Cognac

Cognac is a type of French brandy, made from acidic white wine and produced in very restricted regions in France. It’s delicious in all kinds of cocktails, is wonderful as a sauce for steak and veal dishes, and adds rich flavor to desserts. Jacques Pepin makes an apricot-cognac sauce to serve with warm chocolate cake simply by whisking apricot jam into the brandy. If you enjoy classic cocktails, try this boozier take on a Pimm’s Cup, or get creative and swap cognac into a Mai Tai or a French 75. Whether you need a boozy dessert or a new cocktail idea, F&W’s guide to cognac has all the recipes you need.

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How Cognac Became a Status Symbol in China

While baijiu is the undisputed national spirit of China, cognac is the drink of choice for the country’s elite imbiber.

Anjou Punch

Leo Robitschek of The NoMad Bar in NYC makes his perfect holiday punch with warming flavors of pear, cinnamon and citrus. Slideshow: More Fall Cocktail Recipes 

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.

The New Wave of Cognac

Cognac producers are increasingly appealing to non-traditional cognac drinkers—which means new packaging, cognac cocktails, and even American oak expression.

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Pomme Pomme Squad

"Calvados is having its moment in cocktails, and thank goodness it is!" says Jessica Sanders about the rich apple brandy. The co-owner of Drink.Well and Backbeat in Austin modeled this Sazerac variation on her favorite apple pie recipe. "This drink has all the elements of that incredible pie in liquid form," she says. Slideshow: More Easy Cocktail RecipesThis recipe originally appeared in the Food & Wine 2016 Cocktails book.

Bon Viveur

A bourbon old-fashioned can be harsh and intense, according to Chris Lowder. He swaps in VSOP Cognac and St-Germain for a smoother, lightly floral cocktail. Slideshow:  Beautiful CocktailsRecipe from Food & Wine Cocktails 2015