Despite our best efforts, Ohio isn’t deep on Armagnac. The state of Ohio actually owns all spirituous liquors (those over 20% alcohol) that you see on retailers’ shelves, so it is perhaps unsurprising that Armagnac isn’t high on the Ohio Liquor Control Board’s list of priorities.
If you live on the north side of town or otherwise aren’t inclined to go to Kentucky to get a broader selection of Armagnacs, I’d like to share my favorite cognacs that Ohio does carry:
- At the basic end, the Martell VS, of the Very Specials from the four big brands, is by far my favorite (the other three are Courvoisier, Hennessy, and Rémy Martin). Every cocktail calling for cognac just got better for using Martell’s VS instead of Hennessy. The Martell VS is widely available for $29. So skip buying the crappy grocery-cheap $15 “brandy” and invest a bit in something potable.
- I first ran across Pierre Ferrand Ambre when I was selling wine a decade ago at Dilly Café in Mariemont. My boss, Chuck Warinner, put a glass of brownish-yellow liquid in front of me—it was clearly not wine—and said, “Taste that,” and walked away. Since I gladly embrace the ephemeral nature of this business, this mere taste was—un-hyperbolically—life changing. I had no idea that brandy could be so subtle and glorious, and as I couldn’t afford XO brandies, I was ignorant of the full range of cognac at the time. If you’re looking for great quality:price rapport in cognac, this is it. It is XO (10+ years old) insofar as the law prescribes things, but it is decidedly not in the XO category, either stylistically or pricewise (XOs would usually set you back $200). For $45, you’ll get a cognac that follows the ethos—and pathos—of Armagnac. Besides, it mixes well (see below for a supremely delicious rendition of the Sidecar) and it is beautiful on its own.
- I realize we’re more-or-less a part of Bourbon Country, but brandy fits right in with Bourbon, as it is oak-aged and can be just as shamelessly delicious, but in the world of brandy there are just more gradations of flavor according to the stylistic category. So let’s all be influencers, shall we? If your local state store doesn’t carry Pierre Ferrand (or their amazing Dry Curaçao), I urge you to special order it. You’ll be happy with the libation, I believe, but even if you never buy another bottle, you’ve just helped make an Ohio spirits retailer a better place for everyone else.
- At the XO end of things, I would go back to Martell, for their Cordon Bleu. The simple-looking bottle contains some extraordinary cognac, for which you didn’t have to over-pay (though that depends on your perspective on $138…). You can find this all over town (even at some Kroger stores), but—despite the rather sedate packaging—I assure you that you’ll enjoy this more than a flashier cognac at the same price.
As promised, here is my recipe for a Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao Sidecar cocktail:
1 ½ ounces Cognac
1 ½ ounces Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao (or, less satisfyingly, Cointreau)
¾ ounce Lemon Juice
Shake in and cocktail shaker with iced and strain into a cocktail glass rimmed with sugar. Garnish with a spiral of lemon peel, if you like. Drink throughout the evening, or as was common during Prohibition—and during the heyday of Lavomatic—in the morning alongside a cup of coffee as a “hair-of-the-dog” cocktail.