The best cognac, wine (or other alcohol) I ever had

Cognac and the Communion of Saints

“Pastor, let’s go have a cigar and a cognac!” Bill said.

“But it’s the middle of the week and the middle of the day,” I protested.

“But I’ve got these great cigars” (from a country that shall remain unamed), he said with even more urgent temptation in his voice.

“OK,” I said, finally giving in, overcoming the vestiges of the pietist that lurked deep within my soul.

I will never forget that cognac. The tempter’s name was Bill. He was the most confessional member I had in a congregation of 2,500 members and one of the few. I had only been at the church a few years and had found myself called to a parish that had some conservative roots but also had a history of trying all the latest church growth fads. Bill was a rarity in the congregation in those days and a foundation upon which to build.

He upheld me at every step of the way in trying to remake that congregation into a confessional, God-pleasing parish. We made great headway but Bill never lived to see the final fruits of God’s efforts through us.

Bill died in a tragic car wreck a few weeks after that cognac. He was traveling on business a thousand miles away from our parish, and a thousand miles away from his wife and his children. The life-ending crash on a rain-slick highway occurred at night but it was not until 4 AM the next morning that his wife and then I were alerted to the tragedy. Bringing God’s word to that crushed family was one of the most difficult things I have ever done as a pastor.

The Lord was just beginning to use Bill to make a confessional difference in our parish and in the synod. He had just been elected to the Concordia Publishing House board of directors not long before his death. It made me wonder how effective I would be at continuing to lead the congregation towards a complete commitment to the Lutheran Confessions. I should not have worried. The Lord has since raised up ten-fold confessional leaders for the congregation to take Bill’s place.

Bill knew how to enjoy life. (He was also the one who got me to jump out of an airplane – that story will have to wait for another day.) He was truly free in Christ to enjoy all of God’s blessings of creation. His knowledge of beer was voluminous. I will never forget when he challenged a waitress at a local Mexican bar to bring him any one of their variety of beers to see if he could name it by taste. He named five in a row without a miss (and drank each one of them). Thankfully both he and I are blessed with wives willing to serve as designated drivers.

I will never forget that cognac. I haven’t had many since. I have had plenty of cigars with my confessional brethren but not many cognacs.

My friend Bill is enjoying the communion of saints and the feast for the ages in heaven now. I think of him often. As a matter of fact, it’s probably that cognac I had with him that gave rise to this feature on the BJS website. Here’s to you Bill. You would love what we’re doing now in your old parish. You would be a great brother of John the Steadfast. We will keep fighting the confessional fight until the day we join you in the great communion, and while we wait, we will enjoy every gift God has given us in creation, particularly cognac, beer and cigars.

Pastor Tim Rossow


The best cognac, wine (or other alcohol) I ever had — 32 Comments

  1. The best wines on my list to date (and granted it’s a short list because I’ve just begun to enjoy wine in the past 5 years or so), are found here in Missouri. My all-time favorite is still from one of the wineries in Hermann, MO. It was a limited vintage that was made every year from grapes that were picked right after the first frost. It was amazing, and my wife and I still talk about it. We’re still trying to get to as many Missouri wineries as we can, but having a two-year-old has cut back on our winery visits considerably. It’s okay though. I’ll gladly trade enjoying the blessings of visiting a good winery for the blessing that that little guy is to us!

  2. I’ve recently taken up Scotch and really like Glennfiddich, the 12 year. Im sure there is better, but it sure did go down smooth!

    Kiley Campbell

  3. Scotch and theology do seem to have some mystical connection, but it is not one that I have personally discovered. I know many a good theologian who enjoys a good single malt though. I’ve been told that it’s an acquired taste, anad I just haven’t acquired it yet! 🙂

  4. Doing my best to keep the tradition of Single Malt alive and well in Minnesota North.

    I recommend Bowmore as a very economical yet tasty malt. $24 USD at my local liquor store (Brainerd, MN).

    Splurged once with the wife at Harvest Restaurant near CSL sem on some very nice cognacs. Can’t remember the label, but the price was approx $25 per glass! And remind you of the VERY best way to enjoy the taste of cognac, but not for mixed company or those under 18!

  5. In the world of liquors, I will always be partial to whiskey. There is nothing quite like sipping a fine whiskey on the rocks. My current favorite is Jameson, and I also enjoy Jack Daniel’s from time to time.

    As to Scotch, I have had a few, but so far I enjoy a 12 year Glenfiddich. I am currently attempting to expand my knowledge and experience in the wide world of Scotch.

