Pass the Sarajishvili: A Dyke’s Guide to Cognac and Brandy

Guess what I’m doing right now, dykes. Bet you can’t.

I’m wearing a fuzzy yellow bathrobe and drinking brandy, i.e. living the dream.

Once a gin drinker, now more of a bourbon drinker, I have only recently come to appreciate brandy. Two summers ago, Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide introduced me to brandy by way of the Sidecar, one of my favorite cocktails with easily my favorite name. Trader’s Vic’s recipe includes an ounce of brandy, half an ounce of triple sec (orange liqueur), and the juice of half a lime, stirred with ice cubes and strained into a cocktail glass. I mixed the drink a few times, borrowing Courvoisier and Cointreau from my father’s liquor cabinet, and the results were consistently delicious. But I didn’t give much thought to brandy after that, and I hadn’t had a sip of it since, until my recent visit to a cafe in Seattle, where I ordered a glass of brandy and became infatuated all over again.

What is Brandy?

Brandy is a spirit made by distilling wine. It is usually made from grapes, but can also be distilled from other fruits, and it tends to be about 35-60% alcohol by volume. Traditionally, it is consumed as a digestif, or after-dinner drink. Once the drink of choice of old British men, more recently the much sung about drink of hip hop artists, brandy is strong, classy, and delicious. The most famous type of brandy is cognac.

What is Cognac?

All cognacs are brandies, but not all brandies are cognacs–much in the same way that all champagnes are sparkling wines, but not all sparkling wines are champagnes, or that all dykes are women, but not all women, unfortunately, are dykes.

A cognac is a brandy that is produced in the region of France surrounding the town of Cognac, it must be distilled at least twice in copper pot stills, it must be made from certain types of grapes, and it must have been aged in oak casks for at least two years. Courvoisier and Hennessy, for example, are two well-known cognacs.

V.S., V.S.O.P., and X.O.

Brandies from different regions, of different ages, are blended together to make one cognac or brandy. This gives the brandy complexity. Most cognacs are blended, but a few are not.

The V.S., V.S.O.P., or X.O. you find on the label of the bottle refers to how long the youngest spirit in the blend has been aged.

V.S. Stands for Very Special. The youngest spirit in the bottle has been aged for at least two years.

V.S.O.P. Stands for Very Superior Old Pale. The youngest spirit in the bottle has been aged for at least four years.

X.O. Stands for Extra Old. The youngest spirit in the bottle has been aged for at least six years.

Price varies according to how long the brandy has aged in oak casks. Once it is bottled, brandy does not age anymore.

Recommendations

-Courvoisier is a good and popular cognac, rumored to have been the favorite cognac of Napoleon Bonaparte. This is what my parents keep in the liquor cabinet. Because it’s well known, you should be able to find a bottle of it in any liquor store, but it’s also on the pricey side. At my local liquor store, a 750 mL bottle was priced at around $40-50.

-Chalfonte is my favorite cognac, and it’s the cognac that rekindled my interest in brandy. I ordered a glass of Chalfonte Cognac at a small cafe in Seattle because it was the cheapest cognac on the menu, and I loved it. The only problem is that, because it’s a small batch cognac, I’ve had trouble finding a bottle of it on the East Coast. If you find it, you should be able to pick up a bottle for $20-30.

-Sarajishvili V.S.O.P. is a grape brandy produced in Georgia (the European country, not the U.S. state) using French techniques. I bought a bottle of it on the recommendation of a dude at my local wine shop, and I’ve enjoyed it. It’s a little feistier than Courvoisier and Chalfonte, in my opinion, but it’s good. I picked up a 750 mL bottle for $30.

How Do You Drink Brandy?

Traditionally, you drink brandy neat (no ice) from a brandy snifter as a digestif. The wide bottom and narrow rim of the glass help contain the aromas of the liquor and allow you to warm the brandy in the palm of your hand as you hold the glass. I don’t have a brandy snifter, so I’ve been drinking it out of a wine glass. Bear in mind, though, that the alcohol content of brandy is usually around 40%, so you should pour yourself a shot of it, not a whole wine glass of it, lest you become very drunk indeed.

Cocktails

Some people also drink brandy on the rocks or in cocktails. I rely on good ole Trader Vic for my cocktail recipes.

1. Sidecar

This is the classic brandy-based cocktail. It’s delicious, and it doesn’t call for any obscure ingredients.

1 oz brandy

1/2 oz triple sec

Juice of 1/2 lime

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Most other recipes I’ve come across call for lemon, rather than lime. It’s good either way. Also, if you’re feeling show-offy, you can, instead of stirring it with ice, shake it with ice in a cocktail shaker.

2. Brandy Alexander

Another classic drink, though you’re less likely to have a bottle of creme de cacao than a bottle of triple sec lying around the house, I guess.

1 oz brandy

1/2 oz white or dark creme de cacao

1 oz fresh cream

Shake with ice cubes and strain into chilled champagne glass. Dust with grated nutmeg.

Though Trader Vic calls for cream, not all recipes do. I think this is the drink that turns Lee Remick’s character into an alcoholic in The Days of Wine and Roses, but let’s not focus on that, dykes, that’s not why I’m recommending it.

3. Brandy Old-Fashioned

Apparently, the Brandy Old-Fashioned is a thing. In Wisconsin. It’s pretty good. It’s what it sounds like: an Old Fashioned in which brandy is substituted for bourbon.

I did not, however, find this one in Trader Vic’s book. I found it online here. Personally, I like my Old Fashioneds better without club soda, and so I made mine without it. My Old Fashioned recipe, adapted from good old Trader Vic’s and with brandy substituted for bourbon, is:

1/4 tsp of sugar

2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters (enough to soak the sugar)

1/4 oz of water

Stir to dissolve sugar

Fill the glass with ice cubes (usually 3 will do it, as the Old Fashioned is served in a short tumbler glass)

Pour 1 and 1/2 oz. (a jigger) of brandy over the ice

Add twist of lemon, thin slice of orange, and a maraschino cherry

I usually rinse the cherry before I put it in the drink, as the juice is a little too sweet for my taste. I also tend to run the lemon twist and the orange slice around the rim of the glass before dropping them in the cocktail.

Sounds like the perfect treat to top off a day at the Call to Action conference, amirite?

Anybody have recommendations for brandies or cognacs? Any cocktail ideas?

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