Cognac Cocktails with De Luze VSOP

I was recently lucky enough to find a bottle of De Luze VSOP Cognac in my possession and so thought I’d look at making some high-end Cognac cocktails.

Sidecar with De Luze VSOP cognac

First, here’s a little about the history behind this Cognac. In 1822, Baron Alfred De Luze founded a company that went onto purchase vineyards in Grande Champagne and Margaux; areas well-known for the quality of grapes produced there. This must have come through in the quality of their Cognac, because De Luze were granted the Royal Warrant by King Christian X of Denmark in 1927. More recently, in 2006, De Luze were bought by the Boinaud Family, which is the largest private wine growers of the Cognac Appellation (the region in France where wines used to produce Cognac must come from).

A Fine Champagne Cognac must have at least half of its Cognacs originating from the Grande Champagne region, specifically, but De Luze VSOP Fine Champagne is a blend with over 70% from this region. They are all between 10 and 12 years of age, with the oldest, according to the website, coming from the 1989 harvest.

So how does it taste?

Own
Smooth and flavourful, this has a rich and complex taste with a hint of crème brûlée and dried fruit, as well as some deeper notes, such as dark chocolate and cinnamon. This is definitely something that’s easy to sip and savour over an evening.

Sidecar
This was a superb drink: clean, crisp and tart. It was very fresh and the strong flavours of the Cognac come through, whilst remaining smooth. The drink remains vibrant, but well-rounded, with its sharpness offsetting the alcohol.

Sazerac with De Luze VSOP Cognac

Sazerac
Superb! Exceptionally smooth and mellow, with complex herbal notes, anise and a touch of vanilla at the end. It also had a great balance of warmth and refreshment, providing a drink that you can really just sink into, without being too heavy. The comforting finish ended with  a hint of ginger warmth, reminding me of a long, relaxing bath.

Thoroughbred
This is a fancy Horse’s Neck, made using Cognac instead of brandy and a high-end (imported, ooh la la!) ginger ale. Notably, Q-Ginger, from the folks that brought us Q-Tonic. This made yet another superb drink, being both complex and refreshing. The full flavour of the Cognac comes through, followed by citrus and a sweet, fruity zing. I found it to be less sweet and more sophisticated than a usual Horse’s Neck. Very classy.

Thoroughbred (Horse's Neck) with De Luze VSOP Cognac and Q Ginger Ale

Thoroughbred (Horse's Neck) with De Luze VSOP Cognac and Q Ginger Ale

Stinger
This is a cloudy light brown mixture, with the flavour of dark sugar and a menthol note at the end. As you drink it, it begins to clear in the glass and the flavours of the Cognac become more prominent, with the mint flavour taking a back seat. This a crisp and refreshing cocktail and a great alternative to an after dinner mint. I can see why James Bond enjoys it with coffee in ‘Diamonds are Forever’ (at the 21 Club in New York).

In Conclusion

Cognac is an excellent base for certain cocktails and is always worth considering when you want a drink where you can appreciate the underlying flavours. The Sidecar as always been a favourite of mine and I think it always will be. That said I love the Thoroughbred too!

Handmade Cocktail Company – Vintage Bottled Cocktails Reviewed

A selection of Old Bottled Cocktails

Today we’re looking at The Handmade Cocktail Company who make a range of bottled cocktails.
When some people think of “bottled cocktails”, they immediately think of pre-mixes; which are often overly sweet and watery. I’m still to find a decent canned Gin & Tonic.
But The Handmade Cocktail Company is a little different; it was started by Master of Malt*, the spirit retailer, and they take the same care making their bottled cocktail as you would when blending a whisky.

The idea of a bottled cocktail goes back over 100 years and Gordon’s did, for a time, offer an extensive collection of bottled cocktails, such as Martini, Manahttan, Bronx, Piccadilly and 50/50.

