A Beginner's Guide to Cognac

Girls can have their pumpkin spice lattes and salted caramel whatevers, for us, fall means it’s the perfect season (and temperature) for a rich, warming glass of one of our favorite beverages: Cognac. There’s something unexplainable that’s just a little more mature and refined about a glass of Cognac, as opposed to vodka, rum, or gin. Something about holding a snifter makes you feel like you’ve entered into the realm of the gentleman and should be surrounded by leather-bound books and mahogany while rocking a classic cardigan sweater or a pullover vest. In honor of the esteemed liquor, we’re dedicating this week’s blog to the champagne of brandy (more on that in a second) with some of our favorite facts on the rich and favored spirit: 

What Is Cognac? 

Cognac is a type of brandy, which means that it’s a distilled white wine. However, not all distilled brandies can be considered cognacs. Like champagne, Cognac holds the distinction of being made in a delineated region of France. For cognac, this area sits on the country’s Western coast. This 200,000-acre area includes the town of Cognac and its surrounding regions. There are six regions of production, dubbed the "delimited area," by French Cognac authorities. They are: Grande Champagne, Petit Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaires. Cognacs are blended from the distilled spirits from these six regions to achieve the perfect balance of flavor. 

Cognac must be distilled twice in copper pot stills and then is aged in French oak barrels (the barrels must be made from French oak from one of two specific forests, Limousin and Troncais) for a minimum of two years. Distilling season for Cognac ends in March, because it cannot be made with wine that has had added sulfites, giving only a short five-annual window to create this spirit annually.

A Beginner's Guide to Cognac

A Rich History

Cognac dates back to the 1600s, when wine that was exported to Holland was deemed below par. The Dutch, who had already begun distilling gin, began distilling the wine they were receiving, hence creating the first incarnation of Cognac. As the French took notice, local winemakers began distilling their own wines. Some of today’s most famous Cognac brands fate back to the 1700s, with Martell, which is the world’s oldest brand, has its history dating back to 1715, while Hennessy began in 1765, and Rémy Martin’s history stretches back to 1724.

Our Favorite Way to Enjoy It

While any glass is acceptable to enjoy the beverage nowadays, the classic Cognac glass was a snifter made in a large bulbous shape to channel heat from the hands, as the perfect drinking temperature for the beverage is claimed to be 70 degrees. Many enjoy drinking the beverage with their favorite soda mixer or stirred into a sidecar cocktail, but we love to enjoy it neat or opened with just a drop of water.  

A Beginner's Guide to Cognac: Snifter

Clarification on those Classifications

For anyone that has been confused by the VS or VSOP labels, here’s a quick and easy guide. There are three primary classifications: VS (or Very Special), VSOP (or Very Superior Old Pale), and XO (or Extra Old). VS means that the Cognac has been aged at least two years, VSOP must be aged at least four years, and XO must have been aged ten years. 

A Beginner's Guide to Cognac: Aged Barrels

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