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mrbigjas

Everyday Cognac, Armagnac, Brandy, etc.

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i've read all the things over the last few years about how cognac makers ain't what they used to be; about how XO nowadays is barely the VS of years gone by, and how the cocktail world has gone to hell in a handbasket. i've come to accept that i'm never getting the good stuff, and really i'm OK with that at this point.

but that's not what this is about. what i'm interested is in an 'everyday' cognac, as much as there can be an everyday something in a liquor category where the most basic of the basic costs $25 a bottle.

i'm looking for the kind of thing where you can use it to flame your steak au poivre without feeling like you're throwing your wallet in the garbage disposal.

but i'm also looking for the kind of thing where if you felt like a cognac after dinner, you could drink it without feeling like you were swilling the cognac equivalent of bankers club.

does such a thing exist? is there a cognac version of eagle rare 10 year bourbon--damn good sippin' booze that's still reasonably priced enough to use in mixed drinks, cooking, and the like?


Edited by mrbigjas (log)

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I've said it before in this forum and will probably say it again.

One of the best value for dollars purchases you can make in distilled aged grape spirits is Germain-Robin's Fine Alembic Brandy. OK, it's not quite as cheap as Eagle Rare. But, it is reasonable enough, where you don't feel too guilty about putting it in a cocktail. At least an upscale cocktail like an absolutely perfect Sidecar for yourself or cocktail fancying friends. And it certainly is tasty enough that you won't mind pouring yourself a snifter straight or with a splash of Benedictine for variety.

Not sure if I would use it to flame steak au poivre. Kind of a judgement call, there.

In any case, I feel fairly secure in saying it is head and shoulders above many of the big name V.S. Cognacs.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Courvoisier, Hennessey, Remy Martin or Martell would all fit the bill. I'd go for at least the V.S.O.P. if one wished to drink it after dinner rather than flambe a steak with it. Perfectly acceptable but nothing like the Germain-Robin suggested above. You could get either the V.S. or V.S.O.P. of any of the brands I named at or about $25/bottle.

There's a Chalfonte V.S.O.P. Cognac available for $18.99/bottle that's listed, but I have no experience with it. But for $18.99 I'd be curious if it was adequate for the purposes you mentioned.


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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what i'm interested is in an 'everyday' cognac, as much as there can be an everyday something in a liquor category where the most basic of the basic costs $25 a bottle.

What about the Rémy Martin VSOP, in the frosted green bottle? It has some character, it's consistent in my experience, and it does wicked things with mushrooms or the odd anachronistic rich shellfish sauce (supplementing Sherry, Madeira, etc. [Note 1]). Also, for years it has run around $29 at the local Costco warehouse store, comparable to MacCallan 12 (a sound entry-level malt: one can do far worse in whiskys for that money).

I support Germain-Robin, its smaller neighbor Jepson, and other US artisanal products of my own native region but (a) the request was for Cognac (as in Charente river) and (b) the price is highly competitive.

(Myself I can't picture using any of these products in cocktails -- not from concern for the cocktail, but for the fine spirit, which risks being wasted. However te gustibus . . . )

I have zero vested interest in any of this. -- Max

Note 1: For instance. Take cleaned cultivated or (preferably) wild mushrooms of your choice. Cut as you like. Stir-fry hot and fast in a little butter, salting if you like. When they start to look cooked, add enough Sherry, Madeira etc. of your choice to sort of drown them, and cook off fast until almost dry. Watch carefully so they don't burn. Throw in some Cognac and (if you like) ignite, such as by tipping the skillet to the gas flame. After the flame dies out, finish with a little heavy cream to make a sauce, and adjust the salt. Serve over something bready as long as it's not a puff-pastry shell, I'm sorry, there are limits. If you really want to recreate 1971 grand-palace dining, borrow an oily headwaiter with temporary hairpiece and French accent, and an itchy palm. That is not necessary though.

Note 2: Steaks au poivre probably do better when sat to come up to room temp with freshly cracked peppercorns pressed into them; cooked hot and fast in a pan; and deglazed with Bourbon. Try it. (Save the cream for the mushrooms and the Maitres d'hôtel.)

PS: Katie got in here with good brief suggestions, as usual, while I was assembling this. Listen to her.

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maxh, you're killing me. oily headwaiter indeed...

anyway, thanks for the suggestions y'all. i have limited space, so i'm always looking for something that can kind of straddle the line between being nice to drink and cheap enough to cook with. eagle rare walks that line pretty well for bourbon (although it has the disadvantage of not fitting in my cabinet). someone gave me a bottle of that german brandy asbach uralt, which at about $25 is OK for a lot of brandy-related purposes. i've only ever gotten cognac as gifts, so it's been a while since i've priced them.

this may end up being a thing like gin, where i end up having to have a cheap one and a nicer one... i see the meukow VS on sale for $25 or so; i wonder if that would do. oh wait, the remy VSOP is now under $35 here. i'm not (and can't afford to be) a cognac connosseiur, so that should do the trick.

