Find and book great restaurantsFind a Restaurant
Search for exciting venues and eventsFind a Venue
If you need advice or help finding venues or event suppliers, use our free helpline service.
Cognac has played an illustrious role in cocktail history. Alice Lascelles heads to The Coburg at The Connaught to discover some great recipes
There are those who claim Cognac cannot be mixed. But in fact it has been at the heart of cocktail culture for more than 200 years, giving birth to a roll-call of classics including the sazerac, the sidecar, the brandy Alexander and the Champagne cocktail.
‘It’s actually one of the oldest spirits to be used in cocktails,’ says Mark Jenner, bar manager of the sumptuous Coburg bar at The Connaught hotel. ‘The only difference is that it used to be rather heavier in the old days, whereas today’s Cognacs tend to have a little more finesse. The huge variety of flavours in Cognac gives it an amazing potential as a cocktail ingredient.’
Jenner suggests using a younger, VSOP-style Cognac, rather than XO, for cocktails. ‘XO’s more wooded style can be a little too dominant, and you may also risk losing some of the spirit’s more precious subtleties,’ he says.
Which is why, on the day I meet him, Jenner is working with H by Hine, a VSOP-style Cognac created especially for mixing. Made from grapes grown in the Petite Champagne region, it combines velvety flavours of vanilla pod and crème brûlée with exotic jasmine hints and some richer Christmas pudding spice in a moreish mix that pairs with a multitude of flavours.
‘Try pairing it with seasonal fruit – berries, figs and apricots – or a hint of vanilla. Citrus fruits such as lime and lemon are also great with Cognac, as is ginger,’ says Jenner. ‘But whatever you do, the secret to Cognac cocktails is: keep it simple.’
And they certainly don’t come much more simple than the horse’s neck. Made using a small measure of H, two or three dashes of Angostura bitters, and a few ice cubes, topped up with dry ginger ale and garnished with mint and a slice of orange, it’s the perfect summer cooler – and a cinch to make at home.
The more adventurous may also like to try using Cognac for a French twist on the mojito. ‘But make sure you don’t muddle the mint with the other ingredients, as this can make it bitter,’ advises Jenner. ‘Just give it a clap in your hands to release the aromatic oils and get the best out of it.’
Cognac can also lay claim to one of the most glamorous cocktails of all: the Champagne cocktail, made with a sugar cube, bitters and fizz of course. One of my personal favourites, however, is the palate-sharpening sidecar, a 1920s cocktail made with Cognac, orange-inflected Cointreau and lemon juice.
And when it comes to after-dinner, you’re not just limited to a snifter of Cognac in a tulip-shaped glass. As Jenner’s assistant Rob Whitehouse explains, the sazerac is a complex, powerful mix that is one of the finest ways to appreciate the complexities of Cognac – and you don’t even need a cocktail shaker to make it (see box of recipes opposite).
To try these and a host of other classic and contemporary Cognac cocktail recipes, visit The Coburg at The Connaught
Shake all of the ingredients with ice. Shake very thoroughly in order to totally emulsify the egg. Strain into a port glass and dust with grated nutmeg.
Muddle the sugar syrup, sugar and lime juice in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Place the mint leaves on your palm and give them a couple of vigorous smacks to release the oils. Add these to the shaker along with all of the remaining ingredients except for the ginger ale, and shake with the ice. Strain the mixture over cracked ice into a highball glass, top with ginger ale and garnish with a sprig of mint.
Chill one rocks glass while preparing the drink in another. Splash the absinthe into the second glass, swirl it, then pour it out. Add the Cognac, rye, sugar syrup and both bitters. Stir with ice cubes to chill. Strain into the rocks glass and garnish with lemon peel.
Prepare a cocktail glass in advance by frosting the rim with granulated sugar. Assemble all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake well with ice and strain into the glass.
* Sugar syrup recipe: dissolve two cups of granulated sugar in a saucepan containing one cup of hot water. Simmer, but don’t boil, until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool and bottle. Store in the fridge.
Editorial feature from Square Meal Lifestyle Magazine Summer 2009