BarNone Drink Recipes Newsletter )
July Issue
In this issue
  • Cognac is Back! - Wine X Magazine
  • When in doubt, pour the good stuff - by Robert Plotkin
  • Search the Drink Recipe Database
  • Perfect for that summertime party - Suck and Blow Jello Shots!
  • Article Suggestions
  • Dear Great Reader,

    Hi and welcome to the BarNone Drinks Newsletter. We'll be collecting facts, reviews, articles and other features to send to you once a month. We hope you enjoy it.

    Dan Hutchinson

    Cognac is Back! - Wine X Magazine

    There are certain timeless classics that retain their allure in part because of their superior quality and corresponding prestige. Cognac is one of these things. The sophisticated appeal of cognac may stem from the fact that your grandfather savored it after dinner with a Macanudo cigar. Or it may simply be that cognac embodies the quality and cachet that attract people who seek out any item that sits firmly atop a pinnacle of distinction. Such classics are currently in vogue again, and a basic understanding of cognac may make you better appreciate what is arguably the finest distilled liquor in the world.

    First and foremost, an explanation of terminology is necessary. Cognac does indeed come from grapes. And cognac is, in fact, a type of brandy. However, while all cognac is brandy, not all brandy is cognac. Confusing? Not really. It's easier to follow than you think, and a little knowledge will at least illuminate your intellect and may help you in pleasing your palate.

    You can liken brandy to the plain blue blazer that was de rigeur in college and cognac to the Armani jacket that exudes elegance and sophistication when worn for a high-powered business meeting or over a white T-shirt for a night out with friends. The blue blazer is something you feel obligated to own and is easy to obtain; the Armani jacket you anticipate and ponder before indulging yourself.

    Cognac is all about panache, and if you pride yourself on having a refined sense of style, you might enjoy knowing about a drink that is the epitome of label consciousness. You should wear -- and drink -- what you like. Therein lies the telling truth of style. And if you can afford an Armani original, you may wish to savor a premier cognac, such as Louis XIII de Remy Martin, which retails for about $1,000 a bottle. If not be content knowing that any cognac, by nature, is the very finest and most closely regulated of brandies. In short, there are no bad cognacs. There's only what you like and don't like.

    Cognac takes its name from a small port town in western France on the Charente River, about one hundred miles north of Bordeaux. While the town has been a trading center for many centuries, the drink actually owes its existence to a fortuitous chain of accidents. As far back as the 15th century, French wines were regarded as the finest in Europe. During that era, Europe's predominant maritime powers (England and Holland) used to import French wine but found that it often broke down during the long sea voyages home. And even if it didn't, it was a bulky and space-consuming good. To prevent spoilage and save storage space, the French producers came up with the ideal solution: distill the wine, transport it, then add water before serving or selling it. So they distilled the wine from nine barrels into one, and because of the fire necessary for distilling the Dutch began referring to the product as wijnbranders (literally "wine burnt"). This, in turn, evolved into brandywijn and ultimately to brandy. It was some time later that the French appellation laws were enacted to mandate what qualifies the finest of French brandies as Cognac.

    Growing Area
    The Cognac district is one of only three officially designated brandy regions in Europe, along with Armagnac, France, and Jerez, Spain. Only brandies produced in Cognac and adhering to mandated guidelines may legally be designated cognac. The Cognac district is divided into six vineyard districts: the Grande Champagne (not to be confused with the Champagne region that gave its name to champagne), Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaires. All cognac must be produced from grapes grown and harvested within these regions.

    The only permissible varieties of grapes for cognac making are Folle Blanche, Colombard and Ugni-Blanc (known as Trebbiano in Italy) -- all white grape varieties. The majority of grapes used are Ugni-Blanc. The wine produced for cognac making is not a drinkable table wine but rather a light, highly acidic, low alcohol intermediate product produced specifically for cognac.

    Distillation Process
    The distillation process is a vital step in producing cognac, and unlike brandies around the world, cognac is double distilled. For the first distillation, the base wine is heated in copper kettles and passes as steam into a condensing coil. It is then cooled to form a milky liquid with an alcoholic strength of 27 percent to 30 percent. Cognac makers like to talk of this distillation process as conjuring the "soul" out of the wine. After the second distillation, a colorless, fruity liquid is produced, which is the infant cognac. This distillate is of a higher alcohol content but may not, by law, exceed 72 perecnt. When this distillate was exported centuries ago, it was referred to as eau de vie (water of life). In some areas of the world, this type of product is a consumable and marketable drink, somewhat similar in character to Italian grappa. To become cognac, however, a strictly mandated aging process is necessary.

