A cognac house like Courvoisier seems to find itself in the middle of a culture war. It doesn't want you to forget that it was the drink of choice when one wanted quality in the age of powdered wigs. Now, unusually, it has attracted a loyal following of urban-dwelling rap aficionados.


I was going to say that we have Busta Rhymes and P. Diddy to thank for kicking the spirit category in the ass with a song like, "Pass the Courvoisier," which was the first instance I could find of rap and cognac going hand in hand. Slate, however, had a very interesting write-up on how cognac became intertwined with the African-American community. 

Not to spoil all of the details, but there's a lot of great history there. Black GIs in WWII developed a taste for cognac as they fought their way through the French countryside. American-expatriate artists like Josephine Baker found a home in France, where audiences judged them first by their talent and second (if at all) by the color of their skin. Also incredibly logical: there are lots of bad memories associated with the American South, and I certainly understand not wanting to purchase a bottle of brown liquor with a picture of an old-timey American Colonel on it.

With the Courvoisier VSOP, there’s a big difference between the legacy of the brand and the reality of what’s in the bottle.

By the way, I checked: apparently Basil Hayden, Sr. (i.e., Old Grand Dad) supplied the Colonial Army during the Revolutionary War. Which means not only was Old Grand Dad on the right side of history, but is far older than I thought. Drink with a clear conscience. 

So back to the 'Vossy VSOP, which is in many ways positioned to be the Goldilocks bottle of the cognac house in that it's not too cheap (the VS), but not too pricey (the XO). Sadly, all of what we were talking about earlier in terms of cognac's cultural context is a lot more interesting than what's actually in this bottle. If you ask me, the story of Courvoisier is almost like the story of rap: I think both the distiller and the musicians have gotten lazy and rely more on marketing rather than talent to move product.

 
 Come on, guys. At least know how to use apostrophes correctly in your web copy. (Big ass arrow added for emphasis.)

Come on, guys. At least know how to use apostrophes correctly in your web copy. (Big ass arrow added for emphasis.)

 

First, the Courvoisier VSOP smells cheap. The underlying aromas are good, with peach and that "forest floor" aroma that I really enjoy in other brandies, but good luck getting to it. Any untoward curiosity will scorch your nostrils. That lack of refinement is probably your first clue that there's a difference between the legacy and the reality of what's in the bottle.

When you actually start drinking it, the spirit just gives up. There's the faintest taste of peach, but then it almost instantly evaporates. You're left with oak trying to support not much of anything else, so on the development things turn tannic and bitter without any kind of body or sweetness. Typically oak helps add a little depth of flavor to a spirit, but without anything to enhance, it's just unwelcome here. I like salt and pepper on my eggs, but rarely do I want to shake some salt and pepper onto my hand and lick it to taste the flavors on their own.

As can probably be expected, the whole affair ends with a whimper. I sensed some graphite coming through at the very end. I typically don't mind that kind of mineral dimension in spirits or wine, but again, without any flavors to support, it's just kind of a weird note to end on. And all of that at the price point of $30, where the 'Vossy gets walked on by just about any other similarly-priced spirit. 

Just to reiterate, I like rap, and I like brandy and cognac. In the comparably-priced to less-expensive territory I'd much rather be drinking something from Hardy, De Luze, Ararat, Noy, or even the strangely-good E&J XO. Not liking 'Vossy doesn't have anything to do with pretensions of elitism or shunning a storied distiller for aggressively pursuing a younger demographic—scout's honor. I just think it sucks. 
 

Nose: Equal parts booze, moss, and juicy red grapes. Aggressive to the point where really trying to smell it is discouraged.
Taste: Generic fruit flavors which fall flat, leaving some very tannic and bitter oak to grip hard around a whole lot of nothing else.
Finish: Softer than the ethanol reek would imply, thankfully. A weird graphite taste lingers. Not the worst kind of minerality, but far from the best.
Misc: 40% ABV. Distilled twice in a copper alembic.
Price: $30, though you may be charged more because people figure any variety of cognac drinker probably isn't price-sensitive.
Overall Rating

Nope!