    Wines are another area where I have not yet had a lot of experience, but I have found a few good ones.

    Liqueurs are nice on occasion when their harder cousins are not quite right for the situation. Bailey’s Irish Creme comes to mind as a favorite in this category.

  6. I am a Rye Whiskey guy and it is a great time to drink Rye. It is making a comeback. Lots of small brands to play with. Templeton Rye is one I drink. It is good but not great. It is the story that makes it great.

    When the US passed prohibition the good folks of Templeton Iowa decided to become outlaws. They began making Templeton Rye. Al Capone used to send his driver to Iowa to pick up the rye for his personal stock. You have to remember that before prohibition rye was king whiskey in the US. The Canadian stuff that was smuggled in was blended. If you ever watch an old mob flick and someone asks for the “good stuff,” their asking for rye. Any way, the folks in Templeton continued to make the good stuff illegally until just a few years ago. They came clean and got a federal license. You can read the story and see some interviews with folks who actually lived it here:

  7. I enjoyed the full flavor of Southern Comfort. I began drinking this interesting whiskey while still on the police department. Of course, I still did when I became a pastor and will conintue to do so in retirement. I thank my parter for introducing me to this marvelous whiskey. It goes done smooth and releases the stress. Do I hear an Amen, Brother??

  8. I love to drink cognec butt the price can be discouraging. I alsolike Rare Breed, Wild Turkey Bourbon , and only bourbon. Tennessee and Canadian whisky don’t hold a candle to bourbon. Helps a body get over a tough and/ or cold day.

  9. Back in the late ’60s I was living in Tokyo. I lived in a two house compound next to the military base where I worked. The landlord had built the compound in that location specifically to rent the 2nd house to a military officer or contractor to have access through his tenant to the PX, commissary and clubs of the base. Living “on the economy” in those days was very expensive and bereft of a lot of products that we took for granted in the US. The landlord had planned a round the world trip for he and his family for years. The first summer we lived there they departed on the trip and were gone all summer. Of course, I looked after his house while he was gone. The last leg of their trip was crossing Siberia on the Trans-Siberian rail line that ran from Moscow to Vladivostok. The last day of the trip before leaving the train and catching a plane back to Tokyo, my landlords wife asked him if he had thought of buying a gift for my wife and I for looking out for their property. Well, he hadn’t, but as luck would have it, they were stopped at a station. On the platform outside his window was an old babushka with a basket full of bottles. On investigation the bottles were brandy of an unknown local brand. He bought three for a couple dollars a bottle, stuck them in his luggage and brought them back to Tokyo. Thinking that he had a fine joke going he gave me the bottles with some story of how this was a very special expensive brand of Russian brandy, favored of the Czars, etc. etc.
    I took them back to my house and sat them on the back shelf of my bar in a prominent pride of place position, thinking to save them for a special occasion. Unable to wait to spring the joke, he knocked on my door that evening with a suggestion that we sample the fine brandy. “OK, why not,” I replied. I was quite the brandy fan at the time, had the snifters with the little candles, the whole bit. We went into the bar, he took up a position on one of the couches and watched with interest as I opened the bottle, sniffed, smiled in appreciation and poured out a couple of thimbles to sample. I savored the aroma as I brought the sample into my mouth, swished it around a couple of times and swallowed. My eyes wide, “George, this is heaven in a bottle, I have never tasted anything like it. Thank you, this must have cost a fortune.” It must have been distilled from apricot or some other tree fruit nectar, it was truly unbelievably good.
    “What?” he said in amazement, “let me taste that!” He just knew that I was onto the joke and was pulling his leg. I poured him half a snifter. His eyes grew wide as he cautiously tasted amber fluid in his glass. “Impossible, Impossible,” he muttered as he grabbed the bottle, knowing he had given me the wrong ones. He shook his head in unbelief, it was, in fact, the two dollar brandy.
    I got the full story in bits and drabs over the next few days as he tried unsuccessfully to weasel one of the bottles back from me. He looked all over Tokyo the next few weeks, carrying an empty bottle around to all the dram shops trying to find another. We never did. I stopped drinking brandy shortly after that, everything else was a poor imitation and reminded me of what brandy really could and should be.

  10. They say that beer is an acquired taste. Not for me, I took to it naturally! We need to update Lutheran thought a bit. We used to say that coffee is the third sacrament, but, perhaps it should be beer, with coffee being the fourth!

