Cognac cocktails for your last summer party
Here in the UK next Monday is August Bank Holiday, a national holiday that signals the end of the summer. Traditionally that means gardening, DIY and meeting up with friends to squeeze the last drop of sunshine out of the season. If you’re having a lunch, picnic or barbecue with friends this weekend (wherever you may be), why not brighten your gathering with a cocktail (or two)? Cognac makes the ideal base for a range of cocktails. This may be a surprise if for you cognac conjures up images of stuffy, leather-chaired gentlemen’s clubs, huge balloon glasses and cigars. So here’s Nicholas Faith’s explanation from his book, Cognac: The Story of the World’s Greatest Brandy, which we’ve followed up with a few recipes from our friends at Cognac Expert.
Cognac is an ideal base for cocktails; as Pierre Szersnovicz of Courvoisier puts it: ‘other spirits provide purely alcoholic support for cocktails whereas cognac brings a definite character to any blend’. Every cognac brand offers such a complexity of taste that all a professional mixologist has to do is to identify one of the many flavours and aromas in the spirit and enhance it by blending it with complementary flavours. Because it is made from grapes, cognac is eminently suitable for cocktails that will not react too violently with the wine to be drunk later in the evening. The old wives told the right tale: grain and grape really do not mix. I can attest to the ill-effects, felt the next morning, of even the smallest tincture of whisky before drinking wine in any quantity. Cognac-based cocktails are healthier.
Cognac’s virtue as the spirit of choice for cocktail makers has come at a time when Britain has emerged as the cocktail centre of the world. The reasons are many: ‘They don’t make bad cognacs,’ says Dick Bradsell, London’s cocktail pioneer, aware that there is less quality control in the making of competing spirits. He and his colleagues are discovering that cognac is mellower and softer and has the necessary smoothness and balance. It helps that you don’t need relatively expensive VSOP; VS does fine for cocktails. Moreover, cognac was due for a revival because it had been out of fashion for so long. In Bradsell’s words, cognac ‘missed out on all the funny drinks of the 1970s and so doesn’t have any gimmicky connotations’. It also helps that, in the United States anyway, drinkers believe that cognac is stronger than competing spirits, possibly because it has more character and far greater complexity.
The basic formula for most of these drinks is relatively simple: something sour with something sweet to exploit the flavour and strength of the cognac, together with a touch of character from bitters or the like. The flexibility of cognac is also important. ‘Any mix is fine,’ says Dave Steward, a cocktail expert, ‘provided you can taste the cognac’ – a direct contrast to the distillers’ attempts to make a competitor like vodka as anonymous as possible and, as he points out ‘we hope that these mixes will lead us back to the better cognacs – drunk neat.’ Also in its favour is its capacity to provide a more interesting twist on classic whisky-based cocktails – barmen sometimes admit that they’re often doing the equivalent of merely reinventing the alcoholic wheel. But then some of these – notably the julep – were originally based on cognac only to be usurped by bourbon.
If you’re using lemon or even orange then obviously you want a richer style of cognac – say Courvoisier or Hennessy – to compensate for the bitterness of the citrus fruit. Ready made ones like Grand Marnier or Cointreau which combine orange and brandy can be replicated – after a fashion. There are obvious mixers apart from citrus fruit and other fruit like apples, such as cream, chocolate and coffee. Just think of the Brandy Alexander favoured by Anthony Blanche, a character in Brideshead Revisited – though Waugh is clearly painting him as a bounder. The Alexander normally uses dark crème de cacao and grated nutmeg, though Blanche obviously wanted cream with his. Either way it’s fine because although it’s inevitably sweet, you’re not overly conscious of the individual constituents but only of the blend.
A classic cocktail that goes down well on any occasion. Once again, easy to make and provides a taste sensation that’ll delight the taste buds. A great aperitif to enjoy before any meal. Add Media
6cl cognac (quality and brand of your choice)
1.5cl lemon juice
3cl cranberry juice
wedge of lime
Prepare and chill cocktail or martini glasses. Place all the ingredients except the lime into a cocktail shaker. Mix well and allow to chill. Strain into the glasses and garnish with a wedge of lime. Serve immediately.
This was created in 2008 specifically for the occasion known as the International Cognac Summit, an event organised by the BNIC. Mixologists and other cognac experts joined forces to create the ultimate cognac cocktail. The cocktail had to be simple to produce, with easily accessible ingredients. It also had to look fabulous – and taste amazing. And the Summit cocktail was the end result.
4 slices of freshly peeled ginger
1 slice of lime
4cl of VSOP cognac (brand of your choice)
6cl of lemonade
a fine peel of cucumber, to garnish
Place the lime and ginger into a glass and add 2cl of cognac. Add the ice and stir to mix. Add the rest of the cognac and the lemonade, then garnish with the cucumber. Serve immediately.
This classy little cocktail is both simple and chic. It not only tastes fabulous, but looks just wonderful when served. It is believed that it was so named after the motorcycle sidecar in which an eccentric British captain in Paris during the Second World War was transported to the bistro where the cocktail was born. The first recorded listing for this cocktail can be found in the early 1920s books, Harry’s ABC of Cocktails, and Cocktails, How to Mix Them. In the USA the Sidecar is often served with a sugared rim, and is very popular.
2 parts of VS or VSOP cognac
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 part Triple Sec
dash of sugar syrup
1 twist of lemon peel for garnish
Place all the ingredients (bar the lemon peel) in a cocktail shaker with some crushed ice and mix. Allow to cool and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the twist of lemon peel and serve immediately.