If you take a look at various spirit categories — sales volume coupled with marketing expenditures and bartender acceptance of any given brand — you’ll find a great deal of conversation about vodka (still king), tequila (on fire), rum (resurgence), Irish whiskey (watch out) and gin (finally). But ask anyone about brandy or Cognac, and you’ll hear birds chirping. Why?
For starters, brandy is one of the most broadly segmented spirits categories, featuring a wide range of types, global provenance, price points and consumers. Volume is led by domestic aged brandies, such as E&J, Paul Masson and Christian Brothers, followed by imports from France, namely Cognac, but also Armagnac and Calvados. Rounding out the category are brands from undesignated areas in France, Mexico and Spain, as well as white brandies: pisco, grappa and eau de vie.
But alas, the red-headed stepchild of the spirits family is finally getting some attention outside the loyal brandy-drinking states of Minnesota and Wisconsin and beyond the played-out rap videos of yesteryear. Brandy is enjoying its rightful place on the menu as part of the cocktail renaissance, laying claim as the original ingredient in the Sidecar, French 75 and Sazerac (in the form of Cognac). It’s slowly evolving in the minds of bartenders and consumers from a once-stodgy after-dinner tipple to a palate-pleasing cocktail base.
Just as gin began to creep onto menus, brandy is expanding its real estate, often replacing whiskey in an Old-Fashioned (the state drink of Wisconsin, by the way) or a Manhattan. With brandy already a fixture in classics like the Crusta, Stinger and Vieux Carre, it’s never been a more appropriate time in our industry to experiment with brandy and Cognac cocktails. And don’t forget about pisco, the Peruvian or Chilean brandy that was the hottest thing at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans this summer.
Naomi Levy, a bartender at Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks in Boston, says brandies actually are surprisingly easy to mix with because their subtle sweetness is feminine yet complex enough to be masculine. This isn’t often the case with aged rums or single-malt whiskies. Well-balanced brandy and Cognac cocktails sell to both men and women, offering the warmth of a brown spirit coupled with a wine’s slight fruitiness.
Cognac companies, led by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), have started to market terroir, including a host of offerings specifically formulated to be more versatile for cocktail consumption. Hennessy Black launched in June 2010, and Pierre Ferrand just unveiled 1840 Original Formula, bringing in classic cocktail historian David Wondrich to consult on the “eminently mixable” brand.
So how do you bring brandy and Cognac down from the dusty top shelf to star on a thriving cocktail menu? Start with the classics, and add your own twist. Bartenders at Bar Agricole in San Francisco riff on a tradition with their Manila Hotel Julep (brandy, demerara rum, pineapple and mint). Ted Kilgore, a bartender at nationally lauded restaurant and bar Taste in St. Louis, created a Sling made with Camus VSOP Elegance Cognac, Punt e Mes vermouth, simple syrup, lemon and sparkling wine. The fact that Cognac and brandy play well with bubbly is a bonus as we head into the holiday season. Their flavor profiles also lend well when paired with maple syrup and cinnamon, perfect for a fireside winter warmer or après dinner cocktail. Your customers want to be educated — or reintroduced — to brandy, and cocktails are the perfect way to let the spirit shine. NCB
A Little Inspiration
Brandy and Cognac Recipes to Get Your Creative Juices Flowing
Camus Elegant Ending
Created by Master Mixologist Ted Kilgore of Taste in St. Louis.
1½ oz. Camus VSOP Elegance
¾ oz. Ruby port
¾ oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
Stir over ice and strain into a coupe glass.
Courtesy of E&J Brandy.
2 oz. E&J VSOP Brandy
½ oz. maraschino liqueur
½ oz. pineapple juice
2 dashes bitters
Lemon peel and strawberry, for garnish
In a cocktail glass, mix all ingredients over ice. Garnish with lemon peel and strawberry.
CB Brandy Sangria
Courtesy of Christian Brothers Brandy.
2 oz. Christian Brothers Brandy
1 tsp. port
1 tsp. water
½ tsp. powdered sugar
Sprinkle of nutmeg
Dissolve powdered sugar in 1 teaspoon of water. Stir in brandy and pour over ice in a rocks glass. Fill with soda water. Float port on top. Sprinkle lightly with nutmeg and serve.