Cognac is a specific type of brandy produced from distilled white wine.
l’eau de vie (the water of life) as coined by the French, who have a beautiful way of describing senses and feelings.
The smooth spirit is the most famous variety of brandy and comes from the area in France where it is produced, and must be produced.
Cognac is located southwest of Paris and just north of Bordeaux. Around the city is the defined, protected Appellation of Origin for Cognac, which was legally classified in 1909 and includes six specified areas.
• Grand Champagne*
• Petite Champagne
• Fins Bois
• Bons Bois
• Bois Ordinaires
The elite grapes come from Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, and Borderies. The grapes are fermented and distilled twice in copper pot stills, which produce colorless alcohol called eau-de-vie. The spirit is then aged in oak barrels.
Eau de vies incorporated into a Cognac can come from a wide range of ages. Consequently, Cognacs don’t come with age labels, instead categorized based on the minimum ages of the eau de vies in the blend.
- V.S.: Eau de vies with a minimum age of two years. Also known as Very Special or Three Stars.
- V.S.O.P.: Eau de vies with a minimum age of four years. Also known as Very Special Old Pale or Reserve.
- X.O.: Eau de vies with a minimum age of six years. Also known as Extra Old or Hors d’Age, which often unofficially indicates particularly old or premium releases.
The big brands work with hundreds of winegrowers to handle various phases of the production process. Courvoisier buys roughly 25 percent of its production and Rémy Martin purchases roughly 30 percent of theirs. Hennessy works with over 1,500 winegrowers and purchases upwards of 93 percent of their production. The remaining fraction, which they directly produce, is done specifically to serve as a teaching tool for their contracted winegrowers.
“We don’t do that for volume, we do that for guidance,” says Hennessy brand ambassador Levieux. “To help our winemakers make great wines and eau de vies.” They are distilling only to instruct their producers on how to do it to their strict standards. “We help them so they can help us, as we must make sure they make quality eau de vies,” says Levieux.
Here at For Bitters, we are champions for the use of homemade ingredients – and with Cognac we have the opportunity to make our very own, ‘at-home’ version of Grand Marnier.
Grand Orange-Cognac Liqueur
1/3 cup Orange zest
1/2 cup granulated Sugar
2 cups Cognac
1/2 tsp Glycerine
How to Prepare
Place zest and sugar in a small bowl. Mash and mix together. Continue mashing until sugar is one with the orange zest. Add your Cognac and place it into a plastic container. Stir, cap, and let age in a cool dark place 2-3 months, shaking monthly. After initial aging, pour through a fine-mesh strainer placed over a medium bowl. Rinse container. Pour glycerine into aging container and place cloth bag inside the strainer. Pour liqueur through cloth bag. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Cap and age 3 more months, once that is complete, your Grand Orange-Cognac Liqueur is ready to serve.