Camus Cognac primer
There’s always a bottle of cognac on our bar, just in case the Sidecar mood strikes, but I’ve never thought much about using it anything else. That changed yesterday, thanks to a Camus Cognac tasting hosted by the Kansas City Bartenders Alliance yesterday at The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange.
Manny Burnichon, U.S. market sales director for Camus (pronounced cam-oo) was on-hand to explain the ins and outs of the spirit. This much I knew: cognac is a brandy distilled according to strict guidelines in France’s Cognac appellation, and the market is generally controlled by massive brands such as Remy and Hennessy.
What I didn’t know? Anything about Camus, other than its Missouri wholesaler, Paul Lipske of Classique Wine and Spirits, is a fan.
What did I learn? Founded in 1863, Camus is the fifth-largest cognac producer in the world. Owner Cyril Camus is the fifth generation to guide the company. And four of its very tasty cognacs, perfect for sipping or mixing, have just landed in Kansas City. Here’s the rundown:
VSOP Elegance: weightier than the VS, and spicier, too, but still smooth and fragrant, with sweet oak and fruit notes.
XO Elegance: the official tasting notes call it rich and soft, with “hints of vanilla, candied fruits, liquorice and mild oak.” I’m sure it is all that, but we didn’t taste this one neat—it was instead mixed into a fabulous Sazerac.
XO Borderies: a single-vineyard blend of cognacs, all from the Borderies region of Cognac, averaging 30 years in age. Rounded and complex—nutty, floral and spicy all at once. Delicious, and only available at bars and restaurants like Bluestem, Grünaeur, The Rieger and Dog Nuvo, according to Lipske.
- But back to the cocktails. I do love a Sidecar made with equal portions of cognac, Cointreau and freshly squeezed lemon juice. That’s certainly what came to mind as I sipped Maybee’s punch. He culled the recipe from David Wondrich’s Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, and it was dangerously refreshing, the tart-sweetness offset by house-made tea bitters (in lieu of the originally called-for nutmeg).
It got me wondering what other cocktails cognac could slip into. Between the Sheets, certainly. Perhaps a Manhattan. Lipske recommends trying it any brown-spirit drink.
It’s certainly worth exploring, but, in the meantime, here’s Wondrich’s recipe for Major Bird’s Brandy Punch should you feel like buying a bottle of Camus and having a go at it yourself:
Begin with an oleo-saccharaum* of four lemons and 1 cup fine-grained raw sugar, such as Florida Crystals. Add 8 ounces lemon juice and stir until sugar has dissolved. Add 1 quart VS-grade cognac and 2 quarts cool water. Grate nutmeg on top.
*Oleo-saccharaum. Ah, the phrases cocktail historians dig up. This one refers to a way of using sugar to draw essential out of lemon peel. The process is useful in concocting punches and not nearly as intimidating as its name. Here’s how Wondrich says to do it: peel the fruit with a sharp, swivel-bladed peeler, trying to get as little of the white pith as possible. Muddle the peels firmly in a sturdy bowl along with two ounces of sugar per peel. Leave it to sit in a warm place for at least half an hour, and preferably twice that. Muddle the peels again to incorporate the oils into the sugar, and then use.