It’s a smidge odd to say about one of the world’s revered sippers, but Cognac (especially in the states, I suppose) gets a little short shrift. Especially when it comes to cocktails. But consider this, friends – Cognac was a key player in the early days of cocktailing, and used as the base spirit in many classic drinks (the Sazerac, for one, but also a bunch of others), including ones that shifted for one reason or another to a different base. Both the shifts and the lack of Cognac-ing in modern cocktails is a shame, because the layers of flavors that unfold in good Cognacs when paired with the right pals make memorable drinks.
Let’s take this one, In The Treetops, for example! I was lucky enough (don’t curse me for it, especially not this early in the year) to receive a bottle of L’Aigle de Delamain XO Grande Champagne Cognac recently. The Eagle (L’Aigle equals The Eagle) is a delicious Cognac, aged in Limousin oak casks near the Charente River, and one that can be – and maybe should be! – savored solo, thanks to its bold-yet-graceful and complex-yet-approachable nature. It delivers floral and citrus essences on the nose, with a few nutty notes, too, and even more lush orange and fruit with a little chocolate and nuttiness in the unfolding flavor. It’s really as good as you’d expect from Delamain, who, if you don’t know, have been making renowned Cognacs since, oh, the 1600s. Or thereabouts!
When deciding to mix a cocktail with a Cognac this swell, I think keeping it fairly simple, letting the Cognac shine, adding only a few others players, is the way to go. I first thought I’d go with a drink from another lesser-known classic, Crosby Gaige’s Cocktail Guide and Ladies Companion (from the early 1940s), a drink called Rock a Bye Baby. And, admittedly, which you might guess from the title of this cocktail (if you know your nursery rhymes), I didn’t stray far from the original. I kept the same ingredients, Cognac (well, Crosby used brandy), sweet vermouth (I used Martini Gran Lusso Italian vermouth, 150th anniversary edition, made from Barbera and oak-aged Moscato, and with lovely fruit tones and a smidge of sweetness), and Bénédictine. But Crosby (who will forgive me I’m sure), had equal parts Cognac and sweet vermouth, and less Bénédictine. I wanted to let Delamain’s L’Aigle fly higher, so boosted the Cognac, drifted down the sweet vermouth, and upper the Bénédictine some to herbal-ize the edges more. The end result is a layered, sophisticated-in-the-best-way, cocktail, one that is a special treat, sure, but don’t you deserve to be treated? I think you do.
It may have been eight years since I’ve sipped this particular refresher – that’s a long time and a long number of drinks. But we’ve had a bit of northwest spring heat wave lately, demanding that something effervescent like this be unveiled, and I was reading Justice Society (okay, I’m making an Hour Glass to Hour Man leap, but you get me, I know), and, well, one thing led to another. It’s a good drink, too, interesting without being affrontive. If you feel badly about Cognac-ing here, then I’d say don’t be so darn stuffy. Haha, but seriously folks, feel free to sub in a nice brandy as you will. Whatever doesn’t overheat you, friend, and whatever makes the hours pass in a lovely manner.
The Hour Glass
1 ounce Cognac
3/4 ounce Cointreau
1/2 ounce absinthe
Chilled club soda
Lemon twist, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add the Cognac, Cointreau, and absinthe. Stir well.
2. Fill a highball glass three-quarters full with ice cubes. Strain the mixture over the ice, and then fill the glass with club soda (unless it’s a large-ish highball, then just go up three-quarters of the way).
3. Squeeze the lemon twist over the glass and drop it in.
I first found this warmer-upper in Mary Lou and Robert J. Heiss’s book Hot Drinks (Ten Speed Press, 2007), which you should invest in if you ever like to make a drink during the cold days – and why wouldn’t you? When we’re in the winter months (which we are in WA, for sure. If you’re in an island clime right now, well, you still might want a warm drink. Just for a change), a good hot drink is essential. Essential! If you don’t believe me, make the below the next time you feel that ol’ chill in your bones, and you’ll believe me double quick.
4 ounces pomegranate juice
2 ounces Cognac
1/2 ounce Chambord
Lemon slice, for garnish
1. Add the pomegranate juice to a small saucepan and, over medium heat, let the juice come to a simmer, but not a boil. Add the Cognac and Chambord, and lower the heat to medium-low. Heat, stirring once or twice, for 2 minutes, never letting it come to a boil.