(ok to tell the truth, where i use it more often for cooking than anything is when i roast a chicken--my wife doesn't like liver, so i fry the liver in butter, deglaze/flame it with cognac and eat it in the kitchen with the butter/cognac 'sauce' poured over it.. there's nothin like it, and it's only a couple tablespoons really. it rocks.)

anyway, thanks for the suggestions.

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There's a Chalfonte V.S.O.P. Cognac available for $18.99/bottle that's listed, but I have no experience with it.  But for $18.99 I'd be curious if it was adequate for the purposes you mentioned.

In my area, you can sometimes get it for $14.99. Some people like to drink it. I don't care for it but then I don't really drink cognac. If you decide you don't want to drink it there are lots of things you can do with it. (I put up some of my sour cherries in it this year.)

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Courvoisier, Hennessey, Remy Martin...

I have a hard time taking any of these brands seriously, since my most common interaction with them is picking up empty airport, pocket size, or regular bottles out of the planters in front of my house.

With the volume of "cognac" these brands produce to cater to urban consumption, can the lower end really be anything but industrial alcohol?


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Courvoisier, Hennessey, Remy Martin...

I have a hard time taking any of these brands seriously, since my most common interaction with them is picking up empty airport, pocket size, or regular bottles out of the planters in front of my house.

With the volume of "cognac" these brands produce to cater to urban consumption, can the lower end really be anything but industrial alcohol?

Together, they probably have one of the largest stocks of aged brandy anywhere in the world, as well as the longest experience in effectively blending it. If they do indeed simply cut a small amount of quality brandy with gallons of raw stuff as is done in most blended scotch, i'd be terribly disappointed, especially considering the price.

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Pierre Ferrand Ambre ($40). Also I like Imoya, from South Africa ($40).

And of course, the Spanish brandies:

http://www.egullet.org/tdg.cgi?pg=ARTICLE-perlowbrandy

Since I wrote that peice, Sanchez Romate came out with "Uno En Mil", which instead of being a Solera, its statically aged like a Cognac. Very smooth spirit, great with cigars. At about $30-$40 a bottle its really great stuff.

Uno En Mil (Bevmo.com)


Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Courvoisier, Hennessey, Remy Martin...
With the volume of "cognac" these brands produce to cater to urban consumption, can the lower end really be anything but industrial alcohol?

It's big business (LVMH and all that). In my opinion the Rémy Martin VSOP could not be confused with the dreaded French alcool d'industrie. I've tried industrial alcohol. This underlies my surprise that young adults like to drink vodka by choice (as a cocktail, rather than with the savory little foods as they like to do in eastern Europe, zakuski and so on, which seems more civilized). Of course they often get it blended with something, preferably fluorescent-colored. I hope they'll try other things too.

maxh, you're killing me.  oily headwaiter indeed...

Thanks. Oily in the sense of ingratiating, of course (and not always just that one). Definitive portraits in Bemelmans's famous memoir La Bonne Table(which is in English). Illustrated, since Bemelmans was a cartoonist too.

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I was exagerrating of course. I did not mean to imply that any French Cognac had any semblance to inustrial alcohol or that the big Cognac houses were blending their brandies with grain alcohol.

My only point was, that, the ubiquity of their product, to my mind, puts them on the level of seagram's gin and flavored bacardi rum.

And, my only real question was, if you are putting several gallons of brandy, on the shelves of every corner liquor store in urban America, how much care can you really be taking with that product?


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Hmm, perhaps I'm alone on this one but I feel Hennessy and Remy Martin are pretty good alcohols. Of course they're not artisinal at that production value (they've got a gallon or two at every market here in Shanghai, as well), but I think they taste fine. If you're using it for cooking, or not familiar with brandy, the fine points would be lost on you anyway.

On the other hand, I don't get them often, because for the same price I can get a much higher quality whisky or rum. Tequila has the same problem.

If I just want to make a cheap Sidecar, I think most of the French Brandies are horrid, horrid stuff, as are the Mexican Brandies I've tried. However I got a French De La Maziere brandy recently, it's not good but it's passable for cooking or a cocktail, it retails for maybe $10 or $15. And I think California brandies are about the same.

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There's a Chalfonte V.S.O.P. Cognac available for $18.99/bottle that's listed, but I have no experience with it.  But for $18.99 I'd be curious if it was adequate for the purposes you mentioned.

In my area, you can sometimes get it for $14.99. Some people like to drink it. I don't care for it but then I don't really drink cognac. If you decide you don't want to drink it there are lots of things you can do with it. (I put up some of my sour cherries in it this year.)

I agree with Tess. My local liquor store recemmended Chalfonte, but I have been disappointed with it in cocktails. I now use it for cooking and it is just fine for that. Hennessy VSOP works best in cocktails for us. Sidecars, anyone? :smile:


KathyM

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yeah so in case you guys were wondering, i picked up a bottle of the chalfonte, and it was fine for steak au poivre. but i tasted it and it's not so great for drinking. if it were a wine i'd say it lacked structure--it's kind of all over the place. but it'll do for cooking, and maybe a mixed cocktail where there are other ingredients playing along.

