makers realized bartenders wanted the higher proof, they started selling it to them.
Here are a few ways to use these new Cognacs:
- Swap out the rye for Cognac in a classic Sazerac. Some bartenders split the rye whiskey with Cognac 50-50.
- Split the Cognac with rye in a Saratoga cocktail or a Vieux Carré.
- Give the stinger another try—but get a clear creme de menthe like Tempus Fugit's version.
- Or drink it like an old-fashioned Old Fashioned—just add bitters, a sugar cube, and a lemon peel.
- Finally, feel free to mix it with ginger beer; no recipe required.
—Camper English is an international cocktails and spirits writer and the publisher of alcademics.com.