Okay, I’ll say it out loud … again: “I love cognac.”
Now you know … again. I have always loved this seductive, double-distilled beverage since I first tried it in college as a perfect late-night social drink. At least I thought it was perfect, and after imbibing way too much one evening when we were in particularly heated discussions about existentialism, the world’s religions, the existence of life on other planets and whether Oreos are better together or pulled apart, I managed to “enjoy” cognac until the sun was becoming evident at the dawn of a new day.
But that did not deter me from revisiting cognac again at the next appropriate moment. I was, for quite awhile, put off of gin, rum, tater tots and bourbon, all because I enjoyed those things way too much in one sitting. Thankfully, I now enjoy two of those four items.
Anyway, I never went through that whole “I can’t even look at another glass of cognac” phase. I like the smoky, woody, nutty, even flowery character, and the olfactory announcement that fine cognac presents when you are about to touch the brown nectar to your lips.
Now here’s the cool part, and it’s another reason for me to really like cognac: New Orleans has long had a love affair with this wine, errr, distilled spirit, uhhh, cocktail ingredient, ohhh, after-dinner drink, whatever. From the very founding of our village almost 300 years ago, cognac has been important and it has been a part of our celebrations.
Possibly the very first cocktail ever, or at least among the first, was a blend of bitters, cognac and absinthe. It was created here, probably in the early 1800s. The drink even took its name from the cognac producer whose product was a key ingredient in the cocktail. The name of the cognac distiller who lent the drink its own name was Sazerac de Forge et Fils and the historic cocktail is called a Sazerac. While today it is made with whiskey and Herbsaint, the original was not that way.
Rye whiskey did not become an ingredient in the drink for more than 75 years after its invention, probably due to the disappearance of this particular cognac brand along with the onset of phylloxera, a grapevine root disease, which devastated French vineyards around 1880.
True to classic New Orleans drinks even today, just about all the ingredients in a Sazerac are alcohol. Only a bit of simple syrup is used. Man, do we know how to live or what?
The Classic and Historic Sazerac Cocktail
1 teaspoon simple syrup
3 drops Peychaud bitters
2 ounces cognac
2 drops absinthe
Lemon peel twist
In a preparation glass, fill with cracked, fresh ice; add simple syrup, bitters and cognac. Shake or stir well. In a bar glass, sometimes known as a “rocks” glass, add the absinthe and coat the glass by rolling around the liquid. Empty the excess absinthe from the glass, and, using a strainer, pour the contents of the preparation glass into the rocks glass. Twist lemon peel over drink, using the peel for garnish.
What is also interesting about the classic Sazerac is the use of absinthe, another ingredient that is no longer used in the preparation of the Sazerac due to the making of absinthe illegal in the early 1900s. After Prohibition, Herbsaint was created, right here in New Orleans, and that became the accepted absinthe substitute in cocktails.
But now absinthe is back and we can enjoy the Sazerac cocktail with the same ingredients as enjoyed by our forefathers back in the early 1800s.
On a lighter note, but no less potent, is the French 75 cocktail. Named for a military gun that was the mainstay of the French infantry in the early 1900s and during World War I (given the war’s events, maybe this is not the best name for a forceful beverage), the French 75 recipes featured in many books uses gin.
Again, in respect to the original recipe, cognac/brandy is my preferred key ingredient for this very popular cocktail. Given the name, that has to be the way to go. What self-respecting Frenchman is going to use London gin instead of cognac? Absurd to even consider such a thought.
2 ounces cognac or brandy
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
½ ounce pure, fresh lemon juice (preferably just squeezed)
5 ounces Brut champagne
In a shaker filled with cracked ice, combine first three ingredients and shake well. Strain into a Collins-type tall glass, half-filled with cracked ice; add champagne. Be certain to use champagne, and be certain it is Brut. Otherwise the drink becomes too sweet.
And please note, here again, that most of the ingredients are alcohol, so go easy and slowly on the enjoyment.
Lastly, because New Orleanians are fond of the English Pimm’s Cup that serves an excellent purpose as a tall, cool summertime refresher, maybe there’s another way to go, and this one is actually an American cocktail invention: the Horse’s Neck.
1 part cognac
3 parts ginger ale
Dash of bitters
Pour cognac and ginger ale into bar (“rocks”) glass with fresh ice cubes. Stir gently. Add bitters. Twist lemon peel into drink and then use as garnish.
Here’s the deal: Cognac, while sometimes conjuring images of high society, actually makes the construction of cocktails easier. Note the drink recipes we have shared here. They are simple, with just a few ingredients and no complicated prep work, and they are delicious.
Take advantage of what this versatile distilled spirit/wine can bring to the party. Because whenever cognac is involved, it is a party and a cause for rejoicing.