    Aging Process
    Unlike many alcohols, brandy does not age in the bottle. Legally it must age in barrels prior to bottling. Great care is taken with the aging process with respect to what types of barrels may be used and how long it must be aged. Only certain types of French oak may be used for the barrels: Limousin, Allier, Troncais and Nevers. Cognac producers pride themselves on the craftsmanship of their barrels, and many retain their own craftsmen to ensure that their barrels are free from any synthetic materials, such as nails or glue, which interfere with the aging process and, ultimately, the flavor.

    The legal minimum period of oak aging is two and a half years, but the vast majority of cognacs mature much longer, and younger ones are generally blended with older batches in complex processes, one of a cognac artisan's most challenging proofs of craftsmanship. Some finer cognacs may be the result of blending as many as 50 cognacs in effort to achieve a house's desired flavor and maintain a uniform standard of taste and quality.

    Even though the aging process is paramount to cognac's quality, cognac makers rarely use vintage years as identification, preferring instead to use a lettering system. The ultimate test, is of course, how well you enjoy it. Cognac is not a drink meant to be consumed in volume. Rather, it's more of a special punctuation mark -- lasting pleasure or something to help you cap off an enjoyable evening with good company or savor long, introspective moments. When you feel like spoiling yourself, when you want to drink something considered the very best of its class, cognac may be just the drink for you. While you ponder your own good fortune, you might do well to ponder the role of the little grape that has given so much of itself to help us enjoy life. Reach across the table, clink your glass against your companion's, and appreciate the sound so that the oft-neglected ear might enjoy the sensation as well. In this way, your drink is able to touch all five senses. Toast the grape and its many gifts!

    The letter designations used in classifying cognac derive from English words, as it was formerly the English who were the primary consumers of cognac. The first (and youngest) designation, aged a minimum of two and a half years in barrels is:

  • VS -- Very Special
  • VSOP -- Very Superior Old Pale, minimum four years
  • NAPOLEON -- Minimum six years
  • X.O./EXTRA OLD-- Also minimum of six years, though most cognacs of this designation are much older, with the six year age denoting only the youngest cognacs used in the blend

    A cognac can only be designated with the classification of the youngest cognac used in the blend, so while a fine four-year old may be blended with a six- or eight-year-old, it will still be labeled VSOP, for the use of the four-year old cognac.

    The early brandies were crystal-clear in color until the 18th century, when France was engaged in one of the many European wars that put a temporary halt to the exporting of luxury beverages. The stalwart French wine producers stored their brandy in small oak barrels for the duration of the war, fully aware that after engaging in a long battle what a soldier really wanted was a good drink. Pillaging and plundering can build up quite a thirst. After several years, they opened the barrels, and the brandy had taken on color and flavor from the oak and become better tasting. Pleased with the new product, the cognac makers decided they didn't need an actual war to urge them to age their product and thus took to the process wholeheartedly, in war and peace.


    This article has been submitted by the great people over at Wine X Magazine. They've agreed to bring you a new article every month from one of their amazing writers. If you like living out on the edge and feel the Gen X isn't well represented in the world, have a really good look at Wine X magazine. They've also given us an offer you can't refuse if you're looking to subscribe: $15 for 6 issues. To experience the full magazine, Subscribe Here.

    Wine X is a young adult lifestyle magazine with wine and other beverages grafted on to it. With regular features on music, fashion, videos, books, travel and other relevant young adult culture, it's specifically designed to create a comfortable forum in which young adults can learn more about the tasty juice without the usual intimidation. In no other publication will you find a more concentrated effort to inform, entertain and enlighten a new generation of wine consumers with such a fresh, cutting-edge approach. At Wine X Magazine we believe that wine is not a lifestyle, its part of one.

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  • When in doubt, pour the good stuff - by Robert Plotkin

    Our latest Rober Plotkin article. Why serving that recognized brand will help your profits. Robert is the founder of

    For the past 17 years, Robert Plotkin, has been working to provide beverage operators with the right career tools they need to attain success. He has created the best management systems, tools, software and books available in the hospitality industry. His nationally acclaimed products are in the offices and behind the bars of the most successful hotels, nightclubs, restaurants and hot spots worldwide.