The Handmade Cocktail Company currently makes five varieties: Manhattan, Dry Martini, Sazerac, Negroni and the Rob Roy. Each bottle is labelled to indicate its year of manufacture, following the idea presented by the vintage and bottled-aged cocktails that are available at various bars in London.

The cocktails are designed to be stirred with ice and then strained in a cocktail glass, but, in the interest of thoroughness, we also tried them at room temperature and from the freezer.

#1) Manhattan (33.90% ABV)
Made with Straight Rye Whisky, a blend of three vermouths and some bitters.

At room temperature there was a nose of sweet rye, cherry and almond. It tasted like a freshly made cocktail and was rather good but it did have quite a bitter edge at the end, similar to Antica Formula.
From the freezer it was very smooth with some buttery wood and an intense herbal edge followed by a bitter finish. Rather complex.

Served as per the instructions:
The drink improved, it was till very complex and was a little more bitter than most Manhattans (very much a matter of taste) the rye was sweet and quite soft and the cherry and almond notes remained.

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#2) Gin Martini (40.30%)
This is made using “Premium Copper Pot-Still Gin, with just a splash of the very best dry vermouth.”

Sipped at room temperature, there was juniper and citrus on the nose, but when sipped it tasted very much like Gin; it really illustrated how temperature is an important aspect in the mixing of a good Martini.
Things were improved when it was served straight from the freezer: the drink was cool and crisp with a slightly sweet element at the end. It still seemed very dry and I couldn’t really taste any vermouth.

Served as per the instructions:
The cocktail really opened up; there was still citrus and juniper, but the vermouth was more prominent and this really tasted like a Martini. This just goes to show why both temperature and a touch of dilution are important when making a Martini.

The Martini is the only bottled cocktail I’ve ever tried before (one by Gordon’s and I thought that that, too, was pretty good). It is undoubtedly a challenge, as most fans of the drink have their own particular recipes, but the balance between Dry and Wet Martinis seems to have been achieved and I think this will, overall, be a people-pleaser.

#3) Sazerac (38.40% ABV)

“Made using a 50:50 mix of Straight Rye Whiskey and VSOP Cognac, naturally sweetened, with a healthy dose of Peychaud’s bitters and just a splash of Absinthe.”

At room temperature, I was getting whisky, anise and a touch of coconut on the nose and a delicious, complex and smooth taste with hint of wood, whisky and anis.

From the freezer, the drink became crisp with some butteryness from the whisky and warmth and herbal sweetness. Even at this stage, it is one of the best I’ve had.

Served as per the instructions:
The drink is a textbook Sazerac. Superbly smooth, with wood, butter and whisky, along with herbal and sweet anise notes, all wrapped up to give it a wonderful complexity and lasting finish.

#4) Negroni (25.40% ABV)

“Made using premium-strength gin, distilled in England in copper pot-stills, this Negroni also uses premium Sweet Vermouth, and equal measures of Campari and Aperol for a balanced flavour. “

At room temperature, this was quite rich and had a nice mouth feel; there was some bitterness and a long finish, but it was, overall, well-balanced.

From the freezer, the drink improved and seemed to melt on the tongue. It was packed with flavour and was very good indeed.

Served as per the instructions:

Very enjoyable, with just the right balance of sweet vs. bitter and was easy to drink. A good example of a Negroni.

One of the suggested advantages of having pre-mixed cocktails that contain vermouth is that the danger of your drink being ruined by a “fusty or tired vermouth” (i.e. one that has oxidised) is mitigated. Indeed, according to The Handmade Cocktail Company’s website, a 6 month old Bottled Martini has beaten a freshly mixed one in a blind taste test, six votes to one. A test I’d certainly like to try!

In Conclusion

I really enjoyed trying these and I think that the Handmade cocktail Company are doing there bit to get people to rethink their prejudice of pre-mix and bottled cocktails. These products are certainly a good way to be able to enjoy quality cocktails, easily at home. The resounding favourite of me and Mrs B. was the Sazerac, overall it was one of the best I’ve ever had and certainly competes with the freshly mixed.

