High proof Cognacs return the spirit to cocktails
By Francine Cohen
Every year, without fail, the spirits world experiences two phenomena; one a little disheartening and the other REALLY exciting. The disheartening one (let’s get it out of the way) is that numerous new brands flood an already crowded marketplace and either are totally indistinguishable or so god awful that they stand out for their appalling packaging or wretched juice (or both). The good thing that happens every year is that we see another spirit category slide into the spotlight. As this happens we are gifted with the luxury of shifting our attention to rediscovering exquisite spirits and exploring new ways to use them.
Cognac has proven itself a spirit worth considering this year (and in years to come); particularly as high proof expressions are being made readily available — a boon for cocktail creation. The presence of high proof Cognacs on the shelves just may be what the category needs to revitalize its image and move away from its “Cognac is just for the hip-hop crowd and rich old people’s sipping enjoyment ” reputation. High proof Cognac makes for a great cocktail ingredient.
Not to mention an historically accurate one. Philippe Pichetto of Louis Royer Cognac, the producer of Force 53 a high proof Cognac bottled at 53% ABV (www.louis-royer.com), explains, “Historian Dave Wondrich has eloquently traced the history of Cognac cocktails.” Pichetto points to Wondrich’s writings on www.experiencecognac.com where Wondrich documented that brandy-based drinks, with Cognac often specified as (in Wondrich’s words) ‘the best of the best,’ have long been part of the libations pantheon. According to his Cognac cocktail research Wondrich unearths evidence that Cognac has been a cocktail staple dating back to punches favored by the English and juleps and sours embraced by their American counterparts, as well as in seminal cocktails like the Sazerac from New Orleans, the Crusta, the Brandy Cocktail and the Coffee Cocktail. Though Prohibition and its after effects froze the development of cocktails for many years thankfully that time is well behind us. Wondrich remarks, “We truly have entered a new Golden Age of the Cocktail and Cognac continues to play a large role in today’s modern cocktails!”
Modern day mixologist Chad Solomon, one half of drinks consultancy Cuffs & Buttons operated with his partner Christy Pope (www.cuffsandbuttons.com), is pleased to see this resurrection of the powerful spirit. He recognizes, “Cognac has been a little late coming to the table in the craft cocktail revival where gin and rye were the first embraced and revived. Cognac lagged behind. In the last two years that tide has turned and Cognac has moved to take its place shoulder to shoulder.”
Solomon attributes Cognac’s slow re-starting role to history, concurring with Pichetto. He comments, “If you compare the way Cognac has been viewed and its role in 19th century – it was a pre-eminent cocktail spirit. But then we had the philoxera epidemic, world wars, and Prohibition – all those things emerge from that time peior and during the last part of 20th century it’s been pushed to a sipping spirit. That’s been to its detriment.”
Its return to its natural place in cocktail development pleases Pierre Ferrand’s president, Alexandre Gabriel (www.pierreferrandcognac.com) , “Cognac was there at the birth of the unique cocktail culture here in the USA. Cognac works so well for cocktail because it is a grape (fruit) based spirit and because it’s distilled
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