How to Drink Cognac the Connoisseurs’ Way
Enjoy cognac the connoisseurs’ way: spirits expert Jay Bradley shows us how it’s done
When Shannon Sharpe first came up with the concept for Le Portier, he knew that Irish whiskey expert, master distiller, and spirits connoisseur Jay Bradley was the man to bring it to life. Jay had founded The Craft Irish Whiskey Co. with two goals in mind: to honor his father’s legacy, and to bring premium Irish whiskey back around the world.
The Craft Irish Whiskey Co.’s first releases have redefined Irish whiskey, if not the whole luxury whiskey category, and made Jay one of the leading figures in the Irish whiskey revival – a decidedly fitting tribute to his father’s dreams. Dedicated to family, craft, and vision, Jay understood Shannon’s inspiration immediately and used his expertise to take it to that next level.
Jay’s knowledge of cognac is second to none, so he’s shared the definitive guide to enjoying cognac the connoisseur’s way. Discover what he had to say, in his own words, and raise a glass.
Jay Bradley’s Guide to Enjoying Cognac like a Connoisseur
Irish whiskey may be my life’s work, but cognac has always been a passion of mine. And they’re not as different as you might think – though cognac claims its roots in France, legend has it that it owes its current luxury status to an Irish whiskey distiller. When he was sent abroad to France, the distiller recognised that the processes for distilling Irish whiskey and the local wine spirit were remarkably similar. He set to work applying his whiskey craft expertise to this regional spirit, and an international icon was born.
Crafting Irish whiskey, I always had this story in the back of my mind. Working as a distiller myself, I began to recognise those same similarities between the two spirits and understand how this transformation had taken place. Cognac may start with grapes and whiskey with grains, but once the two are prepared, they are both distilled at least twice then allowed to mature in wood barrels.
These barrels are what give the spirits their characteristic flavors. By law, Irish whiskey must mature in wood barrels, but the distiller has some licence in choosing the wood or working with coopers to produce bespoke barrels that will impart the new spirit with particular flavors. Cognac regulations are far stricter: new spirit can only be matured in virgin oak casks or casks that have previously held eaux-de-vie, wine, or other aged grape-based products.
While whiskey may spend time in a few different barrels to achieve its final matured flavour, a cognac will spend its whole maturation period, from two years for a VS (Very Special) to over 14 for an XXO (Extra Extra Old), in the same barrel. Once a cask has matured, its contents are transferred to a glass vessel called a bonbonne, where it will await its final blend by the house’s maître de chai (master taster).
So how does one craft a modern international icon? By working with one, and taking the spirit back to its roots – bringing my passion for Irish whiskey and distillery expertise to the masters of cognac craft in France, then infusing it with the spirit of success that could only have matured in America. Shay by Le Portier is the result of this collaboration, of bringing out the best in each other to create a cognac that anticipates the future with reverence for its history.
Whether you’re trying cognac for the first time or you’re a lifelong connoisseur, we’ve put together our guide to enjoying cognac.
Go for the right glassware
When we picture someone enjoying cognac, we’re probably thinking of someone holding a big balloon snifter of the spirit. And for a long time, this was considered the ideal way to drink cognac.
Back when people would store cognac in their wine cellars, snifters made it possible for the spirit to come up to room temperature quickly. A snifter fitted perfectly into the drinker’s hand, which would lend just enough heat to get the cognac up to its ideal temperature and release some of the aromas of the spirit.
Today, cognac is usually stored and served at room temperature. If you warm it up, you risk releasing more alcohol vapors than aromatics. A snifter is wider at the base than at the top, so those vapors will stay in the glass and rather than spicy, fruity notes that the master taster has crafted, the first thing you’ll experience will be those vapors.
Instead, cognac connoisseurs now favor the tulip glass. Think of them as the un-snifter – wider at the top than the base, tulip glasses allow for an ideal cognac experience. The base gives the spirit ample surface area to breathe and release those finely-crafted aromas, and the narrower lip directs those aromas up to you to ensure you’ll taste the cognac as it was intended.
How to Drink Cognac
Now that you have the right glassware, pour a little cognac into the base of your tulip glass. Raise the glass and breathe in deeply. Rich, spicy, fruity – these notes are likely to be on the nose of a fine cognac. We crafted Shay by Le Portier to have rich notes of blackcurrant and caramelized apple.
With these aromas in mind, try taking a sip of your cognac neat. Feel the silkiness and warmth, and taste the notes of sweetness, citrus, and spice. Shay by Le Portier begins with butterscotch before giving way to dried fruits and a suggestion of spice. Finally, take note of the finish, and any flavors that may be completing the tasting experience – in Shay by Le Portier, these are orange zest and a suggestion of aniseed.
Once you’ve gotten familiar with the flavors and the experience of drinking cognac, you may want to explore other ways of enjoying this spirit. If you’re usually a whiskey drinker, your first instinct may be to add a couple of ice cubes or a splash of water, but we’d advise against that. You can add a drop or two of water to open up some of the flavors, but an ice cube will dilute the cognac too far and eliminate many of the spirit’s delicate intricacies.
When it comes to fine cognac, enjoying it neat will give you the most complete experience of the spirit as it was intended, but there are a number of modern and classic cocktails that use cognac as a base or alongside other spirits. Get inspiration with our choices for cognac cocktails, or learn how Shannon enjoys his cognac.