Sip a glass of cognac, and you’ll understand why the French say it’s made from l’eau de vie (“the water of life”). Produced from white grapes grown across the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments of western France, cognac is a protected category of brandy that must meet the requirements of the appellation d’origine contrôllée (AOC) in order to bear the region’s name on its label. These are the strict regulations that define the rich, velvety brown spirit that begs to be sipped on its own, shaken in a Sidecar or stirred into a Sazerac—or all of the above, depending on your mood.

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