From Paris To Cognac In 10 Sips

Some might call it a strange business: Imagine painstakingly crafting a spirit today that might not make it to the glass for 100 years or more, yet that's the cognac industry in a nutshell. This sense of delayed gratification — of obsession and tradition despite a global taste for novelty and a thirst for mass trends (we're looking at you, cotton candy vodka) — is precisely what cognac lovers might fail to realize about the premium drink with so much prestige, unless they find themselves smack dab in the heart of cognac country.

Click here to see the From Paris to Cognac in 10 Sips (Slideshow)

[pullquote:left] It's easy to fall for cognac, especially while touring ancient cognac houses and tasting the spirit with  master distillers — that's when the passion for its production really come alive. And spirits lovers who make the trek will soon realize that the cool amber liquid in their glasses — though technically either a VS (aged at least two years), VSOP (aged at least four years), or an XO (aged at least six years) — often contains eau de vie from three generations ago (and sometimes, from distillate more than 100 years old!).

This deep-rooted history permeates all things cognac, a fascinating contrast considering the spirit's place in current American pop culture (Nas, Snoop Lion, and Jay Z all have partnerships with major cognac brands). 

So whether you like it neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail — an increasingly popular option for mixologists and cocktail lovers in the United States in particular, where sales of the spirit increased 4.5 percent in 2012— tradition rules, and for good reason. Unlike in France's nearby winemaking regions, where vintage conditions alter a producer's wine year by year (beautiful Bordeaux is just 76 miles away), consistency across years is essential when creating the cognac that connoisseurs know and love.

Double-distilled in copper pot stills from eau de vie produced by local grape growers under strict regulations — Cognac is an AOC (or Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée), after all — cognac-makers must  adhere to stringent rules to call their finished product, which is technically a brandy, cognac. The rules are arguably a real pain in the derrière: Distillate can't be produced after March 31 following harvest, the spirit must be aged for at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais, and cognac must be 40 percent alcohol, but ultimately, the hard work pays off: All these efforts result in a drink that Victor Hugo once called "the elixir of the gods."

From armchair travelers ready for a vicarious visit to someone planning a trip tomorrow, we'll take fans of the beverage on a spirited journey from Paris to Cognac in 10 essential sips. The tasty trek begins in the City of Light, where cognac cocktails are gaining recognition, providing interesting bases and rich accents to mixed drinks, then tastes through the tipples on offer at all the major cognac houses in the region. There are cocktail recipes to try at home, must-try bottles to score, and touring tips to pore over, making this a boozy excursion you won't soon forget. Santé!