*One thing I really like about Master of Malt is that they offer small samples of Whisky for sale. So for a few pound you can try an £80 Whisky before you buy a full bottle. They also make some tasty Whisky liqueurs a review of the 10yr Old can be found here.

Millionaire’s Cocktails

 

From Left-Right: Millionaire Sazerac, Millionaire Martini, Millionaire Manhattan, Millionaire Bramble, Millionaire Gimlet, Millionaire Brandy Alexander, Millionaire's Sidecar

During London Cocktail Week, I was told about “Millionaire’s” cocktails; these are essentially variations of any cocktail that are made as usual, but topped up with a small amount of champagne. Thus you can add a “touch of glamour” to any drink by making it a Millionaire’s version.

For example:

Millionaire’s Manhattan:

2oz Rye Whisky

1oz Red Vermouth

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a glass (making sure that the drink does not fill the glass).

Top up the cocktail with 1oz of Champagne.

With New Year’s Eve around the corner, I thought it would be fitting to look at some Millionaire’s cocktails so that you might be best equipped to try one on the big night.

Millionaire’s Martini
(Using Brokers Export Gin & Home Made Vermouth, 6:1 Ratio, Stirred)
As a Martini fan, I was intrigued to try this, although I am aware that some folk may see this as an abomination akin to the Death in the Afternoon.
It’s fair to say that I didn’t hold out much hope for the taste, but I was wrong: it wasn’t the best, but worked surprisingly well. It produced a very dry drink with the dry vermouth and dry Champagne working together; it may, in fact, be a touch too dry for some. I also quite liked the addition of bubbles.

Millionaire’s Sazerac
This definitely works and goes beyond the novelty of adding Champagne. It gives the cocktail a lighter feel. You meet the flavours of the whisky and anise at the beginning, with the taste of the bubbly coming through at the end. This reminded Mrs. B of liquorice; it is possible that the bubbles brought out the flavour of the absinthe rinse. An easy way to create an enjoyable drink and one worth trying.

Millionaire’s Manhattan
Very disappointing – the worst of the bunch. A clash of different flavours, which then disappear, resulting in a drink that is altogether rather dull. Neither the Champagne nor the cocktail does well here. Avoid.

Millionaire’s Bramble
Another triumph for the Bramble: the Champagne lengthens the drink without taking away the flavour of the ingredients; it all was nicely balanced. I thought this was a version of the original to be kept for special occasions, which is exactly what I think a Millionaire’s cocktail should be. If you usually find the Bramble too sweet, this may be a nice variation.
I also recommend straining out the crushed ice (or adding a straw), in order to make it easier to drink.

Millionaire’s Sidecar
Really very good – refreshing, with a little bite. The bubbles of the Champagne go well with the slightly sherberty flavour of the Sidecar. Once again, this could be a cocktail in its own right and not just a novelty. It is worth noting that, once the tasting was over, this was the first of the cocktails to be finished.

Millionaire’s Gimlet
The extra fizz is welcome; I do occasionally add a splash of soda to my Gimlets to give it a little extra zip. The drink is fresh and rather sippable. Despite its strong-flavoured ingredients, the Gimlet does still let some of the Champagne flavours through. Probably our third favourite.

Millionaire’s Panama (Brandy Alexander)
The reaction of the cream and Champagne made the top of this look a bit like meringue – how novel! Beyond that, it’s not that great. Although not unpleasant, it’s half-way to being a Ramos Gin Fizz, but doesn’t quite make it.

Conclusion
After trying a variety of Millionaire’s cocktails, it certainly seems that some work better than others and that, typically, the simple ones work the best. Our top recommendations for trying on December 31st would be the Sidecar, Gimlet & Sazerac. Either way, have an enjoyable New Year’s Eve.