Popular Cognac Brands Bartenders Should Know

By Ray Foley

A good bartender should know the popular cognac brands. Even though all cognacs are produced in the same region, and even though every brand seems to have the same jumble of age designations on its labels, you may be surprised at the degree of distinctiveness among the brands.

Some brands have a strong, room-filling aroma; some have a mild grape flavor; others have hints of caramel and vanilla. If you’re a fan of cognac, try several different brands as well as some of the variations within each brand.

If you’re curious to find out what an older cognac (X.O. or better) tastes like, visit a decent bar and order a glass (and be prepared to pay $10 to $20) before you decide to invest in an expensive bottle of cognac.

When you shop for cognac, you see all kinds of designations on the labels of various brands — for example, Courvoisier V.S., Martell V.S.O.P., and Remy Martin X.O. The letters and phrases after the brand name are a general indication of the age (and, in turn, expensiveness) of the cognac.

Every major brand produces cognacs of different ages. When one of the following designations is used, it indicates the age of the youngest cognac used in the blend that makes up what’s in the bottle.

  • V.S. (Very Superior) or Three Stars: Cognac aged less than 4-1/2 years.

  • V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale): Cognac aged between 4-1/2 and 6-1/2 years. Sometimes called V.O. (Very Old) or Reserve.

  • X.O. (Extremely Old), Napoleon, Hors d’age, V.S.S.O.P., Cordon Bleu, Grand Reserve, and Royal: Cognac aged at least 5-1/2 years and up to 40 years.

Generally speaking, each cognac producer uses blends that are much older than the minimum required. In the most prestigious cognacs, some of the blends may have matured over several decades.

In the following list, the available styles for each brand are listed from the least expensive to the most expensive. All cognacs are 80 proof.

  • Alize produces V.S. and V.S.O.P.

  • Camus produces a range of cognacs including V.S., V.S.O.P., X.O., Extra, Borderies X.O., Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac, Rarissimes, and Cuvée 3.128.

  • Conjure is made from the ugni blanc grape from blends that represent a variety of Cognac regions, including Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, and Borderie.

  • Courvoisier produces V.S., V.S.O.P. Fine Champagne, V.S.O.P. Exclusif, Napoleon Fine Champagne, X.O. Imperial, Initiale Extra, Succession JS, and L’Esprit de Courvoisier.

  • Delamain produces Pale and Dry X.O., Vesper, Très Vénérable, Extra, Millésimés, and Réserve de la Famille.

  • D’USSÉ Cognac is masterfully crafted at the prestigious Château de Cognac, one of the oldest cognac houses in France.

  • Hardy produces Hardy Perfection Series: Air, Fire, Water, and Earth, Rosebud Family Reserve, Pearl Noces de Perle, Diamond Noces de Diamant, Captain Noces d’Or, Noces D’Or, X.O., Napoleon, V.S.O.P, V.S. Red Corner, and Hardy Vanille.

  • Hennessy produces V.S., Privilège, X.O., Private Reserve 1873, and Richard Hennessy.

  • Hine Cognac produces H by Hine, Rare V.S.O.P., Cigar, Antique X.O., Triomphe, Mariage, and Talent.

  • Martell produces V.S., Médaillon V.S.O.P., Noblige, Cordon Bleu, X.O., Creation, and L’Art.

  • Remy Martin produces Grand Cru, V.S.O.P., 1783 Accord Royal, X.O. Excellence, Extra, and Louis XIII de Remy Martin.