November 2010

Cognac Cocktails

  • Cognac
  • Drinks from left: La Louisiane, South of No North, Palais d’Élysées
  • Chicago<br>All stemware from TableArt, L.A.


Can it be Cognac has arrived at the cocktail party so late as to find itself unfashionable? Considering that bartenders have been bathing their vintage-drink menus in gin, rye, rhum agricole and smoky scotch, Cognac seems an odd spirit to avoid, given that it’s flavorful, mixes easily and has quite the impressive pedigree.

Today, the Sazerac—originally a Cognac cocktail named after the Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brand—is made with bourbon or rye, even in New Orleans, where the drink was created. The mint julep was typically a brandy drink before it morphed into the bourbon beverage we haul out yearly around the time of the Kentucky Derby. And while punch is slowly becoming the new bottle service, rarely is it made with one of its most historically popular base spirits—Cognac.

Its neglect as a base for serious cocktails may be fueled by the popular nightclub practice of mixing it with Coke. While it’s surely no discount mixer, now that many cocktails are hitting the $15 mark and bottles of the famous French brandy cost less than obscure spirits like genever and Old Tom gin, it’s time to make room for Cognac.

We may just be witnessing the turning point, as Cognac is popping up on menus around town, including those at Copa D’oro, the Rivera, First & Hope and the Roger Room. Perhaps the spirit isn’t too late to the cocktail fete after all—it’s just early for the after-party.


Palais d'Élysées

An update of the Champs-Élysées cocktail

1 ounce Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac
½ ounce yellow Chartreuse
½ ounce lemon juice
2 ounces Brut Champagne

Combine ingredients in shaker with ice and shake well. Strain and serve in a 5-ounce cocktail glass rimmed with sugar.

La Louisiane

A spinoff of the Cocktail à la Louisiane, made with cognac instead of rye

1 ounce Pierre Ferrand Reserve Cognac
¾ ounce Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
¾ ounce Béesnéesdictine liqueur
Absinthe, to coat glass
Orange peel for garnish

Stir cognac, vermouth and Béesnéesdictine in mixing glass with ice. Rinse a 5-ounce cocktail glass with absinthe and pour out. Strain mixture into absinthe-coated glass and garnish with orange peel.

South of No North

Named for Charles Bukowski’s collection of short stories of the same name

1 ounce Bombay dry gin
1 ounce Hennessy VS Cognac
½ ounce St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram rum
½ ounce lemon juice
¼ ounce sugar syrup* or to taste
Orange peel for garnish

*Sugar Syrup (Simple Syrup)
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
In a saucepan, bring water and sugar to a simmer. Continue simmering 2 minutes. Remove and cool 2 hours.

Stir ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a small cocktail class and garnish with orange peel.


A classic cocktail

1 ounce Grand Marnier
1 ounce Hennessy VS Cognac
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 ounces Brut Champagne
Orange peel for garnish

Stir ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Serve in an old-fashioned glass on the rocks. Garnish with orange peel.