I spent the better part of my day researching the history of the Cognac trade in the 16th century. And as much as I love history, I gotta tell you, it’s not exactly edge-of-your-seat material (I may or may not have succumbed to a fit of narcolepsy around noon).
Why am I reading about the Cognac trade in the 16th century?
For the next unit of my WSET Diploma, I have to write a 3,000 word research paper on the past, present and future of Cognac.
Brandy (as a category that includes Cognac) is the third most consumed spirit in the world, behind vodka and rum. Cognac aficionados love to talk about Cognac as some kind of otherworldly experience, but (true confessions), I don’t like Cognac. Maybe I should say I never acquired a taste for it. My dad loves Cognac. When I was a kid, he’d let me taste it, and I always thought it tasted a lot like lighter fluid smells. I tried it periodically to be sure it hadn’t suddenly turned into something drinkable. It never did. And so when I started my research for this paper, I bought myself a really nice bottle of Hennessy VSOP (very special over priced) Cognac. I poured myself a glass and . . . nope, still not drinkable.
Aside from my dad, I don’t know anyone (personally) who drinks Cognac. Winston Churchill was a Cognac drinker (but honestly, what didn’t Winston drink?!?). And of course, Major Charles “One does not snort Cognac” Emerson Winchester The Third. And rap stars, who (in all seriousness) are probably responsible for resuscitating the Cognac industry in the 1990s.
So, in the interest of acquiring a taste for Cognac, I went to the Hennessy website and learned that it’s perfectly acceptable to drink your Cognac on ice. Hmmmm. I drink my bourbon on ice. I’ll give it a whirl. And you know what? It was drinkable. Maybe I can acquire a taste for this stuff.
One of the ways the Cognac industry is seeking to reinvent itself is through repurposing old-standard cocktails using Cognac.
One of my favorite cocktails is the Old Fashioned. Here’s the recipe I use — I just swapped the bourbon for Cognac.
Refashioned Old Fashioned
In an Old Fashioned glass, muddle the bitters, sugar, orange wheel, cherry and a splash of soda. Remove the orange wheel, add the Cognac, and fill with ice. Garnish with a fresh orange wheel and cherry.
You know what? It wasn’t bad. It might even be pretty good. It’s a little spicier than the Old Fashioned made with bourbon. That said, it’s not good enough to upset the original bourbon version, but it’s definitely not bad.