Fall Cognac Crawl – SF Version

When I first began my spirit studies in earnest, I knew nothing about Cognac, save for the ancient bottle of Hennessy in my stash, inherited from one friends’ move or another.

As time went on, and as I build my cocktail catalog, I learned about the diversity and deliciousness of the amber queen.

Enter the marketing genius of the Cognac people, who worked with teams in New York and San Francisco to create a pop up cocktail tour, featuring inspired drinks made with cognac.














But first, a little lesson in Cognac.  Cognac is brandy, distilled in the Cognac region of France.  The prime grape source is Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano in Italian), but a small amount of Colombard and a smattering of lesser grape may also be used.

The most important thing to understand about Cognac is the labeling system of classification as, while it does not denote quality, it gives you a clue as to how long it has been aged.

  • V.S. (Very Special) is a blend in which the youngest brandy has been stored for at least two years
  • V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) or Reserve is also a blend, but the youngest brandy has be aged for at least four years in a cask.
  • XO (Extra Old) or Napoléon is a blend where the youngest brandy is aged for at least 6 years.  This is changing however, because in 2018, the XO needs to be aged at least 8 years.
  • Hors d’âge (Beyond Age) really is the same as XO, but it’s a great marketing ploy to showcase the highest quality product offering, and gives the appearance of rarity and luxury.

Here in San Francisco, our crawl included 5 well known craft cocktail bars, with 5 equally crafty cocktails – all different, all delicious, and all showcasing the flexibility of cognac brandy.

First up, we met at Blackbird, a hidden gem in the no man’s land between the . Mission and the Castro, on the upper reaches of Market Street.  At Blackbird, we started our journey with the Carried Away, a refreshing concoction made with Rye Bread-Infused Cognac V.S., Cocchi Torino, Bonal, a splash of Benedictine and a dash of Peychaud’s Bitters – with just a hint of Absinthe to add something interesting.



Next, we wandered down the street to Elixir, one of my favorite whiskey bars in San Francisco.  With over 500 bottles lining the walls, it’s hard to focus on the task at hand, but owner H. has plans for us.   walking out the back door, through the pass through bathroom to what seemed like a speakeasy that never went out of style, we arrived at the Elixir classroom.  Here, H., an avid Cognac fan and educator, led us on a guided tasted of three distinct cognacs.

Once we were clear on the foundation of our drink, the mixologists at Elixir treated us to the Elixir of Cognac, a frothy tropically inspired punch with XO Cognac, Crème de Cassis, pineapple gum syrup and lemon juice.  To add the creamy froth, a bit of egg white is added in and the whole thing is shaken over ice.  Yum


Our next stop was Dalva, where we snuck through the back door to another, semi secret speakeasy type bar.  Here, while it was dimly lit, it was cozy with a few small tables and a well stocked and beautiful bar. This stop gave us the most pure drink so far, somewhat of a Cognac Manhattan if you will – or a Corpse Reviver #1.

At Dalva, this was The Cure For What Ails You – and it certain did!  I could have had many of these, a straight cocktail made with Cognac, Bonal, Fernet, whiskey bitters and some amazing smoked pear bitters.



Our next to last stop, and the last stop on foot, Wildhawk, was bustling and teeming with happy hour revelers.  Here, we departed the savory land for the somewhat sweet Kind of Fancy, with Cognac, Rye, Port, Yellow Chartreuse (people still use this this stuff?), and mole bitters.  I admit, this wasn’t my favorite, but I can see how enjoyable it would be on a cool fall day, particularly if you warmed it up a bit.


Our final stop required an Uber to meander through the hills of Bernal Heights, where we ended our tour at Holy Water.  Our last cocktail of the #congaccocktails crawl was a Stinger Royale, a minty, chocolatey wonder with cognac, Cremè de Menthe, Cremè de Cacao, Absinth (you fickle fairy you) and bitters.  It was rich and certainly served as dessert.

Sadly, I couldn’t get a good picture of this one, so be creative with your imagery.

