A Brief History of Cognac

A Brief History of Cognac

From rappers to royalty and everyone in between, Cognac definitely has it’s claim to fame. But where does Cognac come from? Who invented it? Let’s dive tongue first into this French national treasure.

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KRISTA: Cognac! The Spirit of the aristocracy, cosmopolitan ladies in fancy hats, and la-di-da gentlemen. Jay Z even launched his own celebrity brand! How cool is that?

NAPOLEON: Excuse moi? I was the first celebrity with his own brand of Cognac! Who is Jay Z?

KRISTA: He’s like the most famous rapper and producer?

NAPOLEON: I see. But did he conquer half of Europe?

KRISTA: Point taken. So, what was your brand?

NAPOLEON: The magnificent Courvoisier.

KRISTA: Oh, Busta Rhymes had a song about it.

NAPOLEON: WHO IS BUSTA RHYMES? I don’t know these people, I died in 1821. S'il vous plaît!

KRISTA: Sorry, carry on.

NAPOLEON: So – Courvoisier. It is said I was always fully stocked with Cognac and even had my own mobile liquor box. When they wrongfully exiled me, I took a buttload of Cognac with me to St. Helena. Courvoisier was always with me. They even called themselves “The Brandy of Napoleon” in the 1950s ads!

KRISTA (browsing on her phone): Bonaparte...? It says here Courvoisier was established 24 years after you died and you didn’t even drink alcohol.

NAPOLEON: Ah, details! … How do you even know that?

KRISTA: Look, I know you were a big deal, being all badass and stuff, but I need to start my show. Could you…?

NAPOLEON: Go away?

KRISTA: That would be great.

NAPOLEON: Yeah, sure, one of the greatest rulers in history, and I have to…

KRISTA (shuts him off with a remote): There. Always yapping, am I right? Let’s begin. Hi, everyone, I’m Krista Curry, and you probably figured it out, this is A Brief History of Cognac.
Subscribe to our channel and hit that bell button. Beware that side effects include a more fun and boozy feed with chances of learning new stuff. And meeting dead kings, it appears.
Now, let’s parle Cognac!

Cognac, Qu’Est-ce que c’est?

So, what is Cognac anyway? Simply put, it’s a type of Brandy made in and around the French commune of Cognac, 25 miles southwest from Paris.

NAPOLEON (interrupts): That’s not good enough, mademoiselle! Cognac is a strictly-regulated Spirit produced by double-distilling white wine in Charentais copper pot stills between October 1 and March 31.

KRISTA: It’s you again... Aren’t there more rules, though?

NAPOLEON: Absolutement! There are particular grapes that can be used, but to be considered an – as you Millennials call it – the O.G. of Cognac, it needs to be 90% Ugni Blanc grape. AND you have to age it for at least two years in oak that can only come from two specific forests in France: Limousin and Tronçais.

KRISTA: Man, there are more rules than in football!

NAPOLEON: What’s football?

KRISTA: Never mind. Let’s talk geography for a second. See, the region of Cognac has six sub-regions or “crus,” each with its own characteristics that affect the flavor: Grande Champagne, which is “The Premier Cru;” Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, Bois Ordinaires, Bois à terroirs. So, if you make Cognac in your backyard in South Dakota, it’s just a basic Brandy. Sorry.


Now, the French have been making wine since the third century, but the idea of throwing it in still came up much later, in the 16th century.

The Dutch merchants, who bought salt in the region, adored the local wine. But wine goes bad during long trips, so they figured they should distill it.

The newly-forged Spirit was called “Brandwijn,” which is literally “burned wine” - and where the word Brandy comes from.

Then, it took 200 years for people to realize putting Brandy into oak barrels makes it taste better, and right around that time, “Cogniack Brandy” was mentioned for the first time in a London newspaper.

The era of Cognac began, and names like Hennessy, Hine, and Remy Martin started popping up. They sold Cognac all over the world, and the future seemed bright.

Just kidding - disaster struck and everything went south.

NAPOLEON: Yeah, in the 1870s, an insect wreaked havoc in French vineyards, completely shutting down the industry. The bug was to Cognac what I was to Europe!

KRISTA: Come on. You ruled for what, 20 years, while Cognac didn’t come back for almost seven decades. See, the Italians and Germans took advantage of the disaster and flooded the market with fake Cognac. Plus, Whiskey became a hit.
Cognac was dead until healthy American grapevines were brought to France, and the production could start again.
But how did Cognac become so big in the US of A?

The American Tour

In 2016, the Americans bought almost 180 million bottles of Cognac, and we *really* love it.

NAPOLEON: That’s true. Us French don’t really care much about Cognac. We export 97% - half of it to the States.

KRISTA: Yeah, and you gave tons of it to the American soldiers during World War II as a sign of gratitude. That’s where you hooked them.
The brands knew that, so they targeted young Americans with special campaigns, and changed Cognac’s reputation from being a drink for old geezers to being a sophisticated Spirit for the youth.
After Busta Rhymes released his hit song “Pass the Courvoisier,” the brand’s sales jumped 30%!

NAPOLEON: By the way, Busta Rhymes did sing about Courvoisier, but only because it sounded good. He was more of a Hennessy guy.

KRISTA: You don't know WHO Busta Rhymes is, but you know THAT fact.

NAPOLEON: I don't know what to tell you. I have a weird memory.

KRISTA: Yeah, *that* is what's weird about all of this. Look, you don't need a fancy aristocratic title like some… (sarcastic) Napoleon Bonaparte.


KRISTA: It’s just a drink! Taste, experiment, and find your favorite. Keep it simple.
Do throw in a couple of French words for fun, though.
Au revoir!

NAPOLEON: Oh, and if you liked this video, like it and subscribe to the channel. Also, if you tried Cognac before, do tell us which one’s your favorite in the comments.
Now go and leave this emperor alone. Bye!

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