Wow – that’s certainly a complex question; how to drink Cognac. There are so many differing points of view and personal preferences to be taken into account. However, the following are some of the different factors that you might want to think about when enjoying your Cognac, whether it’s a Hennessy, Remy Martin, or another of the many great brands on offer.
Some of the most obvious questions are whether you should drink Cognac straight, mixed in a cocktail, with ice (on the rocks)? How about what kind of glass you should use, what environment you might drink in, and the temperature of your Cognac?
So let’s take a look at the 5 things to consider for how to drink your Cognac:
1. Straight or mixed, and the choice of Cognac
Okay, so the first thing to think about is the kind of Cognac you’re drinking. Is it a younger VS, a VSOP or an old blend – such as an XO – or even a vintage Cognac? Is it a sweeter tasting Cognac that might be well suited to accompanying a dessert? Or has the blend been specifically produced to be a component of a cocktail, or perhaps an aperitif?
From our point of view, the best Cognac is the one you experience in its entirety. That includes the taste, color, brand, packaging, estate and distillery, history of the company and the family – because it takes a combination of all of these things to make a good Cognac.
If you’re not brand conscious, then our advice would be to try to find a Cognac from a smaller, lesser-known estate. If the brand name’s important to you, then it’s likely that you’ll be looking at a Cognac from one of the ‘Big 4’ (Hennessy, Martell, Remy Martin, or Courvoisier), or at least one from the 10 largest Cognac houses.
2. The Cognac Glass – how to serve
In general, there are three different types of Cognac glasses (although the third is really just a modern take on the second). These are the tulip glass, the balloon glass, and the wobble snifter. And naturally, you can also use cocktail glasses or a tumbler for mixed drinks.
3. The Environment: when do you drink Cognac?
It goes without saying that there are different levels of Cognac. For example, there are what we might call ‘every-day’ Cognacs which, whilst still commanding a price, can be drunk on a more regular basis and consumed in a rather ‘easy’ manner. But in general, one should appreciate a glass of Cognac, because it really is one of the most complex spirits in the world.
Let’s look at three different (rather clichéd) ways of drinking Cognac:
i. The fashionable way: In a bar, or a night club. Here the choice might well be a VS or VSOP in a cocktail, perhaps a VSOP on ice (on the rocks) or, if you prefer, just drink it neat.
ii. The traditional way: This might well be considered a little old-fashioned now, as Cognac has done much to shake off its dusty image of old. However, there’s something to be said about the sheer decadence that is settling back with a good XO Cognac in a balloon snifter, in front of the fireplace, dog and hunting rifle not far away – after dinner (okay, so maybe not the hunting rifle – we wax lyrical). So whilst we’re delighted that Cognac has entered the 21st century and is enjoyed by all manner of different people in different ways, they’ll always be a part of us (and we think many people) that embraces tradition. After all, a good Cognac is to be savored – and what better way to do that than in the manner that’s been enjoyed over the centuries.
iii. The intellectual way: Different Single Cru and Single Vineyard Vintage Cognacs, produced with no sugar added and tasted from tulip glasses. Perhaps a group experience – which can be a tasting session – concentrating on the different aromas and notes of the Cognac. This could even be accompanied by a little dessert.
Of course, there are some very precious Cognacs. These do, naturally, command a price. However, with a little forethought, it’s still possible to find these with a price tag that doesn’t cost the earth.
4. The Temperature
There are many differing opinions about the optimum temperature of a Cognac. For instance, should you sip it with ice, perhaps straight from the freezer, at room temperature or hand warmed?
It used to be true that most Cognac drinkers preferred their eaux-de-vie at hand temperature. This is because when you hold the glass in your hand, allowing your body heat to gently warm the glass, the spirit does release highly delicate notes that you wouldn’t notice at normal room temperature.
But things change, and the joy that is Cognac continues to evolve. For example, some younger Cognacs are specifically created for drinking chilled, such as ABK6 Ice or De Luze’s A blend. Indeed, we had a great meeting with Jacques Petit (from André Petit Cognac) who pulled a Napoleon XO from the freezer. Read that story here.
What is the ‘right’ temperature for drinking Cognac is an ongoing saga and almost a philosophy in itself? What it all boils down to are your own personal preferences. There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy your eaux-de-vie. In fact, depending on the circumstances you find yourself in, you might enjoy drinking it in a multitude of different ways. Consider the question, is it okay to add water to Cognac? The answer is if that’s how you enjoy drinking it, then, of course, it’s okay.
5. Tasting Cognac – how to drink
Now, “how to taste Cognac'” is another question and another topic entirely. In a nutshell, the tasting of a Cognac is a combination of the following: the color, the nose, the palate (in the mouth) and the after taste (or finish). This is then compared to other blends and Cognacs. And you’ll probably also want to consider how all of that corresponds to the price of a Cognac?
If you want to know more about how to taste Cognac, take a look at this article.