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Think You Know Cognac? You Need to Try These Three Bottles

The biggest names in Cognac need no introduction. These three brands bring something different to the spirit category in the best ways.


Cognac has been one of the foundations of American cocktail culture since the beginning. Classics made with the French spirit like the brandy crusta, vieux carré, and original sazerac–all created in the heavily French-influenced New Orleans–were listed in some of the first cocktail books that made the rounds and defined menus in the 1800s.

Modern drinkers in the United States drink far more whiskey and tequila than Cognac (or any brandy for that matter). Part of this is due to supply and demand: Only a small region in France can produce Cognac, and about 95 percent of production is exported, with the US as the biggest importer. Yet there are few spirits that can match Cognac when it comes to something that is as consistently delicious on its own as it is versatile when mixed with other ingredients (and no, not all Cognac is expensive).

How to Drink Cognac

In 2019, I visited the Cognac region of France, where Cognac houses line the Charente River and the vineyards that supply the grapes for the spirit are plentiful. In the town of Cognac, new hotels and splashy cocktail bars pointed to a worldly outlook on life among the fewer than 20,000 permanent residents. In France, bartenders told me, people don’t appreciate Cognac cocktails as much as they do stateside, but it was a growing trend.

There’s really no wrong way to enjoy the spirit. Do as the French do and sip it neat (there’s nothing inherently wrong with the traditional balloon-shaped snifter, but truthfully any glass will do). Or do as the early Americans and countless after them and mix it into a classic cocktail or spritz it up with some soda water or Champagne for a French 75.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that Cognac is solely an after-dinner drink. Cognac is an anytime spirit. It’s light enough to enjoy chilled or on the rocks on a hot day, and complex enough to sip slowly by a campfire. Tall Cognac drinks pair just as nicely with the region’s classic oysters, bulots (sea snails), and truffle-filled dishes as they do with a selection of cheeses.

Cognac Bottles to Add to Your Bar Cart

There are the names in Cognac that Americans need no introduction to thanks to a strong presence in music and culture: Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Martell, and Courvoisier, to name a few. Those brands also produce the vast majority of Cognac released every year. But the world of Cognac is much wider.

Between Cognac and the neighboring town of Jarnac, producers are making innovative bottles that very well could become your new favorite go-to bottle. These three picks will help you branch out from the Cognac you think you know.


HINE originally caught my eye for being one of few Cognac brands that releases vintages and unblended single estate bottles in a category that heavily relies on the skill of master blenders. Those bottles rightfully have a starting price in the hundreds. HINE, however, also makes more affordable blends that are just as good as any. HINE Rare is the brand’s benchmark and uses top-quality grapes from the Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne growing regions in Cognac. The aroma and taste is full of stone fruit and melon that’s balanced by a gentle nutty, cooked vanilla finish from the barrel.

Buy: $69.99
Bourgoin Cognac V.S.O.P.
Bourgoin Cognac V.S.O.P.

Bourgoin is to Cognac what a small craft brewery is to Anheuser-Busch. The brand is led by fourth-generation grape grower and distiller Frédéric Bourgoin, who brings an artisan’s approach to distillation that embraces the year-to-year differences his organically farmed grapes express. Think of a bottle of Bourgoin V.S.O.P. as you would a well-made natural wine–the base wine for the Cognac is, in fact, made with indigenous yeasts and skips added sulfites, acidification, and malolactic fermentation. The final spirit is unfiltered without any added sugars or coloring. The result is a spirit filled with banana, fruit, baking spice, and bread notes.

Buy: $79.99
Camus VSOP
Camus VSOP

Camus is the largest independent, family owned Cognac house with a history dating back to 1863. Luxury is clear from the branding to what’s inside the bottle. That doesn’t always mean a luxury price tag, however. The brand puts “intensely aromatic” in the name for its VSOP for a reason. The heavily floral spirit has notes of tropical fruit, baking spices, and vanilla.

Buy: $68.99