Words by: Simon Difford
The most luxurious of all spirits, cognac has a velvety warmth capable of lifting the most grim of wintery nights. As my hero, David Embury, says in his Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, "brandy is not only the oldest of all liquors but it is universally recognised as the finest."
Cognac is also an elder statesman of the cocktail cabinet and a staple in the earliest cocktail tomes, adding complexity to the simplest of recipes. We've over 400 cocktails with cognac on Difford's Guide but follows our 30 favourite.
With: Cognac, old tom gin, sweet vermouth, Grand Marnier and orange bitters.
We say: A boozy brandy influenced wet, sweet Martini with a hint of orange. Only discerning drinkers need apply. Those after sweet, less challenging drinks should refrain.
5. Brandy Crusta
With: Cognac, triple sec, maraschino, lemon juice, sugar syrup and Angostura Aromatic Bitters.
We say: This old classic zings with fresh lemon and is beautifully balanced by the cognac base.
8. Carlton Banks
With: Cognac, cherry brandy liqueur, orange bitters, Broker's bitters and champagne.
We say: Reminiscent of a classic champagne cocktail with cognac, champagne and zesty orange flavours dominating. It's surprising how little cherry brandy notes are evident in the finished drink given the recipe calls for a whole shot.
11. Club Cocktail
With: Cognac, pisco, maraschino liqueur, pineapple juice and Peychaud's Aromatic Bitters.
We say: Cognac and pisco brandies with maraschino and pineapple adding fruity tropical freshness and a foamy head.
12. Cognac Julep
With: Mint leaves, cognac and sugar syrup.
We say: A truly deliciously refreshing cocktail. Woody ranch notes in the cognac are freshened by the mint. Those with a dry palate may want to reduce the sugar a touch.
13. Difford's Fruit Cup No.3
With: Cognac, orange curacao, sweet vermouth, Angostura Aromatic Bitters, ginger ale and cola.
We say: Cognac works well in this fruit cup, rounding the other ingredients to present as a more harmonious blend when compared to the same recipe made with gin. However, it's more of a winter's cup, without the freshening edge expected of a summer's fruit cup.
16. French 125
With: Cognac, lemon juice, powdered sugar and champagne.
We say: Cognac makes for a heavier cocktail than a French 75 made with gin, yet this cocktail remains enlivening, refreshing and quaffable. The use of powdered sugar instead of sugar syrup adds an attractive sherbet note to this cocktail. However, the drink also works well with sugar syrup - use 1/4 oz/7.5ml sugar syrup in pale of 1 1/2 spoons of powdered sugar.
17. French Maid
With: Cognac, falernum, lime juice, sugar syrup, cucumber, mint leaves and ginger beer.
We say: As Jim Meeham said when he gave us this recipe, "This hybrid of Audrey Saunders Gin Mule substitutes cognac for gin and adds falernum and cucumber. Milk & Honey barman Sam Ross has a similar drink made with bourbon dubbed the Kentucky Maid: consider this her spicy French sister."
18. The Good Bad And The Ugni
With: Cognac, Canadian ice wine, pink grapefruit juice and Green Chartreuse.
We say: Perhaps it's the holier-than-thou Chartreuse that is playing the part of the bad guy in this tasty drink. The cognac (made with Ugni Blanc grapes) play the strong, characterful part.
20. MGM Grand
With: Cognac, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice and orange bitters.
We say: Nail the perfect balance (as per this recipe) and this cognac based cocktail sings on the palate with cognac, richly subtle cherry, acidic lemon.
22. Randy Old-Fashioned
With: Cognac, tawny port, maple syrup, absinthe and Peychaud's Aromatic Bitters.
We say: Port and brandy (rhymes 'Randy') are traditionally consumed at Christmas and used to be a popular British pub combo. I've used maple syrup in place of brown sugar syrup to lightly sweeten this festive after dinner combo. The Sazerac was the inspiration for the choice of bitters and use of absinthe.
23. Revolutionary Flip
With: Cognac, tawny port, single cream, Demerara sugar, English bitter ale and egg (white & yolk)
We say: Full-bodied both describes this drink and how you'll feel after consuming this very tasty meal of a drink.
24. Sazerac Cocktail
With: Cognac, straight rye whisky, bourbon, sugar syrup, Peychaud's Aromatic Bitters, Angostura Aromatic Bitters and absinthe.
We say: If you are concerned about chucking expensive absinthe down the drain then consider straining into a shot glass and serve on the side. The five to one proportion used to rinse the glass produces a tasty chaser.
27. Thin Pink Line
With: Cognac, lemon juice, sugar syrup, orgeat and egg white.
We say: A subtly almond influenced brandy sour served straight-up and set apart by its namesake 'Thin Pink Line' of Peychaud's Bitters which floats on top of the cocktail but beneath the foam.
28. USB Cocktail
With: Cognac, sauvignon blanc wine, pineapple juice and sugar syrup.
We say: A relatively dry cocktail where the vanilla combines beautifully with the cognac and the acidity of the wine balances the sweetness of the pineapple juice.
29. Very French Martini
With: Cognac, black raspberry liqueur and pineapple juice.
We say: Cognac, pineapple juice and black raspberry liqueur. OK, so France is not known for its pineapples but I said 'very' not 'totally' French. And yes I know it's not really a Martini.
30. Vieux Carre
With: Cognac, bourbon, Benedictine, sweet vermouth, Angostura Aromatic Bitters and Peychaud's Aromatic Bitters.
We say: Like an ultra-smooth and complex Sweet Manhattan served on the rocks.