What is Cognac? Cognac is a particular type of brandy from the Cognac region in France. To understand Cognac, one needs to understand brandy in general. Brandy is made from grapes — unlike whiskey, which is made from grain, or rum, which is made from sugar. Read below to learn all about cognac.
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Cognac has rich and deep flavors. It can be fruity, sweet, spicy, and even bitter.
- Can be pricey
Frequently Asked Questions
Cognac production begins in the vineyard with the cultivation of white grapes made into a thin, exceptionally acidic white wine. The grapes are grown in western France not far from Bordeaux. The three most important grape varieties used in Cognac are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard. The wine is then heated in a copper pot still. The alcohol in the wine, along with many other aromatic compounds, becomes steam, which is then cooled in a separate container where it returns to a liquid state. Separating the water from the alcohol increases the alcohol content and flavor, turning wine into brandy.
In Cognac, distillers are required by law to use copper pot stills and to distill the brandy twice before aging it in French oak barrels. Pot stills are relatively small and time-consuming, making Cognac more labor-intensive than some other spirits. After distillation, Cognac is a pure, clear liquid. It picks up color and additional flavor from oak aging, which must be for a minimum of two years in Cognac.
Cognac has historically been drunk from the iconic-looking brandy snifter. These wide glasses with short stems were meant to be cradled in the hands to warm the Cognac up, but they were invented when average indoor temperatures were significantly lower than they are now.
If you drink brandy this way, you’ll end up making it too warm, increasing the alcohol burn and covering up some of the delicate aromas. It’s better to drink Cognac out of a small glass with a longer stem. Holding the glass by the stem will keep it at a lower, more pleasant temperature.
Pair cognac with cured meats and hard cheeses as well as desserts — especially those with dried fruit. Cognac also pairs beautifully with both tobacco and the right strains of cannabis.
The regulatory body in Cognac, the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac, lists these designations for quality levels:
- S. (Very Special or three stars). Aged for at least two years.
- S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale or Reserve). Aged at least four years.
- Napoléon. Aged for at least six years.
- XO (Extra Old). Aged for at least 10 years.
- XXO (Extra, Extra Old). Aged at least 14 years.
- Hors d ‘âge (Beyond Age). Like XO, these Cognacs are aged for at least 14 years, but many are aged longer than that. This term is used to market some producers’ top-quality Cognacs.
Where Cognac is From
History of The Cognac
Cognac, in its current form, can be traced back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Dutch were trading a great deal in the Cognac area. They realized that distilling wine allowed it to be transported far more reliably because wines tended to go bad when carried long distances in those days.
At first, the Dutch traders only distilled once and added water once the brandy made it to Holland. They initially thought of it as a wine concentrate but soon discovered it was very enjoyable on its own, especially after a second distillation, and then Cognac as we know it was born.
Cognac was enjoyed all over the world for centuries, but it’s taken on particular cultural relevance in the US in recent decades due to its adoption by many in hip-hop culture. In 2001, the artist Busta Rhymes released his song, “Pass the Courvoisier.” Courvoisier is a major producer of Cognac, and sales began to rise from the increased awareness of Cognac among young Americans. Hip-hop stars promoting recreational products have had a major impact on other industries as well. Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg are a few other artists closely associated with Cognac.
Cognac is a particular kind of brandy from the Cognac region in France. It’s made by distilling white wine and aging in French oak barrels. It’s been enjoyed by everyone from kings to rappers, and it can add pleasure and refinement to your evenings.