Cocktails & Spirits

It’s no surprise that the origin of the cocktail is muddled. Some say the first was a medicinal rum drink made by British explorer Francis Drake in the 1500s while others point to the Sazerac, which was created by a New Orleans merchant in 1850. Regardless of which was the official first, cocktails have evolved to include a menu of spirited drinks ranging from boozy Manhattans to fruity daiquiris. Cocktail culture has expanded, too: these days bartenders are as creative as chefs, showing the same dedication to using quality ingredients and pushing flavor boundaries. Spirits are the base of cocktails though many, like small-batch bourbons or bitter Italian amaros, are just as delicious when sipped on their own. Gin, tequila, Scotch whiskey—pick your poison: our F&W guide to cocktails and spirits has you covered with recipes for cocktails listed by spirit, season and ingredient, plus how-to tips for mixing the best drinks and editor’s picks for where to drink next.

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Food & Wine: 11 Excellent New-Wave Cognacs You Should Know About
11 Excellent New-Wave Cognacs You Should Know About
    It used to be that cognac was made pretty much all the same by big-named négociants—Courvoisier, Hennessy, Martell and Remy Martin—that blended the products of vineyard distilleries all over the French region. Not anymore. While all cognac remains a spirit made by twice-distilling the wine of certain white grapes and then cask-aging and blending the resulting eau de vies, the commonality stops there.      Today, cognac has diversified, as producers large and small experiment with production methods, yielding a multiplicity of fascinating flavors and styles. Single-cru, bourbon-barrel-aged, estate-bottled, made with rare grapes and from unique terroirs, eschewing the traditional additives—you name it.      Half a dozen years ago, mixology helped usher in cognac’s new, eclectic phase here in the States, with producers reintroducing bartenders to cognac-based classics: the brandy crusta, the improved brandy cocktail, even the early mint julep. These revived elixirs paved the way for playfulness in cognac, as cocktailians began to crave new expressions of the spirit to try in their drinks. But it also renewed the public's interest in consuming cognac neat—so long as it remains interesting.     “The younger generation likes to try new stuff,” says Flavien Desoblin of Manhattan’s Brandy Library—particularly if that stuff has pedigree. “They realize there is a great deal of history and heritage in cognac, and they’re curious.” But, given the variety in other spirit categories, in order to compete, “cognac producers decided to be bold and experiment. They know that their future lies in diversity.”     The eclecticism, as it turns out, is a return to cognac’s history. Before the establishment of the AOC in 1936, when the standards were put in place to ensure the spirit’s quality and origins, farmstead producers made cognac however they wanted, with whatever barrels were on hand. The AOC codified certain techniques: the grapes and growing areas, a 30-month minimum aging, French oak barrels, copper pot stills, the winter distillation period. And these became staunch traditions.     Though the watchdog group for cognac, the Bureau National Interprofessionel du Cognac (BNIC), continues to enforce standards, there is a new understanding that tradition and innovation can coexist. One happy development is that family operations that used to sell everything they made to the negociants are holding back product to bottle themselves. These small-batch cognacs give drinkers a taste of the spirit’s roots.      So break out the tulip glasses. There’s some wild cognac out there nowadays, and much of it is downright delicious.

Cocktails, Mixed Drinks and Spirits

Classic Cocktail Recipes


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