Eric Felten is the author of the “How’s Your Drink?” column in the the Wall Street Journal. I enjoy his spirits writing and, in particular, his story “Cognac and its cognoscenti” from last June. So I thought I would ask him for some orientation on how to enjoy cognac as I embark on a trip to the region. Hopefully I can avoid any egregious faux pas while there–and know how to make a sidecar when I return!
From Eric Felten:
I choose to finish a meal with whisky or cognac purely as a matter of mood and whatever my tastebuds might be wanting at the moment — just as one might choose, at dinner, between steak or veal. But whichever I choose, I have a couple of personal rules:
1) Wait until after dessert for the spirit. This, I admit, is a matter of my own preference. I simply do not like the combination of sweets and spirits. There have been a lot of people urging the pairing of chocolates with after-dinner spirits. Others may like that, but I find it to be just awful.
2) Do not warm your cognac. Silly tradition.
3) Avoid ridiculously oversized balloon snifters. Even sillier tradition.
4) As for mixing cognac, just be sure that the brandy is not overwhelmed by the other ingredients. The classic cognac cocktail — the Sidecar — is now regularly ruined as all one tastes is orange liqueur and (ugh) sweet-n-sour mix. To make the drink properly, use 4-6 parts brandy to one part Cointreau and one part (or slightly less) fresh lemon juice. That way you taste the cognac, which then makes it worthwhile to use a decent (VSOP) bottle.