Why Cognac Deserves Its Own Holiday


June 4th is National Cognac Day, and although Congress has not yet recognized it as an official holiday, it’s on a Saturday so you might not have to call in sick to observe it. Here’s why it’s a holiday in any self-respecting oenophile’s book.

Cognac was a happy accident

Washington and a cherry tree. Frankenstein and lightning. Batman and dead parents. Like all legends who have their own day, Cognac’s virtues have a point of origin. While it’s come to symbolize success and refinement, Cognac was created by accident from French attempts to dissolve wine's biggest drawback: the part that isn't wine. 

See, Cognac came to be after French farmers started removing water from their wine to make it more portable for journeys, and, consequently, cheaper when taxed by volume. But far be it from Frenchmen to let a little thing like solidity stop them from drinking something. It was soon discovered this now twice-distilled wine was a rather tasty beverage. Just add some oak cask aging, and behold! A brand new spirit was created!

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It’s a uniter, not a divider

The number one consumers of Cognac are China and the U.S. because we know a good thing when we see, smell, taste, and feel it. You could listen to Cognac, too, but honestly, its audio properties are the least of its assets. The flavor’s where it’s at.

In China, Cognac found popularity as a status symbol, and in America, the rise in sales can be traced to the rap endorsements of Busta Rhymes, Nas, and Jay-Z, who all extolled its virtues in rhyme and/or through public consumption. Actually, some argue the larger black community’s embrace of Cognac started even earlier, with black American troops who tasted the liquor while stationed in France. (Which seems the least France could give in return for Josephine Baker.)

How special does a French product have to be to unite the Chinese and American black communities?  What else could do that? A buddy comedy set during the French revolution starring Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan? It’s just unheard of and truly deserving of a holiday.

Jack Sullivan/Alamy

National Cognac Day gives America its French holiday

Cinco de Mayo has the margarita. St. Patrick’s Day has the poorly named car bomb. The Kentucky Derby has the mint julep, and that’s not even a cultural holiday; it’s just two minutes of horses getting flogged. The point is America has a long history of turning foreign food and drink into fun holidays. Why shouldn’t Cognac be commemorated with its own day? 

It’s time we raise our own Americanized holiday to a French spirit. As noted above, the U.S. consumes more Cognac than China, we’ve got every right to seize National Cognac Day for our own hurrahs.

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Whether you’re making a sidecar or enjoying the spirit on its own, celebrate National Cognac Day with the experts. Rémy Martin has been bottling Cognac for almost 300 years. Now that’s a time to toast.

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Late spring is the perfect time for cognac

Cognac thrives in warm weather, so you can sip it at your leisure rather than race the ice to the bottom before it waters down your drink. And anyway, if you’re buying the higher end stuff, you’re going to want to drink it straight because mixing and adding ice or water is more for your shorter-aged Cognacs.

First, you can pour it into a tumbler or tulip glass, which is fun in itself. Or you can pull a Jay-Z and pour it into your 2013 Grammy, but keep a regular glass on hand just in case you don’t win one this year.

Late spring is about the only time of year we get to enjoy pleasant 70-degree days. And guess what the perfect temperature is for bringing out the joyful flavors of Cognac?

If you’re cursed to live in a cold part of the country on June 4th, experts suggest that before drinking, you warm the Cognac by holding the glass in your hand for ten minutes. You can pass that time and impress the group by guessing the age of the Cognac by the shade of color it reflects: a straw yellow color indicates younger Cognacs; an amber hue indicates older. (Note: this technique only works in translucent glasses and not Grammy trophies).

Now because spring is all about impressing people you want to lock lips with, slowly sip your Cognac, making liberal use of the word, “rancio” -- a flavor associated with the oldest and most expensive blends. The word actually lacks any English equivalent so your acquaintances will be wowed at your cosmopolitan knowledge: dropping Spanish terms on a French spirit in the U.S.? Ooh-la-la! (Note: the first la was Spanish. The second was French.)

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It’s as casual as you are

Americans tend to see the French as very cultured, if only so we can then add fossilized jokes about “Except for liking Jerry Lewis.” As such, we think you need a degree to appreciate the complexities of French cheese and wine. But Cognac enjoys the same simplicity and satisfaction you do!

No one can make Americans celebrating a holiday act classy if they don’t want, and the good news is, Cognac’s versatile enough to be enjoyed even in casual settings. You don’t have a leather chair and a 300 year old fireplace? No problem. Fire up the karaoke machine and fix yourself a sidecar or a French Connection.

The sidecar’s fairly simple, requiring sugar, lemons, triple sec and, of course, Cognac, and is refreshingly sweet enough to satisfy even the most casual of Cognac drinkers. The French Connection is simpler still with a 1.5 oz Cognac to .75 oz amaretto almond liquor mix.

But if you really want to keep things light and refreshing on a summer’s day, just add Cognac, ginger ale and ice. It’s a spin on the Dark & Stormy, but you call it whatever you want to. After all, it’s National Cognac Day, and you’re an American.

Gladstone is the author of the Internet Apocalypse Trilogy on Thomas Dunne Books, and has written for Cracked.com, Slate, Time Out New York, Maxim, and many others, but he's most proud of this one sentence biography.