  11. The two best wines I have had to date are the same. Two years ago, at my daughter’s wedding reception, and then again a month ago today at my son’s wedding reception, I uncorked a bottle of my prized 1977 Beaulieu Vineyards (BV) Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon. 30 years old, and exquisite! Deep, deep purple in color, with a tinge of brown, lots of sediment, and a perfect taste — smooth like velvet. No better occasion than the wedding of your children!

  12. I am not a cognac drinker, but do enjoy a good port; problem is, can’t tell the difference between the expensive ones and a cheap Taylor brand.

  13. I make mead in my basement, would that count? Otherwise, the greatest alcoholic beverage is the Saint-Emilion Grand cru 2005. A bottle sits on my table, waiting for the day I get married, or otherwise the day I decide not to marry.

  14. Hmmm….no offense, but it seems that drinking until someone else has to drive you home probably shouldn’t be celebrated as a Christian virtue…

  15. I’m 18, but I drink in the presence and with permission of my parents, and I don’t drive afterwards, so under Texas state law, I drink legally. I was at my cousin’s house in Houston, and he had a rather extensive liquor cabinet (only rule: don’t touch the whiskey). That night after dinner I had my first of what is now my favorite drink (gin and tonic) and later my cousin and my brothers had a scotch tasting. He had four different kinds of scotch, some good, some not so good. The best was scotch from 1987. Smooth, with a very complex flavor. My brothers and I were very grateful to our cousin for sharing that with us! Since then, I’ve been planning on bar-tending my way through seminary. My family acknowledges that I seem to have a talent for mixing adult beverages; my sangria is a hit at family parties. I also advise the family on various wine choices. Alcohol is God’s gift. I don’t understand how its moderate use is so taboo among some Christians.

  16. Dear Nathan, It sounds as if you have been raised in a consistent confessional context on alcohol. Contrast with my experience. I was raised in Baptist churches where alcohol of any sort was always a sin, always! Communion was grape juice. (I don’t knock the Baptists, though, because they taught me to love Jesus.) I joined a Lutheran church in Michigan, where some of the members explored alcohol as you do, and got accustomed to watching that. Then I moved to Malawi and joined a wonderful Lutheran congregation, where in three years I have never seen a church member with an alcoholic drink either in their hand or their house. I have good medical reasons to stay away from alcohol, so my own practice hasn’t changed through all these changes of context. Otherwise I might be schitzophrenic rather than bemused. If you end up bar-tending in actual bars in the future, you will see behavior from inebriated people that will give you some measure of sympathy for those who anathametize alcohol.

  17. Pursue peace with all, and HOLINESS, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14). Where does the Bible say that alcohol was God’s gift? The first mention of it is of Noah getting drunk. The next mention is of Lot getting drunk. Do you recall how those two situations turned out?

  18. @Delwyn X. Campbell #19

    What? No one has an answer for this gentleman with the last comment – Mr. Delwyn Campbell?
    While I would not go so far to say it is a “gift” from God, neither is it entirely forbidden. I do call into question have 5 beers or so and passing off as no big deal and being thankful for having wives to be designated drivers. That alone should be enough to say, that you are crossing the line of moderation to drunkenness. I am not sure who could consume 5 beers and not be over the limit legally and morally though the Bible does not state what is too much. Of course someone who drinks that much that often may not feel the effects. To be sure that person who doesn’t feel it has a problem that is going unaddressed – or a serious weight issue that blunts the effect of the alcohol. That too should be addressed.

    This all being said, I have unchurched friends who regularly drink Scotch (I occaisionally do too) and they say they can feel the effect of the alcohol on the first drink. At 150 lbs. I can too and so my consumption has to be very minimal.

  19. A question for any of you who have read this article posting and comments – particularly any of you who have made barrel wine and also wine in smaller plastic and / or, glass containers:


    “Why is it that wine made in a barrel can remain there a relatively long period of time and not have to be repeatedly racked, such as compared to wine made in smaller 5 gallon plastic or glass containers, which must be repeatedly racked, in order to prevent it from spoilage and diminished flavor?”

  20. Greetings, I really enjoy rum and diet coke, especially with wings. I also enjoy Redbreast Irish Whiskey, that’s with an E, mind you.

    I now there maybe some christians who are labeled pietists, but I’ve met a lot of moderate approaching chrisitians (baptists, etc) who are ok with an occasional drink. I just don’t drink in their company, or when I do, I know they may look at me with some kind of contempt. Oh well…more for me.

