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.

Giving them the Finger

The Finger Lakes wine region in upstate New York, was not one that I expected to be drawn to.  I had always had that joke in my head that the Finger Lakes were low quality, high sugar, wines for the masses.  Happily, I can report that I was wrong.

Recently, I was invited to participate in TasteNY, where several bloggers around the country each were offered 12 Rieslings from the Finger Lakes to taste and share.  These were offered as no strings attached samples, and we were told that we could blog and tweet about if we wanted to, but the real goal was to get the word out that these wines existed and were an exciting region to explore.

Being from California, and more specifically, the Bay Area, where I have at least 4 wine growing regions nearby, I am somewhat narrowly focused on where my wines come from.  I like to taste things before I buy them, and it’s difficult tot find a place to taste such variety outside of the comfort of my own couch.  This has caused me to have a love affair with California wines, but also, more negatively, to live with wine blinders on.  For that reason, I always love the opportunity to taste outside of my comfort zone, and to share with friends.
The Finger Lakes area is New York state’s largest wine producing region, but certainly not the only.  There are more than 100 wineries and vineyards, that are clustered around the small Finger Lakes.  The climate that has developed as a result of the lake effect keeps the summer warmth in the soil through the winter, and mitigates the cold northern new York climate.  The grapes are naturally protected from frost, and results in a similar climate to the Alsace region of France and some parts of southern Germany.  The primary vinifera varitals that are produced here are Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc.  There are also some native American varietals produced here, but there are not as well known.

On the day I planned to taste these 12 wines, I invited several wine lovers and wine bloggers over to my house to help me drain the bottles.  The only thing I asked them to bring was food that would pair well with the wines, and we had some tasty tid bits as a result.  We of course had a lot of Thai food, something that is a natural pairing in my mind, as well as some excellent cheeses and other snacks.  The spicy Thai food really paired well with the wines, which ranged from bone dry and minerally, to slightly sweet and refreshing.

the 12 wines we experienced were:

  • Heron Hill Winery 2005 Old Vines Riesling
  • Ravines Wine Cellars 2006 Riesling
  • Red Newt Wine Cellars 2006 Reserve Riesling
  • Sheldrake Point 2006 Reserve Riesling
  • Atwater Vineyards 2007 Dry Riesling
  • Wiemer Vineyards 2007 Dry Riesling
  • Dr. Konstantin Frank 2007 Dry Riesling
  • Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards  2008 Homestead Reserve Riesling
  • Anthony Road Wine Company  2008 Semi-Dry Riesling
  • Billsboro Winery 2008 Dry Riesling
  • Fox Run Vineyards 2008 Riesling
  • Lamoreaux Landing 2008 Red Oak Vineyard Riesling

I did not take copious notes on this occasion, but I will tell you that my personal preference was for the dryer versions of the wine.  Even paired with the sweet spicy curries and sauces, the petrol, grapefruit and mineral characteristics of the bone dry Rieslings were refreshing and a lively alternative to Sauvignon Blanc.  All of these wines are value priced under $20, so they are very affordable as an everyday white that is not the standard Chardonnay or Sav Blanc which is de rigours.

I highly recommend that you go out to your local wine shop and seek out some of these wines.  I know I will!