The Grand Cognac Culture


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Changing the cognac culture in India - article featuring Remy Martin and LOUIS XIII - by Karina Agarwal - Liquid magazine - Jul-Aug 2012 - India

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The Grand Cognac Culture

  1. 1. cover story The grand Think cognac and immediately your mind drifts to an image of a wood panelled room with a cognac distinguished gentleman sitting in a red leather, high back chair beside a toasty flame, with a cognac-filled balloon glass in one hand and a cigar in the other. To most of us, that’s the culture right way to drink cognac, isn’t it? Not anymore. Text : Karina Aggarwal C ognac has always been associated with a sense of prestige, and rightly so. Much like Champagne, this choice brandy is a product of its appellation. To be worthy of the title, the grapes used and the distillation of the spirit have to be within six specified districts called crus, each with its own unique characteristics. Divided into roughly concentric circles in 1938, the most significant of these crus, Grande Champagne, lies in the heart of the area. Particularly desirable because of its chalky soil, the grapes here are considered the finest. Beyond the circumference of Grande Champagne lies Petite Champagne, which has the second highest chalk concentration and then onwards to Borderies, Fin Bois, Bon Bois and Bois Ordinaires. Fine Champagne Cognac requires ©Andia / AlamyJULY-AUGUST 2012 17
  2. 2. at least 50% of its grapes from While some drinkers still subscribe Grande Champagne and the rest from Petit Champagne. Rémy to the notion of cognac as a ‘winter Martin—one of the ‘Big Four’ drink’ or a middle-aged man’s cognac producers in the world prerogative, others have shattered along with Courvoisier, Hennessey and Martell, produces 80% of all such illusions. Fine Champagne Cognac. Times a changing While some drinkers still subscribe to the notion of cognac as a ‘winter drink’ or a middle-aged man’s prerogative, others have shattered such illusions. Napoleon’s preferred nightcap is no longer just an after- dinner affair. Cognac with additives may make the purists cringe, but it has broadened the base of cognac drinkers considerably. In fact, if some traditionalists skipped the cries of heresy to delve instead into how V.S.O.P is drunk in the land of Cognac; tonic water, ginger ale and even cranberry juice would make a frequent appearance in all reports.18 JULY-AUGUST 2012
  3. 3. decades. After a struggle through the doldrums of the 1990s, cognac found resurrection in the United States from an unlikely source. Rappers Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Jay-Z, Snoop Dog, Ludacris and others melded the prestige of cognac with the ostentation of their hip-hop lives. From references in their lyrics, to being ambassadors for brands, they opened up a Vincent Cleme, Brand Ambassador, Louis XIII, India, says that in Cognac, France, the brown spirit is had over ice from 10 am to 10 pm, in tall glasses, mixed with juices and sodas, as people lounge by the pool on a hot summer’s day. It is a simple fact—cognac has so much character and flavour that it holds its own no matter what you add to it. To everyone who brushes After a struggle it off as a winter drink, Cleme has one question, “Single malt and through cognac are both aged, brown the 1990s, spirits with 40 per cent alcohol cognac found content, yet people drink single resurrection in © Juri Bizgajmer | malt through the year. So, why the difference?” the UNITED STATES The patterns of cognac drinking from an unlikely have been changing around the source. world, especially over the past twoJULY-AUGUST 2012 19
  4. 4. Generally considered one of the large new demographic of young most aromatic spirits, cognac has African-American drinkers who always been an important part of called for cognac-based cocktails named ‘Thug Passion’ and ‘French the history of cocktails. Connection’. The hip-hop kings Generally considered one of Art of Mixing Cocktails mention this might have been a stark contrast to the most aromatic spirits, cognac amber spirit as a base for many a the audience the French grape- has always been an important classic cocktail including the original growers envisioned for their brands, part of the history of cocktails, Sidecar, a blend of VSOP Cognac, but they caused a tripling of