Cognac and Armagnac are the most revered brandies in the world, famed for their elegance and luxury. They both hail from south-west France, and each has a slightly different distilling method, yet both carry sweet, spicy flavours married with plum, prune and apricot fruitiness.
These brandies have long been the choice of the connoisseur and the refined. And yet for such old-world, dare we say aristocratic spirits, they have filtered through into the lyrics of some of the most famous hip-hop stars the music industry has produced: ‘Hennessy is what my system like – feeling like Superman, I might crip tonight’ – 10 points if you can name the artist…
With increasing popularity among drinkers from all walks of life – ensuring the future of both categories – it was only a matter of time before Cognac and Armagnac jumped from the pages of PG Wodehouse and into the modern bartender’s mixing glass.
Now, before you cry ‘sacrilegious’, let’s remember cocktails are there to bring out the finer, subtle flavours of a spirit and when mixed correctly should only enhance your experience. So, stop sipping it neat and try a few of these carefully crafted drinks.
Born in New Orleans in the mid-1800s at the Sazerac Coffee House, the Sazerac’s original recipe featured Cognac before phylloxera devastated vineyards across France. Always enterprising, the Americans quickly found a solution in their own backyard and began using equal parts of rye whiskey and Cognac before the brandy stocks ran completely dry, switching to straight rye. Nowadays you can order your Sazerac with any measure of both spirits, but most bars will do a mixture of Cognac and rye. We suggest a mixed version of a small amount of rye brings in a delicious spice while the Cognac rounds the cocktail out, smoothing the process from glass to stomach.
45ml Cognac / 15ml rye whiskey / 5ml absinthe (to rinse glass) / 5ml sugar syrup / 3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters / 1 dash Angostura Bitters / lemon zest
*another Cognac cocktail which calls New Orleans home, the Vieux Carré, is very similar, with 20ml Cognac / 20ml rye whiskey / 20ml sweet vermouth / 1 barspoon Benedictine / 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters / 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Fish House Punch
Another cocktail hailing from across the pond – Philadelphia, to be precise – it dates to the 1800s and was traditionally drunk from flowing bowls of mixed punch although can be made to individual portions served long over crushed ice. Combining Cognac with Jamaican rum, peach liqueur, lemon juice and sugar syrup, this cocktail has rich notes of fruit and citrus.
20ml Cognac / 20ml Jamaican rum / 10ml peach liqueur / 10ml lime juice / 10ml lemon juice / 15ml sugar syrup / 5ml peach puree / grated nutmeg for garnish
Finally – a cocktail using French brandy with its origins firmly in France. Or perhaps London. But who’s counting? We know it gained popularity in Harry’s Bar in Paris at the end of World War I and we can picture the scene of glamorous Parisians in 1920s’ get-up, waltzing with Sidecars in hand. If you’re just getting into Cognac cocktails, the Sidecar is a superb way in; after all, it’s essentially a Cognac Sour which uses orange liqueur instead of sugar – exactly as a Margarita does. Serve with a half-rim of sugar.
50ml Cognac / 20ml triple sec / 20ml lemon juice
*add 15ml Benedictine and lower the triple sec down to 15ml and the Cognac to 40ml and you’ll have a Between The Sheets.
There are countless rifts on Julep recipes, but this is surely the best, with its subtle spice from rye whisky and a blast of chilled smooth Cognac rounded with aromatic orange bitters. It’s sharp, cold and elegant – everything a cocktail should be. Juleps were traditionally medicinal and considered quite separate from the fun frippery of cocktails which is why the name of the Cognac Julep gives a knowing wink to that original reason to imbibe.
35ml Cognac / 35ml rye whiskey / 8 mint leaves / 5ml honey syrup (1:1 honey and water mix) / 5ml sugar syrup
Deceptively named – hint, there’s no coffee – this delicious dessert-style drink is essentially a Cognac Flip using both the yolk and white of an egg which is first shaken without ice to emulsify, giving the cocktail that moreish, fluffy texture associated with Sours and Flips. It’s been shaken up to resemble a caffeinated beverage since Jerry Thomas penned his 1887 Bartender’s Guide and is still as tasty today.
40ml Cognac / 25ml port / 10ml sugar syrup/ 1 whole egg
With all the glamour of a New York high society pre-Prohibition drink, this unusual combination of brandy and mint was allegedly a daily tipple of NY playboy Reginald Vanderbilt. Apparently, the mint helps with bad breath, although for a daily fix we’d recommend toothpaste. Traditionally, the cocktail calls for Cognac but we prefer the slightly rougher Armagnac to punch through the crème de menthe and orange bitters.
60ml Armagnac / 45ml crème de menthe / 1 dash orange bitters / sprig mint
One of the only classic cocktails specifically designed for Armagnac rather than generic brandy or Cognac, d’Artagnan is one of the famed Musketeers from Alexandre Dumas’s novel who calls Gascony home – just as Armagnac does. The drink is a delightful mix of Armagnac, triple sec, orange juice and Champagne, so basically a brandy-laced Buck’s Fizz. If making it at home, don’t overshake as orange juice is one of the most delicate ingredients to work with and will become watery and bruised.
15ml Armagnac / 15ml triple sec / 60ml orange juice / 5ml sugar syrup / top with Champagne
As with the Japanese Fizz (which uses Scotch), nothing about this drink is remotely related to the island nation in the Pacific. It is, however, a very tasty cocktail that uses French ingredients. Using orgeat (almond syrup) and Angostura Bitters, this drink can be made with either Cognac or Armagnac but, as with the Stinger, it’s the perfect stage for Armagnac to shine through and demonstrate its outstanding flavours.
70ml Armagnac / 5ml orgeat / 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
A Smash is a delightful spirit-heavy cocktail served over crushed ice with mint and citrus. It makes for a refreshing and bracing early-evening drink and is loved across the American south. We adore ours with Armagnac as its rougher edges emerge from the mixtures to shine through.
50ml Armagnac / 20ml sugar syrup / 4 mint leaves / 2 lemon wedges
This classic Sour has made its way through history originating as a Whiskey Sour with an added dash of red wine (a famous addition introduced in Chicago where everyone adored claret in most drinks) which was then called a New York Sour. Swapping with whiskey for brandy gives us the smoother Continental Sour. However weird it sounds, don’t be fooled – the addition of red wine dries out the sweetness, adds tannic depth and even gives the drink a gorgeous hue. Perfect for Instagram!
40ml Armagnac / 20ml egg white / 20ml sugar syrup / 15ml lemon juice / 10ml red wine