D'USSÉ Cognac VSOP: Everything You Need To Know

D'USSÉ (pronounced doo-say) VSOP Cognac is enjoying a moment. Not only has Cognac been rising in popularity as a drinks category in the early 2020s, but this hot brand seems to have captured the popular imagination.

Most notable for being a collaboration with hip hop superstar Jay-Z (you know, Beyonce's husband) and traditional Cognac authorities, D'USSÉ is a nice mixture of new and old. It is a high-quality spirit that has all the cachet associated with being the brainchild of one of the music industry's most cutting-edge and innovative moguls.

As consumers continue to seek out novel experiences — and don't mind paying a premium price for the privilege — brands like D'USSÉ continue to thrive. The fact that the liquor inside the bottle happens to be high quality is really just icing on the cake.

Read on to discover all the details about this flashy, sexy drink, from how to drink it to how it got its start. It's an interesting narrative and a modern day success story. 

D'USSÉ is a type of Cognac

Cognac is a town in Southwestern France. It is also a specific type of alcohol that is made there. In a situation similar to how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares, Cognac is a type of brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac.

One thing Cognac has going for it is tradition. As the Crafty Cask details, this area has been producing brandy since the 16th Century, so it's no surprise that they've gotten quite good at it. Originally, the locals relied on the Dutch to come in and advise them about how to turn their thin, acidic wine into something that was worthwhile. However, locals soon acquired the necessary expertise and haven't looked back since.

Like many products from France, Cognac is regulated by the state to conform to certain quality expectations. This means that, in order to affix the famous name to their bottles, producers need to follow the regulations laid out by the French government. For Cognac makers, this includes the stipulation that the wine they distill can have no sulfites in it (per Eater). This means that production can only be run for a few months out of the year since the lack of sulfites means the wine has a finite shelf life.

In France, this spirit is almost always consumed after a meal, as a digestive aid (per GQ). However, Cognac has become beloved the world over and has even attained star-billing in some famous cocktails.

Cognac is a type of brandy

That's all very well, but what exactly is brandy? Simply put, it's wine that has been distilled, which, as Vine Pair notes, means that it was heated to gently evaporate the alcohol vapor. This vapor is carefully captured in a device called a still, which can re-condense it into more potent liquor.

This process was pioneered by the Dutch traders of the 16th century, who found it onerous to have to transport huge quantities of wine in the limited capacity of their navy and instead turned to distillation as a solution. The word brandy originally comes from the Dutch term for burned wine since that was essentially how the process worked.

Fruits other than wine can be made into brandy — assuming they undergo an initial fermentation in order to have alcohol worth distilling (per Insider). One famous example is Calvados from Normandy in northern France. Here, the region's beloved apples are turned into a fiery spirit that is aged in oak to mellow out the burn.

Other famous brandies include the un-aged, clear types that usually get called eaux-de-vie — French for waters of life. These products, popular in central Europe, manage to capture the pure, fresh flavors of the fruit that goes into them. One notable example is the cherry-derived kirschwasser(via BBC).

Cognac is not the only brandy made in France, but it is the most widely-known. It has also attracted a devoted following all over the world.

VSOP is a high-status designation

One of the stumbling blocks for choosing a brandy are the multitude of acronyms that adorn the labels. If you don't know what the various VS, VSOP, or XO mean on the bottle, it can be a challenge to figure out just what it is that you're buying (per Wine Pair).

VS indicates a product that is "Very Special." This is somewhat misleading since it's the lowest designation of Cognac. As long as the producer meets the minimum requirements for Cognac set down by the French government — which includes the stipulation that the spirit must age in oak barrels for at least 2 years — they can slap VS on their bottle.

A considerable step up from this is the VSOP label, which stands for "Very Superior Old Pale." This is usually the connoisseur's choice, thanks to the extra time it spends in oak (via, Serious Eats). This time translates into extra suavity and smoothness. The "pale" part can be confusing considering the amount of color these spirits pick up from their time aging but, in practice, it refers to the lack of any additional coloring agents added so all of the color is genuinely oak-derived (via Vine Pair).

The VSOP labeling is often a sweet spot in terms of quality-to-price ratio and, because of that, is the choice of many enthusiasts. It doesn't come cheap, but sometimes you need to pay for quality.

The brand was founded in part by Jay-Z

D'USSÉ Cognac has a musical history. According to Billboard, rapper and media mogul Shawn Carter — better known as Jay-Z — was approached by liquor industry bigwigs for a joint venture that would allow them to apply his fame and notoriety to a new offering. The product they came up with was specifically designed so that it could be consumed on its own, as well as part of a mixed drink. This versatility has served D'USSÉ well since, as Remy Martin notes, Cognac has long played a part in cocktail culture.