sales in and a favourite of mixologists Triple Sec and fresh lemon juice. America in 2005, compared to the because of how well it lends itself Now, there are a host of new ones. decade before. to concoctions. Early cocktail bibles The popular Rémy cocktails include A cognac cult such as Robert Vermeire’s 1922, the French Mojito with Rémy V.S.O.P Today, the United States continues Cocktails: How to Mix Them and and the Gingertini (Rémy Martin to be cognac’s largest market, David Embury’s 1948, The Fine V.S.O.P with Angostura bitters). while Asia’s voracious appetite for aspirational products has led to thriving markets in China, Vietnam and the Philippines as well. Cleme says that the current club trend amongst the young Chinese working population is to party the night away sipping on a cognac cocktail or a cognac with Red Bull. “In China, an increasing number of 25- to 30-year-olds are picking © Orlando Florin Rosu | cognac. Beer is what they drank at 16, tequila and vodka they had as students, single malt is their parent’s drinks, so cognac is their choice—sophisticated and fresh,” he explains.20 JULY-AUGUST 2012
  5. 5. © Ben Goode | Changing with time Rémy Martin cognac has been available in India for long, but it’s just two years since their Rémy Cointreau subsidiary was set-up here. Since then, they’ve been working to make people discover alternate ways of drinking cognac. The Rémy Iceboxx, part of the ‘Chill with Remy’ initiative, has been their most standout attempt at revolutionising the way to enjoy cognac. The Iceboxx serves a shot of Rémy Martin V.S.O.P at -18°C. A single shot is priced at `700 in Mumbai. It delivers an astonishingly aromatic explosion of vanilla, peach and orange, and has managed to create quite a buzz in the bars across Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Goa. While the V.S.O.P gains popularity with young drinkers, the XO remains the bastion of the connoisseurs and Louis XIII continues to be the most desirable cognac from the house of Rémy. One of the great distillates on the planet, from snifter to a shot glass, Rémy Martin shows how cognac can lend itself to any occasion.JULY-AUGUST 2012 21
  6. 6. Reintroducing the grand Courting cognac: Cognac is Vintage: Even though cognac is math and it is the equivalent of made from eau-de-vie, which is made from grapes, unlike wine or more than 20 million bottles a pure alcohol that is distilled from Champagne, the vintage hardly year—that’s the angel’s share. It grapes (distilled wine). Watery matters. Since cognac is always sponsors all the parties in heaven! and transparent, it is the ageing a blend of various eaux-de-vie The grades: Each grade of cognac of the eau-de-vie in French oak (except for a few limited editions), requires a different ageing of the barrels that creates the brandy it is the master blender who bears spirit, to soften the harsh flavours and gives it its rich amber colour. the responsibility of creating the and develop the bouquet. The Sometimes caramel is added, too, perfectly blended batch every time. V.S (Very Special) or three stars, but is not very likely. The art of Distillation: The pressed grapes needs a minimum of two years blending various aged eaux-de-vie are fermented into a wine of about in the casks. Réserve or V.S.O.P. is the heart and soul of cognac 8 to 9 per cent alcohol and put (Very Superior Old Pale) is a blend production. While all cognac is into an onion-shaped copper in which the youngest brandy is brandy, all brandy is not cognac. pot still called alembic, meaning stored for at least four years. For Grape varietal: Cognacs that carry still, in Arabic. Two distillations XO (Extra Old), Hors d’Age or the name of the crus are required are completed and the resultant Napoleon, the youngest brandy in by law to contain 90 per cent of colourless eau-de-vie has 70 per the blend, must be at least six-and- Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Folle cent alcohol. It is then aged in a-half-years. Come April 2016, the Blanche grapes. Lesser amounts barrels, blended and brought down minimum storage age for an XO of Jurançon, Select, Semillon and to 40 per cent alcohol content blend will be 10 years. In general, Montils grapes can legally be used. before it is bottled. each cognac house uses eau-de- Ugni Blanc is called Saint-Émilion The angel’s share: With cognac, vie much older than the minimum Charente