Cognac often seems to fall into two camps: a party drink that’s great for mixing or a spendy spirit aimed at connoisseurs. But the current crop of new releases shows that the famed French brandy has much more going on.
For starters, cognac’s artisanal ethos is coming more into play as a way to showcase the ever-important value of authenticity. Brands such as Monnet and Fillioux are touting their bona fides as craft producers and highlighting the unique flavor and character their processes create in a bid to reach consumers more accustomed to the language of American craft whiskey.
Speaking of which, like every other brown spirit, cognac is borrowing from trends in the whiskey world—though in the case of Courvoisier’s newest super-luxury release, it’s looking to Japan rather than Kentucky. In addition to using mizunara oak in its maturation, the cognac drew on the skills of a leading Japanese blender throughout its creation.
With a tradition stretching back hundreds of years, cognac has no shortage of historic brands: Even ones that fell out of sight are reviving with new energy, and liquid, thanks to corporate investment. Sazerac de Forge et Fils, owned by the eponymous American company, debuted with a compelling story of its centuries-old heritage, while Bisquit et Dubouché relaunched under its traditional name, 200 years after its founding.
Among all the action, collectability remains a crucial arena for many cognac houses, as epitomized by Frapin’s Cuvée Rabelais, priced at $13,000. Nowadays, cognac has more competition in this space from scotch and Japanese whisky, but the French spirit remains a popular investment for many collectors.
Once known just as Bisquit, this historic cognac brand received an updated look and reverted to its original name when it relaunched as part of the Campari Group portfolio. The liquid sets itself apart from other cognacs by taking a larger hearts cut during distillation, retaining a wide array of flavor and aroma compounds. Joined by an XO expression in the US, Bisquit & Dubouché VSOP debuted in select markets and continues to roll out more broadly.
The hottest oak in the whisky world has made its way to cognac, courtesy of Beam Suntory, the parent company of both Courvoisier and Suntory Japanese whisky. After initially aging in the usual French oak, the liquid for this blend was then transferred to a mizunara oak cask. Courvoisier chief blender Patrice Pinet and House of Suntory chief blender Shinji Fukuyo collaborated on the maturation and blending processes, yielding a true cognac first.
Thanks to cellar conditions and the expertise of its makers, cognac can age for many, many decades, longer than almost any other spirit on earth, and even when it has to exit the barrel, the liquid is often stored in glass demi-johns. That means producers are able to showcase eaux-de-vie dating back generations, as Frapin does with this luxury offering. Named in honor of François Rabelais, the Renaissance writer and humanist, Cuvée Rabelais pulls from both cask and glass to feature some of the estate distillery’s oldest liquid, packaged in a hand-blown decanter from Cristallerie Saint-Louis.
Estate cognac house Jean Fillioux is now in its fifth generation of family ownership under the care of Christophe Fillioux and his father, Pascal. With 63 acres of ugni blanc, the operation produces a generous amount of distillate each year, which is matured and blended into a number of expressions. The latest is a VSOP, combining 4-to-6-year-old spirits for a profile that’s sweet with figs and almond paste and uplifted by zesty citrus.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
Billing itself as the “sunny style of cognac,” Monnet’s house style encompasses bright fruit and floral notes, though this Extra Extra Old cognac has plenty of dark, mature flavors from its long time in barrel. While XXO is reserved for cognacs aged at least 14 years, Monnet’s version boasts a decade longer in cask. Naturally, it’s available in limited amounts, and with such a fair price, it shouldn’t sit long on the shelf.
Billing itself as a “pre-phylloxera style” cognac, this new offering revives a brand that first hit U.S. shores in the 1780s, and became one of the top-selling French brandies of the 19th century. Then a part of the business empire of France’s Sazerac de Forge family, the brand and its distillery now rest in the portfolio of contemporary spirits giant Sazerac Co., best known for Buffalo Trace Distillery and Fireball. The liquid, which includes eaux-de-vie distilled in the 1960s alongside younger spirits, was blended by several members of Sazerac’s brown spirits team. Initially available at the company’s tourist and hospitality attraction Sazerac House in New Orleans, Sazerac de Forge et Fils expanded to other markets in 2022.