Behind the Label: Cognac

Much like Champagne from the Champagne region of France, only that which is made in its French namesake region is considered Cognac. Cognac, a specific type of brandy, can be traced back to the 17th century, where French wines were distilled to survive shipments to distant European ports.

Over time, the distilled brandy from the now-famed Cognac region became to be recognised as superior and its production became strictly regulated.

As with all brandy, Cognac is distilled from grape, which are pressed, and then the juice is fermented for around 2 or 3 weeks using the native yeast – regulations prevent any sugar or sulphur from being added. Once fermented, the wine must be distilled twice. Next, it is put into French oak barrels to rest for 2 years, then bottled and usually blended. When you buy a blended bottle, you can be confident that the listed year is for the youngest Cognac in the blend.

Cognac, a famously sophisticated drink, has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with the world of Hip Hop. In the mid-nineties, the city of Cognac was going through a major economic crisis. Then, the spirit was made popular by several tracks by major artists, including Jay Z, seeing sales skyrocket in the US, helping to keep the French city afloat.

There’s a simple way to identify your chosen Cognac’s age by having a look at the label:
V.S. – very special, designating that the youngest Cognac in the blend has aged for at least two years.
V.S.O.P – very special old pale (or reserve) is a blend with the youngest Cognac aged for at least four years.
X.O. – extra old, a blend where the youngest Cognac has aged for at least 10 years, up from six following a change in regulations in 2018.
Hors d’âge – beyond age is for a Cognac that has been matured for more than 10 years.

If you’re new to this fabled spirit, why not consider ordering a Sidecar cocktail at the bar? It’s a tasty blend of Cognac, lemon juice and Cointreau with a sugared rim.