Don Kavanagh is the editor of Thirst magazine.
Fads and fashions have affected many different drinks over the years, but few have been as hard-hit by changing tastes as brandy.
Once a staple in every drinks cabinet, brandy has become somewhat unfashionable over the years, with the sales trends heading relentlessly downwards, mostly as a result of more sophisticated consumers demanding better quality products.
One part of brandy has had something of an unlikely revival, though, and that is cognac. This wonderful spirit, distilled from acidic, undrinkable wines mostly made from the unappealing ugni blanc grape, has made a comeback in the last decade thanks to its popularity among rappers. And good cognac is a joy to drink. Rich, soft and warm, the grape character comes through wonderfully and, at its best, it can stand up beside the best single malts, bourbons and aged rums as a truly great sipping drink.
It comes in many forms, from the VSOP style, aged for four years in oak, to the expressive XO styles, where the minimum age is six years and the bottle can often be as expensive as the brandy inside.
With around 90 per cent of cognac bottled by just four companies, the range is limited, but it is growing and there are some great examples on the shelves now at a comparatively reasonable cost. If you're unsure what to buy, try one in a bar first, preferably served at room temperature in a tulip glass. There is a pure pleasure to be had with cognac, so don't think of brandy as just something used in making desserts.
Courvoisier VSOP Cognac, RRP $99.99
One of the most famous cognacs and it's easy to see why. A lovely whiff of spirit on the nose, followed by an elegant mix of fruit, spice and sherry. Smooth raisin and beeswax elements on the palate, with a complex nutty, honeyed character. A long, lingering and seductive finish completes a very pretty picture.
Hennessy VS, RRP $59.99
A great stand-by, with lovely sweet wood and spice on the nose. Warm and fruity flavours on the palate, with a nice nutty character, coupled with more woody notes and floral touches and a lingering, burnt finish.