    Pour the 
good stuff and you'll never be disappointed

    There is a considerable difference between a genuine Rolex watch and those faux-Rolexes sold by sidewalk vendors. Sure they look similar, but that's about where the comparisons end. Brands such as Lexus, Sony, Macintosh, Mercedes, Waterford, Godiva and Armani gained their reputations for unparalleled quality over scores of generations. They are tried and true products, well worth the investment.

    Just as fake Rolexs are now readily available, there are many knock-offs of nearly every great brand name product. In a free economy such as ours, all you can really say to someone looking to get something of quality at bargain basement prices is "Buyer Beware."

    There are many liquors and liqueurs today that are knock-offs of reputable name brands. Their chief attribute is a reduced price. What they don't have is taste, quality and name recognition of the authentic product. This begs the question, why would a bar operator stock "cheater brands" when the real products cost only a few pennies more per ounce?

    In a day and age when Americans are drinking less, conning guests with these lesser clones makes little financial sense. Even if someone doesn't see what is being poured into his or her drink, and the substitution goes undetected, the servers fully appreciate the deceptive nature of the sleight-of- hand. These are challenging times for beverage operators and undoubtedly the practice of pouring cheater brands no longer makes sense, if it ever did.

    For example, there are several domestic coffee- flavored liqueurs on the market, however, the world long ago picked Kahla as the definitive coffee liqueur, and with good reason. It has been made in Mexico for nearly a century from a base of distilled pure cane sugar that is steeped with vanilla and mountain-grown Mexican coffee. Kahla steadfastly remains one of the best-selling liqueurs in the world and a favorite of mixologists around the globe. So why foist a lesser brand on guests?

    Guests will naturally presume that if an operator is cutting corners in the front of the house that the same thing is taking place in the back of the house. Cheater brands are not only lacking in quality and taste, they have no brand recognition or reputation for greatness.

    As the adage goes, always buy quality and you'll never be disappointed.

    Approximately half of your operation's liquor depletion will come from the well, and therefore, the quality and cost of the featured house liquors are of primary importance. Considerations when selecting well liquor include their perceived quality versus cost per ounce, the importance of name-brand recognition, the demographics of your clientele and the concept of your operation.

    Decades ago it was convention to feature inexpensive pouring brands in the well because they were cheap. It didn't matter that these liquors were fiery, harsh and virtually unknown products. Their low cost yielded excessively high profit margins.

    Today's business environment is nothing like it was. People are drinking less, but when they do drink, they want to drink the good stuff. There's no longer a profit potential in pouring cheap, unknown brands of spirits. The mantra today is don't serve your guests products that you wouldn't drink yourself.

    Semi-premium brands are a grade of spirits from the low cost-end of the call brands. These are name brand spirits that most consumers have heard of, yet they come with a reasonable price tag. Semi-premium brands usually cost $.35-$.50 per ounce and yield drink prices in the $3-$5 range.

    The advantages of featuring semi-premium liquors in the well include their moderate cost per ounce, enhanced quality and increased name-brand recognition. This grade of liquor is often marketed through P.O.S. displays ("We proudly pour...).

    Semi-premium brands are typically featured in operations where the clientele can be characterized as being value-consciousmeaning they're individuals willing to spend a little more to receive a better quality drink. Semi-premium wells are popular in mid- scale restaurants, bars and hotels, establishments that cater to people who are looking for a good drink at a reasonable price.

    It is highly likely that your guests would be willing to pay an extra quarter or two to get a drink made with quality spirits.

    When in doubt, pour the good stuff.

    Robert Plotkin is a well established writer. You can enjoy his work in print as well. Below is a book that may help you manage, or learn to manage your bar.

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    Perfect for that summertime party - Suck and Blow Jello Shots!

    Suck & Blow is a gelatin shooter encased in a plastic tube and in order to enjoy this stubborn shot, you'll need a partner.

    That's right, it takes two to tango with this tasty treat. One person to "SUCK" and another to help force out the shot with a little "BLOW". It's this interaction that makes Suck & Blow so popular.

    Preparation is a breeze and only takes a couple of minutes. Just mix the ingredients with your favorite alcoholic kick and pour into the tubes. Chill your full tube for an hour and your ready to Suck & Blow.

    Great fun for BARS, CLUBS, LARGE PARTIES, or any SOCIAL GATHERING where adults mix and mingle Suck & Blow, is the one shooter that will have your customers and/or guests coming back for more.

    Check out some great recipes for your Suck & Blow Jello Shooters on our website Bar None Drink Recipes.

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    Send us your suggestions and we'll see what we can come up with.

    Or alternatively, you think you have a great story and want it published. Drop us a line perhaps we can help you out.

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