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Old Sips, New Tricks: Cognac & Brandy Bring Back The Night


Today's new rave of nightcaps are anything but stuffy

Courtesy of Pierre Ferrand Cognac.

Add one more name to the list of fusty-sounding libations saved by the craft cocktail movement: cognac. If the word conjures up images of old men with walrus mustaches swirling snifters by the fire -- or Nas pouring Henny in the club -- you're not alone. It took one company painstaking research to prove that cognac was worth a second look.

"Cognac was the vodka of the 19th century," says Guillaume Lamy of the cognac producer Maison Ferrand. Back then, the French grape-based brandy was used in everything from crustas (a type of sour) to mint juleps, and was beloved by pioneering bartenders like Jerry Thomas, who literally wrote the book on classic cocktails.

But the cognac they loved was much different from the ones we know today -- higher-proof, darker, and more "flamboyant," according to Lamy. So Ferrand set out to re-create it, analyzing 19th-century bottles with the help of cocktail historian David Wondrich and some high-tech tools to isolate just what made it special.

The result, Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula, won the 2012 award for Best New Product at Tales of the Cocktail and took the bar community by storm. After rediscovering the spirit in well-known cocktails like the sidecar, drinkers are even giving it another chance as an after-dinner sipper. And as cognac's visibility increases -- and smaller, craft producers realize there's an ever-growing market for their old wares -- spirits like it are flooding shelves, many of which offer a complexity that defies our modern expectations.

Think of them as more like single-malt scotches, with layered notes of fruit, oak, vanilla, and more. The snifter is optional -- while it does help concentrate the heady aromas, you'll be able to get the scent in a wine or even a highball glass. As with scotch, you can add an ice cube if you like. And there's another benefit: Though the science behind it is sketchy, people swear by these drinks as digestifs, kick-starters for the stomach after a heavy meal.

Fireside or poolside, in a cocktail or sipped neat, today's new wave of nightcaps are anything but stuffy.

You don't have to grow some serious facial hair to enjoy them (but it couldn't hurt).

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