When Jay-Z went to France to sample the prototypes that had been prepared for him, the liquor professionals and cellar masters were impressed not only at his enthusiasm, but also at his attention to detail and obvious familiarity with fine Cognac.

Thanks to the credibility of being associated with such a famous name, as well as the high quality of the liquor itself, D'USSÉ has been rapped and sung about by famous entertainers that include Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, and rapper L'il Wayne (via Global Grind). These mentions have raised the brand's reach and ensured its enduring success and desirability.

This forward-thinking Cognac house took this partnership a step further in 2021, when they sold a one-of-a-kind crystal bottle in celebration of Jay-Z's 50th birthday. The bottle was auctioned at Sotheby's in New York and fetched over $50,000 (per the Source). The gold adornments on the bottle certainly did no harm.

D'USSÉ falls under the auspices of liquor giant Bacardi

Although Jay-Z is most associated with this upscale brand, there is another well-known name that has played a huge role as well: Bacardi. This liquor giant makes so much more than rum, as a glance through their extensive portfolio of brands proves.

As the largest privately-held liquor company in the world, Bacardi is a household name. From Scotch, to vodka, to their eponymous rum, this company makes it all. The family-owned company has its origins in Cuba where, as NPR explains, they teamed up with communist dictator Fidel Castro in the 1950s. However, once ensconced in power, he appropriated the family's factories and exiled them off the island.

This proved to only be a small setback for the enterprising family who had previously diversified their holdings enough to absorb the shock of losing their homeland. Their distinctive white rum, which softened the image of what used to be a rough-and-tumble tipple, helped explode their popularity and brought drinks like the mojito to the masses (per El Meson de Pepe).

This company has steadily acquired more and more brands as it has soared to the peaks of worldwide popularity. D'USSÉ Cognac was a natural step for the company, which has further capitalized on the name recognition by releasing an upgraded X.O. Version of this premium spirit (via Shanken News Daily).

It was created with a lot of expertise

When Jay-Z was brought on board the D'USSÉ project, he was walking into a team with some heavy hitters. Most notably, the cellar master Michel Casavecchia, a well-established expert in the field (per Cognac.com).

According to Men's Book, Casavecchia was excited for his collaboration with D'USSÉ because most cellarmasters merely continue the traditions laid down before them and maintain the "house style." However, in this instance, he was able to build a new spirit from the ground up. He intentionally made a product that is approachable but with the depth of flavor that a connoisseur could appreciate.

The facilities of D'USSÉ are lodged in the Château du Cognac where (per Trip Advisor) the thick walls are ideal for aging spirits. So much of what makes Cognac special is the extended aging process and here, next to the Charente river, D'USSÉ has a nearly perfect set up.

Sharing this historic castle is the Cognac house of Otard, also owned by Bacardi. Both of these brands are able to make use of the reserves of older spirits that are housed at the chateau, which allows them to add complexity to their blends and makes for a more polished finished product. Casavecchia claims that he could never make this spirit without the use of these facilities (per the Guardian).

It's relatively young for a Cognac brand

If there is one thing that sets D'USSÉ apart from its fellow Cognac producers, it is the relative youth of the brand. The oldest extant major Cognac brand is Martell, which was founded all the way back in 1715.

This is a far cry from the 2012 founding date of D'USSÉ. However, that doesn't mean that the quality is deficient. On the contrary, between the expertise of its staff and the resources available from the Chateau du Cognac where it's based, D'USSÉ was set up from the start to be a premium product.

As Upscale Living describes, D'USSÉ as a brand has focused on trying to combine the old-school appeal of fine spirits with a modern approach to not only marketing, but also style. The brandy they produce has acquired a tremendous reputation over the course of its short history.

This reimagining of a classic spirit for a modern audience is a perfect fit for the likes of Jay-Z, who has adopted the persona of a mogul and an entrepreneur, grounded in hip hop tradition but with an eye to the future. His association with D'USSÉ has paid dividends for both parties since the company gets to cash in on his endorsement and he gets to dabble in the tastemaking he loves.

It can be sipped all by itself

Most Cognac is consumed "neat" — or all by itself — without ice (per the Spruce Eats). The smooth, round character of the spirit is enhanced by serving it out of a fat-bellied snifter, where the strong alcohol can escape, but the volatile aromas are concentrated thanks to the rim being smaller than the rest of glass (via Leaf).

One noteworthy way to drink Cognac is the traditional method of warming the glass. The snifter is suspended over a candle (there are specific devices that serve this purpose) so that it brings out more of the aromas than a cold drink would.

Although some consumers like to add a splash of water to their Cognac, believing that it brings out some of the fruitier notes, it is traditional to add nothing, not even an ice cube. This is really a matter of personal taste, so if you prefer it one way or the other, you shouldn't let anyone tell you it's the wrong way.

