(n.) This grape brandy is made in the Charente region of France. The Dutch invented cognac in the 17th century after experimenting with different types of French wine as a distillate before deciding the examples from the Cognac region worked best. Growers began to produce grapes specifically for distillation of brandy and the center of production moved to the region. Cognac production thrived in France until phylloxera, a grapevine pest, devastated the vineyards in the late 19th century. It took until after World War II to recover, and the spirit gained traction on export markets to Asia and the United States.
Due to intense consolidation in the 20th century, over 90 percent of the production is now owned by the four major brands: Hennessey, Remy Martin, Courvoisier and Martell. There are, however, some small grower-producers left who are worth searching out, most notably Navarre, Dudognon and Paul Beau.
Only certain grapes may be used to make the base spirit; ugni blanc, folle blanche and colombard are the most common. After pressing, the grape juice ferments by wild yeast and is then double distilled in copper alembic stills. The spirit is aged in oak casks for at least two years, then moved to glass carboys to await blending. Most producers blend the spirit from among several vintages to achieve a consistent house style, though a few make single-vintage examples.
There are several levels of classification, based on the age of the youngest spirit in the bottle: V.S. (very special) indicates two years of age, V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) has at least four years, and X.O. (Extra Old) means that the youngest spirit has been aged for at least six years, though often much longer.
While cognac is typically consumed neat, as a digestif, it also makes an appearance in some important cocktails, such as the Sidecar and the French 75, as well as basic mixed drinks, such as a cognac and Coca-Cola.