After many years, Cognac is creeping back onto London’s top cocktail menus. Elizabeth Finney goes in search of a unique aperitif experience
As the days get shorter and colder in London, the summer gin craze is waning and now, a warming glass of Cognac is on every spirit connoisseur’s mind. Cognac is a brandy, a distilled wine. In the 16th century, Dutch traders struggled to preserve the French wine they’d bought throughout the journey home, so began distilling it. The result was known as burnt wine, or brandewijn, which evolved over the years to become brandy. Produced in a region just north of Bordeaux, along the banks of the Charente River, Cognac is one of the two greatest grape brandies of the world, alongside Armagnac.
While Cognac dates back a number of centuries, it became the gentleman’s drink of choice from the 18th century in England. Persons of quality drank Cognac – it was their spirit. “Poor people were dying because they were drinking too much gin and rich people were living because they were drinking nice, well-made Cognac,” says Rob Whitehead, an expert in spirits at Berry Bros. & Rudd. “This was of course, a long time ago. But Cognac is still about elegance. It’s about deftness, delicacy, poise and grace, and all of those nonsenses.”