There’s a longstanding visual that’s often associated with drinking Cognac. It involves an old, rich white guy in a smoking jacket sitting by a roaring fireplace, slowly and joylessly swirling the liquid in the broad-based snifter in his palm. Despite the category’s efforts to distance itself from this stuffy stereotype, it persists. This assumption does more than convey pretentiousness — it implies that Cognac is the forbidden fruit of the spirits world, unattainable unless you have deep pockets.
This is untrue: Cognac is for everyone, and for every budget. There are plenty of cost-effective Cognac options to enjoy with friends in your living room, either on its own or in a Sazerac or a Sidecar — you can even swap it in for the gin in a French 75 if you’re feeling saucy. Here, we asked a dozen bartenders to share their thoughts on the Cognacs that punch above their price tags — and punch a hole through its perceived stodginess.
The best bang-for-buck Cognacs, according to bartenders:
- Hennessy VS
- Frapin 1270
- Ansac VS
- Monnet Cognac VS
- Pierre Ferrand 1840
- Martell VSOP
- Remy Martin VSOP
- Remy Martin 1738 Accord Royal
- Cognac Park “Carte Blanche”
“Although it often gets a bad rap, one of my workhorse Cognacs is Hennessy VS. It’s a solidly made spirit with rounded sweetness, full-bodied fruit notes, and a touch of spice. It’s perfectly suited for cocktail use, as a highball with soda, or just a quick simple sipper.” —Matt Resler, bartender, Bar Goto, NYC
“One of our go-to bottles of Cognac recently has been Cognac Frapin 1270. The Frapin family’s centuries of experience in winemaking and distillation are evident when you taste this versatile Cognac. With its rich and round body, it’s well suited to stirred cocktails, and its subtle fruit and balance shine in a shaken drink. Unlike many of the larger producers, Frapin grows all of its Ugni Blanc grapes on their estate, making their Cognac a true expression of the terroir of the Grande Champagne sub-region.” —Liz Kelley, lead bartender, Cure, New Orleans
“I’d never been a fan of Cognac until one of my trusted liquor reps insisted I try Cognac Frapin 1270. It was life-changing; I immediately fell in love with it. The delicate yet well-rounded flavors of vanilla, dried fruits, and nuts have such a smooth finish. It makes it almost impossible for me to not want to enjoy a nice cigar and conversation while sipping it slowly to savor every taste.” —Ravin Buzzell, general manager & bar director, Argyle Restaurant, Ponte Verda Beach, Fla.
“Ansac VS Cognac. It isn’t very well known or used in American bars, but it’s a two-year-aged blend of grapes from the Petite Champagne and Fin Bois Cognac regions. It has great dry, nutty notes and some citrus, and it’s great to use in cocktails. You can order a bottle from Drizzly for about $20 at the moment, and it’s even cheaper if you can find it in a store. It’s a great place to start a Cognac backbar collection.” —Alex Barbatsis, bar director, The Whistler, Chicago
“With the price of many American whiskeys continually rising, Cognac is a great spirit category to call on when you are looking for a bold, oak-aged spirit to hold up in a cocktail. Many Cognacs, especially from smaller producers in the region, tend to outperform their price tag. Our go-to choice for our bar is Monnet Cognac VS. This exceptional spirit has become our favorite for both our classic and signature cocktail selections. With its smooth and rich flavor profile, Monnet Cognac adds depth and complexity that we weren’t finding with other Cognacs at a price point we could offer in a reasonably priced cocktail. We also wanted to make sure that it could be good enough to be proud to serve neat or on the rocks, and Monnet fits this exactly.” —Jamie White and Ben Clemons, co-owners, Tiger Bar and Pearl Diver, Nashville
“Pierre Ferrand 1840 is one of my favorite Cognacs of all time, price notwithstanding. Even after tasting it next to other Cognacs of a much higher price point, including very old age statements, it still ends up being my favorite most of the time. Because of its higher proof and reasonable cost, it stands up beautifully in cocktails, and it’s been my go-to for virtually every Cognac recipe I’ve made. While I think cocktails are where Pierre Ferrand 1840 really shines, my guests have always loved neat pours of it as well!” —Nathan Cover, bar supervisor, Mary Eddy’s, Oklahoma City, Okla.
“Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac. This unpretentious Cognac brand isn’t in the business of making fancy bottles. They’re in it to make simply great Cognac. Aged as long or longer than many currently marketed X.O. Cognacs, this [one] is delicate, elegant, and has the youthful freshness of a V.S. with some of the complexities of an X.O. As such, this Cognac is ideal for sipping and mixing. At only $50, this brand is worth every drop.” —Ismael Ponce, bar manager, The Up & Up, NYC
“For a rich, fruity Cognac that’s just superb for mixing or drinking on its own, Martell VSOP is outstanding. It has deep, dark fruit and a long finish that would normally be seen from a much longer aging time. This needn’t be a cocktail Cognac, but it certainly makes excellent drinks where the depth and elegance of Cognac is a necessity.” —Aaron DeFeo, bar director, Little Rituals, Phoenix
“Jumping into the ‘bang for your buck’ debate, my mind leaps to Rémy Martin VSOP. This Cognac is like that friend who crashes your bash with flair to spare. It’s not merely Cognac; it’s a chatterbox charmer and a taste bud’s bestie, and it’s gentle on the wallet. It’s subtly chic without yelling ‘I’m pricey!’ Toss Rémy into your cocktails, and it’s like a wink and a nudge: classy and slightly enigmatic, yet totally winsome. It melds in without taking over, injecting every sip with a sprinkle of sophistication. Rémy Martin VSOP is where delectable meets economical, [mastering] the art of savvy indulging!” —Jacob Mentel, co-owner, Gilly’s House of Cocktails, San Diego
“At its price point, Rémy Martin Napoléon 1738 Accord Royal is as good as you will find. It has a classic fine Champagne profile with the depth and richness of much pricier bottles. You will find plenty of toffee, dried fruit, and vanilla notes rounded out by toasted baking spices. The unusual amount of oak expressed in 1738 makes it an ideal introduction to the world of Cognac for a bourbon lover. It stands up in cocktails, but it’s light enough on its feet for highballs and spritzes. You can even throw it in a shot glass with a couple dashes of Peychaud’s for a fast Saz. An all-around banger.” —Thomas Thompson, bartender, Subject, NYC
“I feel like Cognac is making a comeback, and one of my favorites is Cognac Park VS Carte Blanche. It was created with the intention of going into cocktails. The flavor profile of this Cognac is bright and fun, with fruit and spice notes that are not overwhelming. It can work in both refreshing and direct cocktails, and it’s also great to use in those holiday drinks. A dessert cocktail using some cream, vanilla liqueur, a touch of Benedictine, and Carte Blanche with some freshly grated cinnamon on top is a great way to end the night. In general, Cognac Park has an amazing lineup of Cognacs that are all very different and creative. I highly recommend taking a look at the beautiful collection they have.” —Eliza Hoar, principal bartender, Equal Measure, Boston
“As someone who is not traditionally a Cognac drinker, I really enjoy Cognac Park VS Carte Blanche. It has these soft, delicate, subtle fruity notes that dance on the palate. The peppery finish gives the juice some lovely body and character. While it is quite affordable at around $35 retail, it drinks like it’s more expensive and sophisticated. Carte Blanche is great served neat, but the spirit blends well in stirred drinks and in sours. It’s a warm hug to the soul.” —Christine Kim, lead bartender, Service Bar, Washington, D.C.
*Image retrieved from Ievgenii Meyer via stock.adobe.com