A Dashing Way to Kick Off an Evening—with....Cognac?

Historic bottles of Cognac on display in Cognac, France

I visited Cognac in 2008 as a guest of the Cognac Bureau (BNIC) to learn about this spirit. Cognac is a beautiful mid-sized city in a gothic French way–well worth a visit.

I must admit that didn’t think that much about Cognac until I visited the region. It always seemed kind of a masculine spirit, something portly banker-types drank while smoking cigars after dinner.

I was surprised, first of all, to see that there is a feminine side to Cognac. Like wine, Cognac differs according to its terroir, and Cognac from the Borderies region had a beautifully bright and floral side I found enchanting. Trouble is, Cognac from the Borderies can be expensive and difficult to find (I sometimes see it in duty-free shops or online, and it’s well over $100 a bottle).

Barrels in Cognac, France

The second surprise, however, was Cognac’s more everyday side. Less-expensive Cognacs are just great in cocktails; a little goes a long way to add depth and virility to a drink. The classic Sidecar is my favorite Cognac cocktail, but I also like to add Cognac to the kir royale formula for a little extra kick. To make this “Kir Royale with a Kick,” pour 3/4 ounce Cognac and 1/2 ounce crème de cassis or raspberry liqueur into a flute. Fill the flute with sparkling wine and serve.

But wait. Do the French truly adulterate their beloved Cognac by mixing it in a cocktail? But yes! Cognac wasn’t always thought of as the quintessential after-dinner drink; until the 1950s, the French often served Cognac cut with a little water for a popular aperitif known as fine à l’eau. They also enjoy it with tonic or sparkling water as a long drink over ice.

Since the trip, I’ve discovered other French-inspired cocktails using this spirit. Here are a few of my favorites. All make dashing ways to kick off an evening chez vous.

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11 comments to A Dashing Way to Kick Off an Evening—with….Cognac?

  • Mark Green

    I am partial to the “Four Cs”: Cognac, Cigars, Chocolate and Coffee. For me, one of life’s great pleasures is a nice glass of cognac after dinner accompanied by a fine cigar (preferably Cuban). A carafe of strong black coffee (French press, of course!) and an assortment of chocolates round out this quartet. If one were offered, I would certainly not refuse a Cognac-based cocktail; in fact, I have enjoyed a Hennessy sidecar on more than one occasion.

  • Wini

    Thanks, Mark–
    Coffee and Cognac is quite traditional in France, where it is called cafe avec. (That means, of course, “coffee with,” the “Cognac” part being understood.)

  • Liz Dunn

    Yum. You make it all sound delicious. I’ve never had cognac in a cocktail and I will try it!

  • Susan James

    I am looking forward to your cookbook. I love French food, but I do not have time for long complicated cooking. I find the notion of a simpler method to cook and enjoy French cuisine to be very appealing. I hope you cover duck. We have raised Pekin Ducks for the last two years and I have yet to perfect a fabulous duck dinner. The book cover is perfect.

    I can’t wait!

  • Barry Moranville

    We’re waiting waiting, Wini. We wish you to have great success and believe the book will be tres bon. Be sure and keep us informed of developments on printing. Is your work done, or are there more pass pages (whatever)? I think you friends and the public are interested in the process you have to go through.

  • Monsieur Thelen

    Have you ever had a French 75? Cognac in champagne. It’s as powerful as the French 75 mm Howitzer.

  • Wini

    Actually, Monsieur, I’ve always had the French 75 made with gin, not Cognac. It’s a great drink, especially in summer! Here’s the recipe that’s going in the book:

    For each cocktail:

    1 ounce gin
    1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
    1/2 teaspoon simple syrup
    Ice cubes
    Champagne or sparkling wine
    1 lemon slice

    In a cocktail shaker, combine gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Add ice cubes; cover and shake until very cold. Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Slowly fill glass with Champagne. Garnish with the lemon slice.

    I don’t see any reason why you can’t make it with Cognac….next time, I’ll give it a try.

    Merci for writing!

  • Monsieur Thelen

    Non! Non! Non! The French 75 is absolutely made with cognac! That’s what the “doughboys” found in France (no Bourbon) and they didn’t like it. So they mixed it with “vin mousseux” and it was palatable but it packed quite a punch, as much as the biggest artillery piece in the allied arsenal, the French 75 mm Howitzer. US soldiers were given additional training in Western France before being sent into battle, hence the availability of sparkling wine and cognac. There used to be a bar called the French 75 in the Kirkwood Hotel, mid-80s.

  • Wini

    Monsieur….I think I have it figured out. The French 125 is made with Cognac. The French 75 is made with Gin….according to bartenders guides, that is….

  • I’ve never given Cognac much thought (thought I do love great chocolate and coffee, apparently two of the four Cs), but your kicky kir sounds wonderful! Fun website. Can’t wait for your cookbook!

  • Wini

    I’ve decided that I’m going to use gin for the French 75 in summer, and Cognac for the French 125 in winter….

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