This is especially true when it comes to D'USSÉ, which is a newer style of Cognac that doesn't need to be taken so seriously. Probably the most famous example of this drink being consumed "neat" was when Jay-Z sipped it straight out of his Grammy Award in 2013 (via the Wall Street Journal). Not too shabby.

It can be made into a cocktail

One of the things that sets D'USSÉ VSOP apart from most other Cognacs is that it was literally designed with cocktails in mind. As previously discussed, the cellar master, Michel Casavecchia, who designed the flavor profile of the spirit, wanted something versatile enough to be both sipped on its own as well as blended with other flavors.

Cocktail Society notes that the VSOP is a versatile mixing spirit that can pick up on lots of different flavors in a cocktail — they recommend using it specifically for a sidecar, among others, since the bright fruit flavors are a great pair for this Cognac.

Brandy generally, and Cognac specifically, have long featured into cocktail culture and classic drinks like a Brandy Alexander or a Brandy Crusta. This is thanks to brandy's sweet, rounded profile. It may be strong stuff, but the harsh edges seem to get rounded off, especially when combined with sweeteners and other cocktail additions.

The flavor profile of D'USSÉ means that it goes down just as well when made into a highball — or is mixed over ice with a soft drink — as it does when sipped neat from a classic snifter. This modern focus is part of what attracted Jay-Z to the brand.

It's part of Cognac's trending popularity

Although it has a history that goes back centuries, Cognac is still a dynamic and growing trend among drinkers. It also has a strong link to Black culture in the U.S. This can be traced back to a few key events. One was the reception Black American entertainers found in France — very different from the segregated audiences they played to at home. This treatment endeared France to Black Americans and they drank Cognac as a tribute (per Slate). 

Another milestone came when the song "Pass the Courvoisier" by Busta Rhymes was released in 2001 (via Vine Pair). This cemented Cognac as a drink for a modern, urban populace and as rappers continue to make songs — and release their own brands — dedicated to this fine French brandy, the trend hasn't seemed to slow down.

Another aspect of this trend, as reported by Troy Media, is the sharply increasing popularity of Cognac in Asia. There, both China and Singapore have acquired a huge appetite for the stuff, and their import numbers are fast becoming an important market.

These trends can be understood when you consider the luxurious connotations that most people associate with Cognac. As a symbol for "making it," Cognac has appealed to the historically underprivileged Black community and the ballooning Chinese middle class. It's valuable to be associated with luxury and good taste.

Its distinctive bottle features the Cross of Lorraine

D'USSÉ VSOP comes in a distinctive bottle. Somewhat squat, with a simple round shape that manages to be both modern and classic, the bottle is marked with a distinctive cross that has two horizontal beams on it.

This symbol, loaded with significance for the French, is called the Cross of Lorraine (via Liquor.com). Originating from the eastern French province of the same name, it came to stand as an emblem of French pride and resistance. When the Germans took the province of Lorraine after they defeated France in 1871 (per Britannica), patriotic Frenchmen flew the cross of Lorraine as a statement against their enemies and as a reminder that the loss had not been forgotten.

During WWII, the Free French Army, headed by Charles de Gaule, was determined to continue the fight against the Nazis. They flew the traditional tricolored flag of France with the cross of Lorraine superimposed as a strong statement of patriotism (via Travel France).

Afterward, de Gaule, the president of the Republic, continued to use it as his symbol and as a marker of patriotism. Michel Casavecchia, the cellar master and the brains behind the D'USSÉ Cognac, is himself from Lorraine — the addition of this loaded symbol on the bottle was a mark of pride for him.

The simple, yet effective visual is very striking and the overall look of the bottle strikes a tone between new and old, chic and classic.

D'USSÉ also comes in an even more exclusive XO

For most people, spending $50 on a bottle of booze is about their upper limit, and that's a special occasion in itself. The D'USSÉ VSOP certainly fits that bill. It's the sort of thing you get for an event, a party, or a celebration. However, there is a step even above that: the XO.

This is shorthand for "extra old" and that's exactly what it delivers. The XO Cognac is aged in oak for even longer than the VSOP. This leads to softer, rounder flavors and a smoothness of flavor and body (per Cognac.com). 

The XO wan't available until 2014 — two years after the brand's founding. As Drink Me reports, it has a luxurious texture and various spice and fruit flavors that shine as a harmonic whole.

This deluxe bottle comes in premium packaging as well, the black case opens to reveal a velvet-lined pedestal, fit for a princely bottle of liquor. If you're rich and want to drink the best, it makes for a handsome gift. Otherwise, you may as well stick to the VSOP. At about a quarter of the price, it has a much higher quality-to-price ratio (via HuffPost).