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7 things you didn't know about: cognac

Bottle and glass of brandy and cigar on wooden table on brown background
Bottle and glass of brandy and cigar on wooden table on brown background
Image: belchonock via 123RF

Do you know your cognac from your whiskey or brandy? Is it one of those "bitter", old people drinks that you can only have with a cigar in your hand? Why does it suddenly seem like everyone is drinking it?

Frenchman Sullivan Doh, owner of one of the top 50 best bars in the world and brand ambassador for D’USSE Cognac (yes, the JayZ one) gave us the lowdown on cognac during his recent trip to SA.

Sullivan Doh working his magic
Sullivan Doh working his magic
Image: D’USSE Visuals

So here are seven facts to help you brush up on your cognac knowledge.

1. Cognac: A drink or a place?

France is very particular about its regional alcohols.You know how only champagne made in Champagne can actually be called champagne? Well, only a certain type of brandy made in Cognac, can be called cognac.And not far from Cognac, in the southwest of France, there is another brandy called Armagnac. We will leave you to guess the region it’s from.

2. Acid wine

Brandy is distilled wine, but cognac is distilled from a very particular kind of wine from a grape called the Ugni Blanc. The wine it makes is too acidic to drink but perfect when distilled and aged into a cognac.

3. Now that’s vintage!

The youngest blend used in cognac has to be aged at least two years and would be labeled as a VS (Very Special). For the Very Superior Old Pale (VSOP) blend, a minimum aging period of four years is required. The top of the range for those who fancy themselves connoisseurs, the XO (Extra Old) is the go to blend at a minim age of a decade.

4. Neat for what?

Cognac is apparently an OG of the cocktail world. “Cognac has been a major actor of the birth of the cocktail craft in the world,” says Doh. “If you look into the first book ever published regarding cocktail recipes, which is the Jerry Thomas [Bar-Tender's Guide] book written in 1862, there is already a lot of cognac cocktails in this book.”

5. No to heat!

Cognac does not like heat of any kind. So if you have a brandy warmer in your cupboard, throw it out. If you know someone who pretentiously swirls their cognac glass over a candle or hot water to demonstrate their expertise, tell them to stop. “It’s not good for your cognac to warm it,” Doh warns. “If you warm it, you are going to have the alcohol that’s in it be a slap to your face.”

6. A tulip for you…

And speaking of heat, you might want to get rid of those balloon glasses as well, unless they have a long stem. That’s because if they are short stemmed, you will likely hold the glass at the bottom and consequently heat the drink with your palm, which is not ideal. So which glass is best? Go for a tulip glass as it helps with storing the cognac’s aromas. 

7. Do you boo…

At the end of the day, however you decide to drink your cognac is your prerogative. You shouldn’t let anyone tell you what to do with your taste buds. Whether you prefer your drink with a by diluting it with lots of ice or even adding a soda, who cares? Do what’s best for you. “The best way of drinking cognac is the way you like it,” says Doh and we couldn’t agree more.

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