Food & Drink

The Dummies Guide To Cognac

By Clare Acheson - 08 May 2015

Listers, let’s talk cognac. I’m guessing if you’re reading this—it being a dummies guide and all—you are just as confused as I was when I started delving deeper into a drink that, for a long time, I assumed was pronounced ‘cog-knack’. (Protip: It’s not. Because nobody would drink ANYTHING that sounds that un-sexy.)

As it would happen, cognac is a style of brandy that gets its name from Cognac, a town in the French region where it is produced. It’s made in the same way that most spirits are—by distilling alcohol from raw ingredients (in this case, grapes), then ageing it, bottling it and drinking it.

Cognacs are made by blending what’s known as “eaux de vie” (“water of life”…ie. grape-fermented alcohol. God, I love the French!), and it’s the mixture of these selected eaux de vie combined with the barrels it’s aged in that gives a cognac its distinct flavour.

So, now you know what it is, where it came from and how it’s made, what’s the big deal about this rich, sweet nectar that’s sipped by high-society aristocrats and hip-hop legends alike? I caught up with Hennessy cognac’s Master Blender, Renaud de Gironde, to learn how to enjoy cognac like a pro.

What are the three things I should mention to sound like I know what cognac’s all about?

I was ready for Renaud to say something obscure about “mouth-feel” but it turns out the selection of great eaux de vie, the ageing process and the final blending recipe are what you should drop into conversation. Ageing is particularly important, and is often misunderstood as meaning “the older, the better.”

RdG: “In terms of ageing, we are not just talking about waiting a few (or many) years. What truly matters is the quality of the barrels we use and the decision we'll make on using a certain type of barrel or another one.”

What’s the best food to pair with a good cognac?

Cheese. It MUST be cheese…Oh. Wait.

RdG: “It's hard to choose one. Depending on the cognac you're tasting you'll have a great variety of associations you can do…but chocolate is certainly an interesting way to match cognac.”

Does the glass really matter?!

I was hoping Renaud would say “no”, and I could go back to my booze snob frenemies and inform them that their over-priced Reidels were in fact redundant. Unfortunately…

RdG: “In terms of tasting, the shape of the glass does matter. For professional tastings we like to use tulip glasses. At home, depending if you are having your cognac neat, on the rocks, in a mixed drink, or if you are drinking a younger cognac, you might use a tumbler, but in saying that, you should definitely keep in mind that the shape of the glass is important.”

Next.

If I’m settling down to sip a Hennessy, what should I be wearing?

Secretly, I was DYING for Renaud to say I should be wearing a silk-lined smoking jacket, or maybe some exuberant French corsetry, or something equally lavish and exotic, but he was refreshingly relaxed, proving that cognac can be enjoyed, whatever the occasion:

RdG: “Our cognacs will be part of a whole experience. Depending on your mood, how you feel, who you are with, etc, you’ll find a delicious Hennessy cognac to match. What you will be wearing will be also part of this experience, and the important thing is for you to feel good.”

Cognac in pyjamas, here I come.

Lastly, where’s your favourite spot in Melbourne for a cognac?

RdG: The Lui Bar at Vue de Monde.”

10/10, Renaud! We’d have to agree! Especially if it’s with a plateful of their epic Nutella doughnuts—delish.

Keen to enjoy a cognac at one of the best bars in Melbourne? Check out this list of 33 Bars You Should’ve Been To If You Live in Melbourne

Image credit: Brasseries Cognac

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