When you imagine yourself drinking classy cognac like Courvoisier, odds are, you imagine sipping it neat (and ideally somewhere suitably fancy). But cognac has a long history in cocktails. In fact, until the mid-19th century, it was the cocktail spirit of choice (for those who could afford it).
Super-smooth and faintly sweet, the French grape brandy is an elegant spirit that only improves with age. And it's important to learn to decode all those letters on the bottle, because they will let you know which class of cognac you’re drinking. The letters refer to the length of time that the brandy is aged. VS ("Very Special") are the least expensive, aged at least two years; VSOP ("Very Special Old Pale") a step up, aged for at least four years, and often a good amount longer; and XO ("Extra Old"), aged at least six years but often much more.
And while all of these are worth drinking, some play better in certain types of cocktails than others. Here are three classy cocktails to make with Courvoisier—whether you've got a bottle of the VS, VSOP, or even XO.
For the VS: Le Vignoble
Usually we don't think of cognac as refreshing, but this tall drink shows that in can be. Since cognac is a grape-based spirit, it's an obvious match for fresh grapes; and since the fruit flavors come forward as strongly as the spirit, it's a good place to use a less-expensive cognac, like Courvoisier VS.
Instructions: In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle 8 seedless grapes. Then add ice, along with 1 1/2 ounces of Courvoisier VS, 1/4 ounce of lemon juice, and 1/4 ounce of simple syrup. Shake all that up and double-strain into a tall glass (though the cocktail's own strainer, and through a fine mesh strainer. Fill with two ounces of club soda, and garnish with a few grapes.
For VSOP: Sidecar 75
Two of the all-time greatest drinks we know: the Sidecar (a classic marriage of cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon) and the French 75. You may know the '75 with gin, but in our opinion, it's even better with cognac. This cocktail puts those two ideas together. A Sidecar made bubbly; what could be better?
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1 1/2 ounces of Courvoisier VSOP, 3/4 ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and 3/4 ounce of orange liqueur (we like Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or Combier). Add 1 dash of orange bitters. Shake that all up and strain into a cocktail glass. Top with 1 ounce of French sparkling wine and garnish with a lemon wheel.
For the XO: Courvoisier Old Fashioned
If you're going to use a superior spirit like long-aged Courvoisier XO in a cocktail, here's a tip: Make that cocktail as simple as possible. Just a hint of sweetness (we like the flavor and body of maple syrup) and a few dashes of bitters make for the most sophisticated Old Fashioned you've ever had.
Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine 2 ounces of Courvoisier XO and 1/4 ounce of maple syrup. Add 1 dash of orange bitters and 1 dash of Angostura. Stir until well-chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with a big twist of orange peel and a brandied cherry.