My personal favorites were the first three stops, but there is a cocktail on this tour for everyone – and you get the added bonus of discovering some of the best craft cocktail bars the city has to fofer.  The best part?  Its only $30.  Have you ever had 5 cocktails for $30 in San Francisco – outside of a shot of well rye in a dive bar in the Tenderloin?


The Cognac Crawl continue through October 15th, so be sure to get your cocktail on and join int he fun!  Visit Good Passports to book yours today.

In New York?  There is a Manhattan version as well!

Special thanks to Teuwen Communications for the media preview, and H. from Elixir for joining the fun and providing a great Cognac class.

Cognac ain't whack!

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear cognac is a certain large scale brand, that is popular with the hip hop set.  You know the drill, they spend a ridiculous amount of cold cash for table service at a Miami nightclub.
Here’s what I know about Congac:  I know that cognac is a brandy, made in a specific region of France.  I also know that I’ve had a few delicious examples after some rather decadent French meals.
But, that is about all I know about cognac.  Why am I telling you this?  Well because I want to learn!  After all, Cognac is made from wine, and so I really should include it in this wine blog, as I explore all wine regions and try to understand more about the different aspects of distilled spirits made from the grape.  I’m also telling you this because the Cognac Board is holding a contest to send some lucky bloggers to tour the region, and I’d love to go learn more about this particularly unique piece of the world.
The specific region where Cognac is made in France is actually the town of Cognac.  Not to be confused with another region nearby that also makes brandy, a distilled brandy calling itself Cognac must be made from specific grapes grown in specific places distilled by specific people.  I think they might be Oompa Loompas actually.  The Cognac region is located on the western center edge of France, spreading out in to the coastal towns.  I don’t blame them for needing brandy!  It gets COLD there!
The most commonly used grape is Saint Emilion, aka Ugni Blanc.  What the heck is Ugni Blanc?  Apparently this white grape is also known as Trebbiano and Thalia, and is actually the most widely planted grape in France.  Mind you, most of the wines made from this grape are distilled in to industrial alcohol but well…The other grapes allowed to make the brandy are Folle Blanche and Colombard, but you can eye of newt, and up to 10% of FolignanJurançon blancMeslier St-François , SélectMontils or Sémillon.  Right, so the only grape that I know in there is Semillon.  Time to get studying!
The brandy part of Cognac is made by doubly distilling the white wines made from the grapes mentioned above.  The wines start out as very dry, acidic and frankly undrinkable, but by the time you distillit down, it’s nectar.  The first fermentation results in this dry white wine, with only about 8% ABV.  Now the magic happens.  Place said wine in a beautiful copper pot still.  Distill.  Twice!  The result is a clear brandy that is about 70% ABV.  How about that firewater kids!
To get the amber silk that is Cognac, the brandy is then distilled in oak casks.  Over two years, the angels get to imbibe in about 3% a year (the Angel’s Share is the amount of wine or other liquid hooch that is lost due to evaporation).  Those must be some very happy angels!  It takes about 5 years to reach the 40% ABV that is the end goal, some of the lowbrow producers can cheat a bit by adding water to the brandy.  Not so great, but it speeds up the process.
But wait!  We’re not done!  Cognac is blended beverage.  That  means that these single malts (ok fine I know they aren’t a malt but well it’s so much like the whisky process that this is what works in my wine blogger head) need to blended with other barrels.  Single Cognac Lot 12A meet Single Cognac Lot 45A!  He’s hot, isn’t he?  Now, like Vinnie, blend!  It’s the lucky job of the master taster (maître de chai), to assist in this marriage contract and blending.
By now, I am getting thirsty.  Are you?  There are so many grades of Cognac, much like Scotch whisky.  From the ordinary to the grande dame, you can get everything in between.  What’s better?  What’s worse?  I don’t know.  I am going to do some research to see what I think.  I wonder if airport bars have a decent selection.
Have a great Cognac Cocktail recipe?  Please share it in the comments!  Perhaps a Cognac Sazerac?  Cognac Manhattan?  Mmm that sounds good.  I better get to stocking up the bar this weekend!