Review of Ludacris' Conjure cognac, plus cocktail recipes

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[image-1]By way of a quick tutorial, cognac is simply brandy produced in a postage stamp-size region in France. Brandy is a distilled wine made from most any fruit – apples, grapes, pears. Don’t let yourself get confused by the alphabet soup of cognac classifications – VS, VSOP, XO. VS just means “very special.” VSOP is “very superior old pale.” XO stands for “extra old.”

For drinking straight, I wouldn’t go lower than VSOP. For cocktails, I wouldn’t typically go higher than VSOP, since XO also tends to be extra expensive, and its subtler charms will be masked in a cocktail. Hennessey and Remy Martin are good brands (about $40 and $45 a bottle, respectively). I particularly like Remy Martin.

Among the most iconic (and easy to make) cognac-based cocktails is the Sidecar. As with most good cocktails, this one has a nifty creation myth. Supposedly created in Paris during World War I, the Sidecar was named for a customer who was driven to and from the bar in a motorcycle sidecar. This classic cocktail tastes far more complex than its three ingredients would have you think. Note: this drink is sometimes garnished with a sugar-rimmed glass. If you want to do this, you’ll need some superfine sugar and a lemon wedge, to moisten the glass rim. If you don’t know how to rim a glass (see how naughty cocktails sound?!) you can look up how on the Internet.


2 ounces cognac

1/2 ounce Cointreau or Combier

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker, along with generous amount of ice cubes. Shake vigorously and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Another great cognac cocktail is the Saratoga Cocktail. Old-school, as in late 1800s, this one’s depth belies its trio of ingredients.

Saratoga Cocktail

1 ounce rye whiskey

1 ounce sweet vermouth (I like Punt e Mes or Carpano Antica, which can be hard to find)

1 ounce cognac

In mixing glass or shaker combine all ingredients. Fill with ice cubes. Stir energetically for 20 seconds and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

Few cognac cocktails are as festive as the French 76, brandy-based cousin of the French 75, made instead with gin and so named after the French World War I artillery gun.

French 76

2 ounces cognac

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

1/4 ounce simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, dissolved)

3 to 4 ounces of champagne or domestic sparkler (use good but not great bubbly)

In shaker combine all ingredients except for the champagne. Top with ice cubes and shake vigorously. Strain into champagne flute. Gently, very gently, so as not to cause it to foam up and overflow the glass – top with champagne.

I can’t think of a name more fitting for cognac than Conjure, a bottle of which I recently received. Mention of this booze tends to summon one of two very different (and equally cartoonish) images.

There’s the waspy dude in a smoking jacket, raising a snifter of amber liquid in toast to, say, cornering the world’s rhodium market. And there’s your young hip-hop mogul, celebrating a global hit song over drinks with 43 of his closest semi-clad female friends.

Conjure, a collaboration of Grammy-winning singer/actor Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and the 122-year-old cognac house Birkedal Hartmann, falls squarely into the rhapsodic rapper’s column. Not that this just some Crunk Juice ingredient (For those who don’t remember, Crunk Juice was a blend of cognac and energy drinks such as Red Bull that rappers raved about in the mid-2000s).

It’s good hooch, with a fair amount of spice and hints of apples, though a little sweet for drinking straight, I think. But it’s a smooth drink on its own for those who like it. And at around $34 a bottle, it’s far less expensive than most cognacs. Oh, and when you look closely at the bottle, you’ll see those designs are really tiny images of naked women.

Now, I like cognac straight. But there’s a whole tradition – and one that’s blessedly being revived in bars around the country – of making cocktails with it. And they’re also perfect during the holidays, especially when the weather’s nippy.

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