Working our way Through 50+ Brandy Cocktails at Gaspar Brasserie’s Cognac Room

Gaspar Brasserie, a handsome two-level brasserie serving modern takes on French food classics that opened a little more than a year ago, recently announced the re-branding/opening of the Cognac Room, their intimate bar located on the second level. Although Gaspar had been on our list of places to try, we were admittedly slow to get there until we were invited to the preview of the Cognac Room opening.

The Cognac Room boasts the largest selection of brandy-based cocktails in San Francisco (or anywhere else we can think of, really) offering more than 50 cocktails made with grape-based spirits such as Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, Brandy, Eau de Vie and Pisco. They hired Lead Bartender John Codd, who used to work with Charles Phan’s Slanted Door group, to put together an awesome cocktail list. San Francisco is definitely a brown spirits whiskey town, so it’s really unique to focus on spirits that are not based on grain. Since many of the Cognac, Armagnacs and Brandies available come from France, it’s a natural pairing with Gaspar Brasserie.

The Cognac Room has a speak-easy feel, even if it is located on the second level.  It is very intimate with gilded copper ceilings and a very ‘civilized’ bar that we are guessing gets packed only during happy hour.
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A view of one of the shelves in the Cognac Room shows the wide selection of grape-based spirits.
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The Cognac Room’s new bar program is led by John Codd, who we first met at the sadly defunct Wo Hing General Store.  With experience working at the Slanted Door and 15 Romolo, he is nationally recognized as an innovative pioneer in classic and modern cocktails. John related that he was literally in the process of moving away from our fair City to go join the prestigious Dave Arnold at Booker & Dax in New York when this opportunity came up. Luckily for us San Franciscans, he decided to stay — his cocktail menu is really amazing.  He must have scoured classic and out-of-print cocktail books such as The Savoy Cocktail Book and Charles Baker’s Gentleman’s Companion to come up with the extensive list of drinks.
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It’s a daunting cocktail list at first glance, but the 50+ cocktails are separated into sections to make fore easier navigation: House (8), Cognac (9), Armagnac (7), Calvados (7), Brandy (9), Pisco (8) and Eau-de View & Grappa (4).   There are also flights and by-the-snifter availability of the different grape-based spirits.

At the preview event, John made ‘taster-sized’ cocktails to whet our palates.  He also provided full sized versions for photo opportunities, which this barfly ended up drinking in a couple of cases since she didn’t want to see the drinks go to waste.  First up was the Pineapple Apricot Tropical (recipe below) shown on the left (Pisco, Lime, Pineapple Gum, Orchard Apricot, Angostura Bitters) which, surprisingly, was not sweet or tropical tasting but perfectly balanced.  The Armagnac Crusta (Armagnac, Cointreau, Lemon, Maraschino, Angostura) was just as beautiful to look at as it was to drink it (if that makes sense).  We’re probably all familiar with the gin-based Pimm’s Cup made with gin, but the Pimm’s No. 3 cup (Pimm’s No. 1, Brandy, Lemon, Ginger, Cucumber, Mint, Seltzer) can most likely be found only at the Cognac Room (shown right with full size and ‘taster’ portion).  Note: Click on the photo to view larger.
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Although the full Gaspar Brasserie menu is available, Executive Chef Chris Jones has created a separate menu for the Cognac Room. They gave us a great sample at the preview event of some of the menu items (clockwise): The Truffle Flan “à la Bénédictine” made with salt cod brandade and shaved Perigord truffle (in the egg shell), Foie Gras Torchon with rhubarb jam and a Foie Gras sausage.  All of the items were very rich and deliciously fatty — perfect items to pair with brandy drinks.
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But the drinking at the preview event wasn’t quite done yet. Next up from left to right were the Judgette (Cognac, Gin, lime, pear, Absinthe) which packed a punch, the sinister looking devil-horned Sahara Glowing Heart (Citadel Gin, Apricot Eau de Vie, Grenadine, Absinthe) and a Depth Bomb (Calvados, Cognac, Grenadine, Demerara Syrup, Lemon Bitters).  All of the drinks showed much versatility in the use of the grape-based spirits.
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Set in the Financial District, The Cognac Room is a great place for happy hour, before- or after-dinner drinks; in our case we like to dine there while drinking, as the entire Gaspar menu is available to order at the bar most evenings.  We have returned for Happy Hour where $1 oysters and deviled eggs are available, and once we tried to go there on a Sunday evening, but they were no longer serving food at the bar.  So we decided to return on a recent Friday evening and easily found a couple of seats.

John was packing up to go home, leaving us in the capable hands of Nora, who used a recipe book to make make the more obscure cocktails that we ordered. We started with a Morning Glory (Armagnac, Rye, Cointreau, Angostura Bitters, Seltzer) and a Block & Fall (Cognac,​ Calvados, Cointreau, Absinthe) which were very good.
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We also ordered some food to accompany our drinks and Nora brought over a basket of sliced sourdough baguette and butter.
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The Truffle Flan “à la Bénédictine” that was served in the egg shell came in a larger format potted jar. The fluffy salt cod brandade flan came with some chopped eggs, sauce à la crème and shaved black Perigord truffle.
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We spread the flan on the accompanying buttered crostini and determined that it made a great bar snack.
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Our next round of drinks involved the more boozey-licious Armagnac Vermouth Cocktail (Armagnac, Kina, Lillet Rose) and the Froupe (Brandy, Sweet and Dry Vermouth, Benedictine).
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To accompany that round of drinks we ordered the Tartare d’Agneau (lamb tartare) from Gaspar’s dinner menu. The hand-chopped lamb topped with a quail egg was accompanied by a harissa-spiced yogurt. The overall dish had a level of spiciness that paired well with our brandy cocktails. The tartare came with another round of the tasty sourdough croûtes that we had become addicted to.
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As much as we want to make it through all 50+ cocktails, we decided that the perfect ending would be some snifters of Bas Armagnac that they had at very reasonable prices.
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It’s a French restaurant after all, so we had to try the cheese plate as our final course. They offer three to four selections in each of the cow, goat and sheep milk categories, and we decided to get one of each. We selected the Explorateur soft triple crème (cow), the Crottin Jacquin (goat) and the Ossou Iraty (raw sheep milk) cheeses that came accompanied with lightly honeyed nuts, jam, apple slices and more of the addictive bread croûtes.
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We will definitely be back to continue making our way through more of the cocktail list. The great news is that they gave us a couple of the cocktail recipes listed here so we can all experience a little bit of the Cognac Room at home.

Champs Elysees (Savoy Cocktails)
1.5 oz Cognac
0.5 oz Lemon
0.5 oz Chartreuse
0.5 oz Simple
2 dash Angostura
1 dash Orange bitters

Method: Combine all ingredients and shake, double strain into : Glass
Glass: Coupe
Garnish: Lemon Peel

Pineapple Apricot Tropical (Gentleman’s Companion)
1.5 oz Barsol Pisco
0.75 oz Lime
0.75 oz Small Hand Food Pineapple Gum
0.5 oz Apricot Eau de vie
2 dash Angostura bitters
0.5oz Simple
2 dash Angostura

Method: Combine all ingredients and shake, double strain into : Glass
Glass: Old Fashion over Hand Cut Ice cube
Garnish: Mint sprig

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