Sip a glass of cognac, and you’ll understand why the French say it’s made from l’eau de vie ("the water of life"). The velvety spirit is the most famous variety of brandy and is named for the area in France where it must be produced. The area around the town of Cognac, France, is divided into six grape-growing regions. The most expensive fruit comes from Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne and Borderies. Once picked, the grapes are fermented and then distilled twice in copper pot stills, which produce a colorless alcohol called eau-de-vie. The spirit is then aged in oak barrels. Most cognacs are a blend of different eaux-de-vie of varying ages and qualities. Cognacs are classified into a few general categories:

  • V.S. (very special): must be aged at least two years
  • V.S.O.P. (very superior old pale): must be aged at least four years
  • X.O. (extra old): must be aged at least 10 years
Sip aged cognacs neat, with perhaps a drop or two of water. Younger cognacs are perfect for mixing and are the base of many classic cocktails, including the Sidecar, the Between the Sheets and even the original Mint Julep. The spirit may also be simply added to a flute of Champagne or a glass of ginger ale or enjoyed with a splash of soda water.

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