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10 Must-Try Cognac Cocktails

This illustrious brandy makes without doubt the smoothest, invigorating and flavoursome drinks invented to date. How many have you tried?

As a spirit with a premium attitude cognac has been known to struggle in the world of cocktails. Often pricey, it was relegated for years to the nightclubs and collectors’ cabinets – only dusted off for old recipes or sipped late into the evening with smoky cigars masking its lighter nature. With a gentle temperament the beauty of well-made cognac can also be easily masked by heavy liqueurs, rich vermouths and sharp citrus juice. But when a cognac cocktail gets it right, like the simple perfection of a Sazerac or Harvard, this illustrious brandy makes without doubt the smoothest, invigorating and flavoursome drinks invented to date. How many have you tried?

Old School

Sazerac
Cognac, Peychaud's bitters, Angostura Bitters and absinthe.
This smooth drink is a New Orleans classic, and is found served with either cognac as its base or a mix of half rye whiskey, half cognac or all rye. The reason for these variations is all down to a the phylloxera plague which ravished French vineyards in the late 1890s, putting an end to the abundance of cognac. Thirsty imbibers in NOLA had to start adding in, and eventually converting to, their own rye whiskies. If you enjoy a rough, spicy kick to your drinks then to 50/50 option is a popular standard but for a taste of the original drink, quaffable, gently floral and oaky sweet then order a Cognac-only Sazerac.  

Harvard
Cognac, sweet vermouth and Angostura Bitters
Essentially a cognac Manhattan, sweet vermouth and brandy go down a storm together and the herbal notes really add a bright infusion to the aged spirit. If you find yourself wandering the streets of the town Cognac, pop into Luciole, a bar on the right bank of the river and order their Harvard which has been gently sous-vide cooked – adding a modern technique to fuse the traditional flavours together.

Vieux Carré
Cognac, bourbon, Benedictine liqueur, sweet vermouth, Peychaud's bitters and Angostura Bitters
Another New Orleans drink (that town had plenty of French influences resulting in a strong import trade), this drink was invented by Walter Bergeron in 1938 at The Hotel Monteleone. It’s not too dissimilar to a Sazerca but has a rougher edge with bourbon and a complex sweetness from the Benedictine. 

Japanese Cocktail
Cognac, orgeat and Angostura Bitters
Making its debut in Jerry Thomas’s 1862 How to Mix Drinks, the Japanese Cocktail is accompanied with no explanation of its name, after all its ingredients, brandy, almond syrup and bitters have little to do with the island nation. However, as David Wondrich surmises in Imibibe!, this drink perhaps has something to do with a few visits paid to Thomas’s New York City bar on Broadway by a member of Japan’s first diplomatic mission to America, Tateishi Onojirou Noriyuki. The delegation resided quite near Thomas’s saloon, and he quickly drummed up a reputation for spending plenty of nights out on the town. It can be assumed that a raucous evening or two spent at the bar would be enough cause for Thomas to christen a cocktail in honour of his Japanese regular.

Stringer
Cognac, crème de menthe, orange bitters, mint leaves
An iconic drink—who would have thought the unlikely combination of white crème de menthe and cognac shaken and served up would marry to well together—stormed bar menus in the 1920s. It’s mint flavour was supposedly helped to disguise alcohol on one’s breath and, apparently, New York playboy Reginald Vanderbilt was known for mixing them religiously every day at cocktail hour, often with a dash of absinthe. 

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New School

Walnut Sour
Found at Luciole, Cognac, France.
This delicious sour is made using cognac VSOP, pineau des Charentes, lemon juice, sugar syrup and walnut bitters and was put together by Tony Conigliaro and his team at their beautiful bar in the town of Cognac.

Concrete Sazerac 
Found at Dandelyan, London
One of the staples of the Dandelyan menu, the Concrete Sazerac has been retained as a firm favourite and been included as a bar classic each time the menu updates. It’s made with Martell Cordon Bleu & VSOP, fermented Peychaud, Absinthe and concrete. Don’t worry though, you won’t be losing teeth to chunks of actual concrete in here, it’s a filreation method that leaves the drink with a crisp, mineral edge.

Café du Maine 
Found at No. 9 Park, Boston, USA
This drink comes from former head bartender at No.9 Park, Ted Kilpatrick, and is, as he described it, “a cross between a New Orleans Milk Punch and an Espresso Martini.” Made with cognac, espresso, vanilla syrup, Allen’s Coffee Brandy and half cream.

Sidecar 75 
Found at Strøm Bar, Copenhagen, Denmark
Created for a Merlet Cognac competition by Jonas Andersen of Strøm Bar in Denmark, the Sidecar 75 is a play on the classic Cognac-based cocktails the French 75 and the Sidecar. Like the Sidecar, it uses an orange liqueur and lemon for its citrusy zing and Andersen’s own champagne syrup to play on the bubbly, yeasty notes of a French 75.

Breakfast Of Champions
Found at Nightjar, London
One of Nightjar’s classics, and which has lasted through the course of several menu updates, the elaborately served Breakfast of Champions is made using Courvoisier VSOP, Grappa Ruta, amazaki brown rice paste, fresh lemon juice, Iranian date syrup and yoghurt crusta.