What cheese is to Camembert, brandy is to cognac. While both liquors come from fruit, brandies can come from anywhere in the world, are made with a wide variety of fruits or fruit juice and are aged in a multitude of ways. Cognac, on the other hand, must jump through a long list of hoops in order to hold the name.
Made only from three, specific white grapes, cognac must come from one of six French regions. It must be distilled twice, aged for two years, made only in copper pots with oak from two specific forests, harvested only in October and distilled only during certain time periods.
Which is all to say that cognac is meant to be savored completely and served with thought.
Sip It Slowly, Neat
If you're ever going to have a drink neat, that is without water, ice or a mixer, cognac is the one to choose. You'll taste the oakiness in all cognacs, whether you drink a VS, or Very Special, two-year old cognac, a VSOP, Very Superior Old Pale, aged for four years, or an XO variety, aged for at least six years. You'll also detect the fruitiness from the grapes and the suggestion of nutmeg or cinnamon.
People used to drink cognac in very large brandy sniffers, and some people still do, in order to allow their hands to warm the liquor and bring out its flavor. But you don't need to do this. Instead, choose any short cocktail glass meant for drinks served neat.
Have a Cocktail
You can't go wrong with a cocktail made from cognac, whether it's a classic or an innovative newcomer. Make a traditional sidecar with cognac, orange-flavored Cointreau or triple sec liqueurs, lemon juice and simple syrup. Or try the French connection with cognac and almond-flavored Amaretto liqueur.
Emma Diab, food writer for "The Thrillist," reports on new cocktails for cognac, including the caffe berry with lime, blackberries and coffee, the Mediterranean with lemon, honey, yogurt and egg white, and the ginger snap with cinnamon, ginger and sparkling apple cider.
Enjoy a Mixer
If you enjoy a refreshingly cold cocktail served over ice in a tall glass, use your favorite mixer with cognac. While this is probably not the time to make use of that VSOP or XO bottle, any type of cognac works with a mixer. Cola, ginger ale, sparkling cider, sparkling water, Champagne or a sweet dessert wine are all possibilities.
Serve Appetizers Alongside
The same food pairings you would use for a cognac sauce work equally as well for appetizers to serve while you sip a cognac neat or a cognac cocktail. Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, authors of "The Flavor Bible," suggest pairing cognac with apples, chicken, chocolate, cream, foie gras, mushrooms, pork, prunes, raisins and vanilla. Turn these ingredients into healthy appetizers such as prunes stuffed with cream cheese, stuffed mushroom caps or apple slices with chocolate dipping sauce.