  21. Best beer: Paulaner Salvator (close runner-up Sam Adams “The 13th Hour”)
    Best red wine: Chateau Rouget, 1959
    Best white wine: Bernkasteler Schlossberg, 1971
    Best whiskey: a 50-year-old Scotch which had been captured by the Germans when they overran a British HQ in 1941, captured from the Germans by the Americans in 1945, and sat in storage in Austria from then until the Austrians asked us, “What do you want us to do with these bottles?” The Army put them in the Class VI stores in Germany, and that Scotch was the nectar of the gods. There was no brand label on the bottle.
    Best cognac: a Petit Champagne VSOP, and I can’t remember the brand name. It wasn’t even expensive, but I think I’d recognize it if I saw it again.
    Best low-priced wine: Domaine des Fontanelles, a primarily Merlot wine from the Languedoc region–it would pass for a $40 Pomerol, costing about $8; runner-up: Los Vascos, a Chilean red made by the Rothschilds which in a good year would pass for Mouton in an average year–for about $10.

  22. Best Brandy: Ararat
    Best Liquor: Pappy Van Winkles Bourbon (and Four Roses Single Barrel when I can’t afford Pappy’s)
    Best Beer: Founder’s Breakfast Stout
    Honorable Mention: Auchentoshan 21 year

  23. Favourite Liqueur: Amaretto (my homemade stuff, followed by Disarono)
    Favourite Beer: Great Western Pilsner (brewed right in the great city of Saskatoon)
    Being a university student means that these are all a luxury, usually my wife and I will have a said beer with our meal at our faviourite cafe, and we get about a bottle of homemade amaretto in a year.

  24. “Best” means “personal favorites,” not what the pros and experts think:

    Best beer: Maredsous, a Belgian abbey ale, double fermentation–introduced to us by friends who were living in Namur, Belgium at the time–I have never found it in the USA.

    Best schnapps: Wittenberger Lutherbecher Halbbiterlikor–found it in at store in Lutherstadt Wittenberg. The bottle says 35% by volume; also says “Flaminger Spirituosen,” which either means “flaming Enthusiast” or “flammable liquor.” So don’t drink near an open flame or a lighted cigar! HSA would probably confiscate it now on plane flights.

    Best red wine: I am partial to Cabernet Sauvignon from the following California appellations (AVA): Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Mendocino County, Dry Creek, Alexander Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains, Livermore Valley, and Santa Clara Valley. These are the reds my dad introduced me to once I became of legal age–the vineyards and wineries, with tasting rooms, are all a days trip away from his and mom’s home.

    Best sweet white wine: I am partial to Rheingau Reisling and California equivalents (e.g., the Beringer Johannisberg Reisling).

    Best dry white wine: I am partial to Chardonnay from the same California appellations as those listed under my best red wine; also because of dad’s instruction as described.

    Best after-dinner: a good port.

    Best table wine on the cheap: “Two Buck Chuck” from Trader Joe’s.

    Best wine tour: Beringers in Napa Valley and Buena Vista in Sonoma County. Buena Vista is I think the oldest in California.

    Best wine tour close to mom and dad’s place: Mirassou in east side of San Jose, CA.

    Best wine tour in the Midwest: Stonehill Winery in Hermann, MO.

    Best winery and tasting room in our local area: French Lick Winery, French Lick, IN.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  25. Martin R. Noland :
    Best beer: Maredsous, a Belgian abbey ale, double fermentation–introduced to us by friends who were living in Namur, Belgium at the time–I have never found it in the USA.

    Excellent choice in beer! That is one of my favorite Belgian Ales, too. The next time you’re in Seattle go out and visit Fred’s Alehouse in Snohomish, WA. They run Maredsous on tap. You can also find it on sale by the bottle at some Fred Meyer stores and higher end deli stores.

  26. @Pr. M. Mathey #1
    Les Bourgeois, in Rocheport, near Columbia, has a very good tour. I highly recommend it. Missouri has many award winning wines for all of you who are attending the ACELC conference in February!

  27. @Zelwyn Heide #5

    Zelwyn, I am trying to recall the name of a friend of my sons’ that sounds a lot like yours, and maybe it is you. They are Cedric and Leif. Maybe you met them at Dickinson State College.

    In any event, (ducking) I am not a whiskey fan, generally. Don’t like the taste of wood, especially not oak. But I will sip some bourbons, like Southern Comfort, although admittedly mostly for nostalgic reasons.

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