in France and Trebbiano time is money in more ways than requirements in their blends, mostly in Italy, and although it is the best one. The longer it is aged, the spanning a few decades. candidate for distillation and ageing more refined and premium it is Seduction phase: The correct of cognacs, the high acidity of the considered. But, while it ages, way of tasting cognac involves the Ugni Blanc makes it a bad varietal cognac evaporates at a rate of ‘two-fold seduction phase’, which for wines. about 3 per cent a year. Do the prepares your nose and palate for what you are about to taste. This is the Rémy Martin way of doing it—begin by swirling the Rémy in your glass in level with your stomach. Inhale the cognac from a distance and experience the lift of aromas. Bring the glass closer to your nose and notice the different layers of aromas. Finally, smell for the third time by burying your nose within the glass for a complete experience of the sheer opulence of the cognac. When you taste, the first should be just a drop on the tongue. Wet your lips and let © Dimasobko | the single drop coat your palate. This acclimatises your palate and avoids the ‘burn’ that many people experience from cognac.22 JULY-AUGUST 2012
  7. 7. Louis XIII Fine Champagne CognacIt was first created in 1874 and is a culmination of the skill of fournamed after the ‘protector of different master blenders or maîtrecognac’—France’s King Louis de chai. The current cellarmaster,XIII, who was the first monarch to Pierrette Trichet—the only femaleacknowledge cognac as a spirit maître de chai at a major cognaccategory of its own. With a bouquet firm—blends aged eaux-de-vieof about 250 aromas including from casks that were selected byscents of myrrh, honey, plum, her predecessors. Simultaneously,honeysuckle, wood bark, leather and she casks young brandies that willpassion fruit, it is often referred to be blended by future cellar mastersas ‘The King of Cognacs’—the most long after she has retired.complex and most prestigious in The mahogany coloured cognac © Miklyxa13 | Dreamstime.comthe world. is bottled in an exquisite handblown A blend of up to 1,200 different crystal decanter. A product of 11eaux-de-vie, which are between different craftsmen, each bottle is40 and 100 years old, each bottle individually numbered and ringed At Rémy Martin, Louis XIII is considered to be beyond a cognac and appreciated intensely by those who cherish an extremely rare fine wine or single malt. with 24-carat fine gold. In Mumbai, a bottle of Louis XIII costs Rs 2,25,000. For connoisseurs, that’s a small price to pay for a part of history. Not surprisingly, over the decades, Louis XIII has come to be considered a collectible of sorts. At Rémy Martin, Louis XIII is considered to be beyond a cognac and appreciated intensely by those who cherish an extremely rare fine wine or single malt. Cleme © Niderlander | mentions that most of the regular Louis XIII customers are not cognac drinkers, but still love it for the astonishing craftsmanship and history that it carries with it.24 JULY-AUGUST 2012
  8. 8. Cocktails RÉMY RED FREEZE COCKTAIL 2 oz Rémy Martin VSOP ¾ cup Fresh watermelon Simple syrup to taste Ice Muddle watermelon and strain. Sweeten with simple syrup if necessary. Add Remy Martin VSOP and ice. Shake and pour into glass. Réserve or FRENCH MOJITO V.S.O.P. (Very 1 ½ oz Rémy Martin VSOP Superior Old 1 oz Fresh lime juice Pale) is a blend 1 tbsp Brown sugar 7 to 10 Mint leaves in which the 3 oz Sparkling water youngest Place mint leaves in the glass, brandy is stored add crushed ice, Rémy Martin VSOP, sugar, lime juice, and for at least muddle. Top with sparkling water four years. and garnish with mint leaves.JULY-AUGUST 2012 25
  9. 9. CENTAUR SPICE 1 ½ oz Rémy Martin VSOP A few drops of Angostura Bitters Zest of orange (in the glass) Ginger Ale Pour Rémy Martin VSOP into a long drink glass over ice and top with Ginger ale. Add a few drops of Angostura Bitters and garnish with the orange zest and stir. GINGERTINI 1 ½ oz Rémy Martin VSOP 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters ½ oz Simple syrup Sliced ginger as garnish Shake all the ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with the sliced ginger. RÉMY RED HOT COCKTAIL 2 oz Rémy Martin VSOP Cranberry juice Ice Pour Remy Martin VSOP into a glass with ice. Top up with cranberry juice. Stir and serve.26 JULY-AUGUST 2012