Spirits & Liqueurs Cognac & Other Brandy

The 5 Rules for Drinking Cognac

cognac glasses

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With more than 150 bottlings to choose from, including a variety of vintage spirits dating back to the early 20th century, the Brandy Library is the best place to enjoy cognac in New York and possibly the whole country. And Flavien Desoblin, who opened the venerable institution in 2004, not only has 14 years of experience serving drinks but also is an enthusiastic cognac evangelist.

We couldn’t think of a better guide to this oft-misunderstood liquor, so we asked him for some key pieces of advice.

1. If It’s Young, Mix It

For cocktails, Desoblin advises that you pour a younger spirit like Courvoisier VS, Frapin VS or Leopold Gourmel Premieres Saveurs. Citrus, nutty and floral flavors play well with cognac, so try fixing classics such as the Sidecar and French Connection. Also, “a young cognac with ginger ale on ice works wonders when it’s hot,” Desoblin says. We recommend his Jarnac Ginger, a brandy-based spin on the Dark ‘n Stormy.

2. If It’s Old, Drink It Straight

“As soon as there is any depth or complexity with a cognac,” Desoblin says, “it should not be used in cocktails.” Save those pricey XO and hors d’age spirits for sipping. Aged brandies have very delicate and subtle notes, and he suggests having them without mixers, food or even cigars. Desoblin prefers his cognac “after dinner with little distraction. Prerequisites: no stress, anger or loud people around!”

3. Don't Add Water or Ice

“Water tends to make cognac too bland, unless you deal with a cask-strength bottling, which is rare,” Desoblin says, “and ice just kills it.” In general, serve the spirit neat, at room temperature or slightly cooler. The traditional snifter, with its wide, balloon-shaped bottom and narrow top, is the ideal vessel, Desoblin says: “It allows for swirling and therefore the liberation of aromatic compounds.”

4. Find a Great Deal

Cognac beginners need not fret; there’s a wide range of excellent spirits available for under $50. A few suggestions from Desoblin: Pierre Ferrand Ambre, Hardy VSOP, Cognac Park Borderies Single Vineyard, H by Hine, Normandin-Mercier VSOP, Louis Grimaud VSOP and Vignoble Grateaud Bouquet des Borderies.

5. Stock Up Now

If you’ve ever thought about building a brandy collection, you’d better get started. Due to huge demand for expensive XO bottlings in Asia, many large cognac producers are running low on older stocks. Soon, “on top of being hard to find in the US,” Desoblin says, these coveted spirits “will be of a lesser quality as well.”