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I'm on my second bottle of Chalfonte, and enjoying it greatly for cocktails (i.e., Sazerac, Sidecar, etc.) Now, I fully admit that cognac is not something I've really gotten into, but I can say that Chalfonte is a bit ... boring by itself.

For those of you who didn't like it for mixing, what were your qualms?


Rick

Pennsylvania

Kaiser Penguin

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maison serenne petite champagne vintage 1991 cognac, I find, is both inexpensive and quite tasty. Hints of apple and pear, and that wonderful cognac afterburn. About 25 usd a bottle cost. From the gentleman who brought Pierre Ferrand to fame. This is his new pet project. Martingnetti in Massachusetts carries it.

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For mixing cocktails and for cooking usage, the big three cognac producers (Remy Martin, Hennessey, and Couvoisier) make solid VSOP that really performs admirably. To a certain degree, even the VS bottling of Remy if used in a Sidecar or Between the Sheets, fits the bill. All are priced at close to thirty dollars and less.

Think about the question, with regards to cost and what the brandy will be used for. This topic is one of the few, if only subjects, that I will disagree with Eric (Eje) on. Really, I have never seen cognac bottles left in my front yard, but in these parts Alan's Coffee Brandy rules the roost for the down and out in Portland, ME. But that is another story.

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maison serenne petite champagne vintage 1991 cognac, I find, is both inexpensive and quite tasty.  Hints of apple and pear, and that wonderful cognac afterburn.  About 25 usd a bottle cost.  From the gentleman who brought Pierre Ferrand to fame.  This is his new pet project.  Martingnetti in Massachusetts carries it.

That's one I'm seriously going to look for, Snowy.


Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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The best reasonably priced Cognac is not Cognac, but Armagnac. It less famous so is less expensive and less adulterated than big brand Cognacs, which are coming close to containing as much caramel as some dessert trays.

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The best reasonably priced Cognac is not Cognac, but Armagnac. It less famous so is less expensive and less adulterated than big brand Cognacs, which are coming close to containing as much caramel as some dessert trays.

Solera Grand Reserva Brandy de Jerez is even cheaper, and far less appreciated and less famous than bas-Armagnac. And Definitely cheaper than XO-level Cognac or Armagnac, to which it can be favorably compared.


Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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The best reasonably priced Cognac is not Cognac, but Armagnac. It less famous so is less expensive and less adulterated than big brand Cognacs, which are coming close to containing as much caramel as some dessert trays.

Solera Grand Reserva Brandy de Jerez is even cheaper, and far less appreciated and less famous than bas-Armagnac. And Definitely cheaper than XO-level Cognac or Armagnac, to which it can be favorably compared.

I like Spanish Brandy, but as it is very carmelized, its flavor profile is quite different from Armagnac and Cognac. Spanish Brandy and cigars are a great combination.

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Solera Grand Reserva Brandy de Jerez is even cheaper, and far less appreciated and less famous than bas-Armagnac. And Definitely cheaper than XO-level Cognac or Armagnac, to which it can be favorably compared.

I like Spanish Brandy, but as it is very carmelized, its flavor profile is quite different from Armagnac and Cognac. Spanish Brandy and cigars are a great combination.

Do they use different grape varietals for Spanish Brandy vs. Cognac? I've read good things about it; but, never tried.

Also, doesn't "Solera" refer to the aging/blending technique they use in Spain, not a particular brand? I think reserve brandy from any company in Jerez, Spain, made using the Solera technique, could potentially be, "Solera Grand Reserva de Jerez".

edit - added clarification


Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Solera Grand Reserva Brandy de Jerez is even cheaper, and far less appreciated and less famous than bas-Armagnac. And Definitely cheaper than XO-level Cognac or Armagnac, to which it can be favorably compared.

I like Spanish Brandy, but as it is very caramelized, its flavor profile is quite different from Armagnac and Cognac. Spanish Brandy and cigars are a great combination.

Do they use different grape varietals for Spanish Brandy vs. Cognac? I've read good things about it; but, never tried.

Also, doesn't "Solera" refer to the aging/blending technique they use in Spain, not a particular brand? I think reserve brandy from any company in Jerez, Spain, made using the Solera technique, could potentially be, "Solera Grand Reserva de Jerez".

edit - added clarification

Yes they are using different varieties, but unlike grappa, there is little, if any, varietal character that shows in wood aged brandy. What you need is a very clean, fresh base wine with high acidity. That's why they use Folle Blanche and Ugni Blanc (trebbiano) for Cognac and Armagnac.

Solera is a generic term for an aging/fractional blending process, but often shows up in various brand names.

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Yes they are using different varieties, but unlike grappa, there is little, if any, varietal character that shows in wood aged brandy. What you need is a very clean, fresh base wine with high acidity. That's why they use Folle Blanche and Ugni Blanc (trebbiano) for Cognac and Armagnac.

Reminds me of a recent episode of Good Eats which covered the process of making Bourbon (Tender is the Nog).

After the distiller explained the process of wood aging bourbon to Alton, he said, "So, in a way, what you distill is a solvent that extracts burnt wood."

The distiller paused and replied, "Well, actually, I prefer to think of myself as an alchemist. I take corn and turn it into gold."


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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