2. Pour the mix into a glass or mug that can handle the heat. Garnish with the lemon slice.
We are now onto the third Cocktail Talk post featuring drinky talk from a book by Henry Kane. Please, please, for the love of all that’s dear to you, go back and read Part I and Part II, because you’ll only kick yourself when you miss them. Though the below may be my favorite, just cause you don’t see Sidecars come up in literature that often – and you need to savor them when they do!
I pursed my lips. I said, ‘Two sidecars.’
We sipped and looked at each other and set them down.
‘Let’s pay and leave,’ Edith said. ‘Mine stinks. And you look like yours does, too. Sacrilege. I’m going home. Got work.’
I put her into a taxi.
‘Bye, Red. Be seeing you.’
I walked home and went straight to the kitchen and fused lemon and Cointreau and cognac and in the living room I lapsed into beautiful beatitude.
If you are someone who is adventuresome, who isn’t afraid of, say, wearing a velvet jacket, or making out with someone in an elevator, or drinking a drink that would cause most people to say “jumpin’ Jehoshaphat, what is that,” then you are probably up for trying this drink. The name dates back to a poem by Thomas Moore, first published in 1817. The poem is about the daughter of a Mughal emperor (her name is Lalla Rookh) who’s engaged to some prince, but who meets a poet who sweeps her off her feet with poems and poetic-ness (those poets are so tricky, especially this one, as he turns out to be—spoiler alert—the prince). The drink is old, too, but maybe not that old? I’m not 100% sure. Famous cranky drink writer David Embury said of this drink, in 1948, “This relic of the Gay Nineties is a syrupy-sweet and wholly deceptive concoction.” Which means it can deliver a wallop under all the coo-ing it does.
There are a number of things we miss in the modern age: Myrna Loy, zoot suits, un-ironic swing bands, speakeasies that aren’t just trying to be trendy, and more. We also miss the chance to have “bootlegger” on our resumes. Ah well, at least the unmissable Compleat Imbiber # 2, itself a bit old (from 1958) lets us relive the bootlegging days in an essay it contains. An essay from which I present to you the below quote.
The first violinist, an expert chemist, skillfully diluted the contents of gin, rum, Scotch whisky, Bénédictine, and Cognac bottles which he bought at the crew’s fifty per cent reduction from the second-class barman. (In those days of Honesty, it was ‘second’ and not ‘cabin’ class.)
I haven’t read a whole lot of Rex Stout books, which is a bit weird, as his famous detective Nero Wolfe and the era he wrote in both hit me fairly square in my detective-y wheelhouse (not to mention that I love the covers, as I tend to, of books from that age). But hey, these things happen. However, when I came across a copy of his book entitled The Case of the Red Box, in a pocket-sized copy and with a cover that I couldn’t resist, well, I couldn’t resist. And it was a good read, for sure, with multiple murders, a great twist-y-ness, and a lot of beer. Perhaps the strangest thing about Nero Wolfe isn’t that he never leaves his house (or rarely), or that he takes hours every day to deal with his orchids, or that he only eats at home, etc. But that he drinks a ton of beer while interviewing suspects. Awesome! However, the below quote is even better, so I skipped the beer . . . this time.
You do shorthand in that book? Good: put this down. McNair was an inveterate eater of snails, and he preferred calvados to cognac. His wife died in childbirth because he was insisting on being an artist and was too poor and incompetent to provide proper care for her.
It’s time for the next episode of the almighty Cocktail to Cocktail Hour, and it’s a humdinger! It features another Everyday Drinking segment, where I solve the drinking problem of someone off the street. But this time, it’s not just any ol’ someone off the street, it’s Paul Stanley* from the greatest rock-and-roll band in the land, KISS. That’s right, the Starchild himself had a bit of a drinking query and he came straight to the Cocktail to Cocktail Hour (like all good people). It’s a heck of show, folks, with singing, grinning, and a beautiful drink for Paul called the Luminous Angel, containing Cognac, Elisir M.P. Roux liqueur, orange juice, and Seattle-made Scrappy’s Cardamom bitters!
*May not actually be Paul Stanley in video; may be a genius Paul Stanley impersonator. Please don’t sue us Mr. Stanley. We only did it cause we love you.
The Man Behind the Evening's PlansA.J. Rathbun is a freelance food and entertainment writer, poet and author, a frequent guest on the Everyday Food program (Martha Stewart Living/Sirius satellite radio), and is a contributor to culinary & entertainment magazines such as Every Day with Rachael Ray, The Food Network Magazine, Real Simple, Wine Enthusiast, and many others. Of course, there's so much more to it than that...Read More