It is fascinating to see how a distillate manages to accompany over the centuries classic cocktails that in some way have made the history of cocktail coulture and constantly be a guarantee of quality for the bartenders around the world who use this distillate in their drinks. One of the first distillates used in mixing and constantly present in the first barman manuals, already in the middle of the 800 ‘, was the Cognac. This distillate, of wine origin, has always been a reference both for the producers of world brandies, and an ingredient “essential” in cocktails of a certain quality. With the passing of the years there has been an evolution in consumption, which has forced the final consumer to face choices, and for a certain period in Europe we have seen more and more place this distillate, like a meditation spirit from consume only in front of a warm fireplace. But we know very well that the fireplaces in the apartments are less and less and the market today requires consumption more and more focused on quality. With this article I would like to focus on some salient phases and significant dates in the history of this distillate, through the invention of some cocktails that have definitely been made famous by the cognac included in their recipes. The nineteenth century is remembered as the century when periods of economic liberalism alternated with periods of protectionism: many of the houses of Cognac were established (Bisquit 1819, Courvoisier 1843, Camus, Hardy 1863 …). France was drawing from its colonies and with the free trade agreement between England and France led by Napoleon III, sales of Cognac took off: just think that in 1877, the vineyards covered an area of 282.667, a larger area of the Luxembourg. In this period the cognacs began to distribute their product in bottles rather than in barrels, and then there was a rapid spread of cognac brands on a large scale, which seduced and conquered bars all over the world. But Luisiana was definitely an American state very sensitive to the fashions of the moment, letting herself be carried away by the cocktail coultures of those years, giving the sasarac cocktail to the cocktail that dates back to around 1830 and marked an era in the cocktail industry. The main merit of this cocktail was Antoine Pechaud, who, having moved from the Antilles to New Orleans, owned a pharmacy where he prepared many galenic dyes of which the well-known bitters that takes its name “Pechaud Bitter” and was in this pharmacy which is an invigorating drink for friends and clients, made with Cognac, a secret mixture of its bitters, sugar and water, in an egg-shaped glass, called “coquette” and was the ancestor of the present Sazerac. The name of the cocktail is thought to derive from the brand of a very well known cognac at the time “Sazerac-du-Forge et Fils”. This drink spread for several years in a bar that practically had the exclusive because the only importer of the lucky cognac, Mr. Taylor.
Years later someone succeeded him by giving the bar the name “Caffè Sazerac”; in 1870 a certain Thoms Handy took command of the Caffè Sazerac, changing the main ingredient in rye whiskey, a little ‘for the American tastes, a bit’ because in those years the epidemic of Fillossera, devastated the French vineyards and logically the Cognac production was compromised. The monks have played a crucial role in the life and survival of the vine, since the vine plant has experienced two very difficult historical moments, namely the philosoeric period and the barbarian invasions. These two historical moments, risked to seriously compromise the life and survival of the plant, if it were not for the monks who have preserved it from the barbarian invasions continuing the cultivation within the monastic walls of both the olive tree whose oil was used to give the extreme unction, that wine as it was used to give mass. Over the years Sazerac has become the symbol of Louisiana, just in 2008 they gave it this title. And for cocktail lovers, the original recipe of Sazerac is:
- 1 sugar lump
- ½ oz di Cognac
- ¼ oz di Herbsaint
- Drops of Bitter Peychaud
- Lemon peel.
