78 | squaremeal.co.uk
ognac has a rather polarised
public image, the epitome of
the sublime to the ridiculous.
On the one hand, it's a rapper's
delight - as Snoop Dogg wonderfully puts
it, "Gallons of Hennessy and 16 litres of
Coke" - boosting sales of cheaper Cognac
and mixers in clubs. On the other, you
have ultra-luxe bottles, all hand-blown
Baccarat decanters and centuries-old
liquid dating back to when Napoleon
was rampaging across Europe.
These top-end expressions can make the
Cognac category seem both intimidating
and caught up in tradition. Making
cocktails with this refined liquid probably
feels like sacrilege to fusty old aficionados.
It is, however, an old tradition: Cognac has
been used in mixes for hundreds of years.
One of the best, Fish House Punch, dates
back to the 1730s, while Charles Dickens
wrote a brandy punch recipe in 1847 (he
was a big fan of Courvoisier, incidentally).
Cognac can be rather confusing for the
uninitiated. There are different age groups:
VS, or Very Special, contains liquid that
has been aged for a minimum of two years;
VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) has been
aged a minimum of four years; XO (Extra
Old) a minimum of six, though the eau de
vie used to make it can go way beyond this.
As a mixing rule of thumb, I think VS
is ideal to pair with soft drinks and VSOP
as my cocktail go-to. There are others
great for mixing without the VSOP label
though, such as Hennessy Fine de Cognac,
Merlet Brothers Blend and H by Hine.
XOs and above are well suited to sipping
neat, although never say never - I once saw
Maurice Hennessy of the famous Cognac
house enjoying his XO with soda water
over ice, similar to a Whisky Highball.
Of all the classic combinations, Cognac
and ginger ale is the most successful -
simply fill a highball glass with ice and
50ml of the hard stuff, top with ginger and
garnish with orange peel. Feeling more
adventurous? Delve into the recipes opposite.
Some may think Cognac is too highbrow for mixing, however brandy
actually has a rich cocktail history WORDS LAURA FOSTER PHOTOS STEVE RYANAT HOME
Making cocktails with Cognac
probably feels like sacrilege to fusty
aficionados, but it's an old tradition