glasses of cognac

The Ultimate Guide to Enjoying Cognac: The Best Ways to Drink it

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Just as Champagne is a type of wine named for the region that produces its grapes, Cognac is also a French spirit associated with its namesake region. Following a strict set of guidelines on ingredients, distillation, and aging, Cognac is held to a higher standard than many other brandies. If you want to gain a full appreciation of this complex and elegant spirit, then you should know the best way to drink it. Look consulted Katie Stryjewski, a cocktail blogger and author of “Cocktails, Mocktails and Garnishes from the Garden” on how to savor Cognac.

Stryjewski says that the best way to drink Cognac is the traditional way: neat. By sipping Cognac “at room temperature, undiluted, served in a tulip-shaped glass,” you get the clearest taste of its many flavor notes. According to Stryjewski, “This is a great way to concentrate the aromas and highlight all of the subtle flavors.”

We asked her what she thought about pouring Cognac over ice, and she argued that lower temperatures and the melting of ice will “mask its more delicate flavors.” For the same reason, Stryjewski also advises against diluting a pour of Cognac with water even though it’s a common practice in serving spirits like whisky.

Can you break tradition?

sidecar cocktail with sugar rim

While serving Cognac over ice or with a splash of water breaks with tradition, Stryjewski doesn’t think there’s a wrong way to drink it. Connoisseurs are interested in the purest, most unadulterated taste of Cognac, but Stryjewski opines, “Cognac is a more versatile spirit than many people realize.” Consequently, it’ll taste delicious no matter how you decide to drink it.

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She doesn’t invalidate personal tastes as they’re ultimately what matter the most to each consumer. “Many people do enjoy their Cognac with a bit of water or ice. And of course, it’s excellent in cocktails like a Sidecar, French 75, or Sazerac,” she explains. The very fact that Cognac is the protagonist in these three cocktails demonstrates how other ingredients will complement and enhance its flavors while softening a harsh alcoholic finish.

That said, Stryjewski does think that certain types of Cognac are better for cocktails, while others are ideal for sipping neat. She says, “VS or VSOP Cognacs are better for mixing cocktails, while older and more expensive VSOP and XO Cognacs should be enjoyed neat.” Like many younger spirits, VS and VSOP Cognacs don’t have as much depth of flavor as their older counterparts, so embellishing them with complementary mixers in a cocktail will effectively enhance their flavors. If you’re going to spend the money on XO Cognac, it’s probably because you want to savor every tasting note as clearly as possible. Luckily, the more a spirit ages, the smoother the finish.

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