Around 1875 the Fillossera appears in the Cognac area. In 1877 a French delegation led by Pierre Viala, a professor at the University of Montepellier, moved to the USA in search of vines resistant to this aphid. The first rootstocks could not stand the limestone soil of the region. New rootstocks resistant to chlorosis were subsequently found and adapted. From 6 May to 31 October 1889 the Universal Exposition was held in Paris. The site was the Campo di Marte, near the Seine. The event is particularly remembered for the construction of the Eiffel Tower, located at the entrance to the exhibition area, after the Ponte di Iena. The exhibition fell on the centenary of the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille, but also on the eighteenth anniversary of the Third Republic. On this occasion Niels Larsen presented some cocktails which he then collected in a beautiful recipe book that the publisher “Librairie Nilsson” published in French in 1899 This volume contained 156 recipes divided into categories almost unknown in the Old Continent, of which in the category of dasies a recipe from the
½ lemon juice
• 2 teaspoons of sugar syrup
• 1 teaspoon of cordial orange coffee
• 1 small bordeaux glass of Cognac
• Lengthen with seltz
On May 1, 1909, there was the Geographical delimitation of the Cognac production area, while in 1920 in Italy the book “Il Barista di Ferruccio Mazzon” is published, where in the Yuleps category with “Y” and not “J” there is a very interesting and unusual recipe from
Put an eighth of seltz water in the glass and dissolve:
• 3 teaspoons of powdered sugar
• 1 cup of Cognac
• ½ glass of mint alcohol liqueur
• 2 or 3 sprigs of freshly squeezed mint
Fill with crushed ice and mix everything well. Pick up the sprigs of mint that you will put in a bouquet in another glass, pouring over the drink, decorated with fruit and a slice of orange, put a powdered sugar and a little rum without shaking.
It is very curious to see some bottles of the beginning of the 20th century and to see written crognac produced in Sicily or in other parts of Italy and Europe
just because initially there was a production disciplinary that was ratified in 1936 with AOC (appellation of origin controlled) and on January 13, 1938 a new decree was obtained that delimited the production areas (cru). It was precisely in those years in Italy that one of the cornerstones of Italian blending came out: Mille Misture of the “mixer” Elvezio Grassi, patron of the Argentino Bar in Lugano A recipe book whose futuristic style preface made by Professor Ottino is an important testimony to Italian drinks where the author honors the booming automotive industry of the time with creations like the
• 1 egg yolk
• 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar
• 20% cognac
• 30% Marsala
• 10% cocoa cream
• Shake everything and sprinkle with cinnamon.
But in the meantime also the Cuban barmen could not be seduced by the versatility of cognac. In fact, with the advent of American prohibition many barmen emigrated to Cuba and the bars of Havana in addition to being supplied with so much rum, well-known brands of Cognac covered the bottles. A well-known drink also found in the book of the “Florida cocktails bar” was the
½ Oporto wine
• ½ cognac Tres Copas
• 1/3 Cointrau
• 1/3 anans juice
In 1946 with the liberation of France The National Interprofessionel du Cognac bureau was established. A French interprofessional organization with public service missions. It brings together all the winemakers and traders in the region of cognac production. Why should a bartender use cognac to prepare cocktails? Certainly for its complexity and versatility. Cognac is a world made up of many nuances, all that is needed is that the barman with the right skills manages to maximize its qualities through the combination of the other ingredients. Suffice it to think of young cognacs with strong fruity notes and then we do not see this distillate just as a meditation spirit but maybe stretched with some sodas like the case of the horse neck (with ginger ale and lemon spiral) and here is the ‘image changes projecting perhaps on the beach or in the pool in summer during the hot hours of the day. Or re-proposing some classic twist on like the
20 ml rye whiskey
20 ml cognac
20 ml amber left-handed
5ml d.o.m benedectine
1 dash peycheaud’s bitters
A dash angostura bitter
That we at the Orum bar of the Hotel Westin Excelsior in Rome propose it with a slight smoking of the glass using a piece of Limousin wooden stave (like those used in the aging of cognac) to balance that sweet and sweet taste of the drink.
The cognac manages to dress the palate of each of us, so you can propose drinks with young cognac vs or vsop, or devote in your cocktail menu more articulated cocktails prepared with xo cognac or with mono cru reserves de famille, capturing the curiosity and the most refined and demanding palates.
I like to end this article by quoting some words of JEAN – PAUL CAMUS said during an interview, where some journalists asked him what it takes to make a good cognac and he replied:
DOING A GOOD COGNAC IS SIMPLE: EVERYTHING THERE IS NEED A GRANDFATHER AND A FATHER WHO HAVE DEDICATED THEIR LIFE TO IT …
by Luca Di Francia