BolsRemyDrink

by Chris Benjamin, Food & Beverage Director, The Essex Resort & Spa

“All Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac!” These were the inaugural words spoken to me on my first of many adventures with Cognac, one of the finest brandies available on the market.

One of my greatest friends introduced me to this wonderful liquor after a round of golf. “Yak”, as it is sometimes nicknamed, is a fitting beverage after a great meal or after some time spent outdoors, as it warms the insides and is also a great way to promote digestion. Cognac, named for a small, French town near Bordeaux, is the crème de la crème of brandies (and is derived from the Dutch word brandewijn, meaning “burnt wine”). It is made from distilling grape juice, and it is classified as an eau-de-vie (“water of life”), since it is processed through the primary fermentation of grape juice and then through the distillation of the byproduct.

The secret is in the soil, which requires rich deposits of chalk– the more the better. The region around Cognac, and around its neighbor Armagnac to the south, has this key ingredient. The finest brandies are classified based on the region in which the grapes are grown, and the center of the region around Cognac — Grande Champagne — is the best.

They say that Cognac is the finest brandy, but those who appreciate a glass will fall in love with Armagnac. In my opinion, Cognac is smoother and more majestic, but Armagnac has the soul of the beverage with heftier smoke, more aggressive flavors, and a ruggedness that Cognac lacks.

The second secret to success is the amount of time spent in oak. The longer the aging time, the richer and more complex the flavors. Very Superior (VS) Cognacs spend a minimum of two years in oak (though most average four to five years) while Very Superior Old Pale (VSOP) is the next level up, with greater depth of flavors and smokiness, spending a minimum of four years in wood (though industry average is between 10-15).

Extra Old (XO) will probably break most people’s banks, but it is certainly worth the experience. These brandies age for over six years (though industry average is 20 years) and tend to be the most elegant and noteworthy. For those of you who remember the movie Cocktail, when Tom Cruise’s character and his buddy make a bet over a girl, the prize is a bottle of Louis XIII, one of the most expensive Cognacs produced today (complete with a $100 Baccarat Crystal bottle!)

Cognac can be an acquired taste. So to cut down the “burn”, and to make it more accessible to a wider audience, bartenders created the Brandy Alexander. I certainly wouldn’t waste a good XO on this, but the better the Cognac the smoother the flavor.

Brandy Alexanders incorporate crème de cacao (chocolate liqueur), which is a timeless flavor combination. During the holidays, it was a tradition to make truffles containing brandy and a cherry (these have degenerated into “chocolate-covered cherries”). The Brandy Alexander is making a strong comeback — as are many classic cocktails these days — and this one has a slight twist. Just remember the nickname “Yak” when imbibing– this is a drink truly enjoyed in moderation.

The Tavern Brandy Alexander
1 1/2 oz. Cognac
1/2 oz. crème de cacao
6 oz. heavy cream
1/4 oz. Navan Vanilla Cognac

Mix and enjoy.

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