Why is Cognac back?
I’m not sure it was ever not on trend, it has always been popular in certain environments but it’s great to see it now being used more in cocktails. It has a unique profile and makes a great base for mixing because it suits so many other ingredients, which is why bartenders enjoy experimenting with it. It’s true that as a category, it used to have quite a stuffy image but houses like Hennessy are doing an excellent job of changing this. They’re also producing blends that are specifically designed for mixing which is obviously proving popular with bartenders.
What is it you love about the spirit?
It’s such an easy-drinking spirit and it wears its age so well. I do love single malts but for a soft, delicious and easy-to-drink spirit I would choose a Cognac. Armagnac tends to be more characterful, but I prefer the smoothness of a Cognac. Plus, it has such a rich heritage and makes some amazing cocktails with its versatile profile. A great Cognac is all about balance. It should incorporate or showcase its original grape notes and have a smooth texture thanks to the ageing process. It’s important to respect the rules when making brandy.
Why is it important in cocktail culture?
It was used as the base for some of the big classics throughout cocktail history such as The Sidecar and Between the Sheets, but it mixes better with champagne than anything else. Because of this it has formed the backbone for a lot of the drinks we served, and the menus we created, it plays such a big part in cocktail history and we aim to present that history through our Nightjar menus. There are so many landmark Cognac cocktails. It’s used in the Fish House Punch, which is one of the oldest cocktail recipes and was used a lot during the Prohibition era. It also features in the cocktail books of original ‘star’tenders Jerry Thomas and Harry Craddock. And it’s worth remembering, it’s actually used in more tiki cocktails than most realise, including drinks like the Hong Kong Punch.
How do you communicate brandy to consumers?
For us, it’s more about the cocktails, rather than a specific spirit, so we don’t generally need to communicate Cognac to the consumer, but we do find that our guests are open to trying spirits or categories they may not be familiar with. When it comes to cocktails, we tend to use VSOP but it really depends on the style of the drink. VS works well in those that require more robust flavours. When it comes to brands, Remy Martin VSOP and Hennessy VS are probably the benchmark, and in terms of brand recognition Hennessy is right up there due to popular culture. But lots of brands are doing different things well. Regardless of brands, though, all bars should always have a VS, VSOP and XO Cognac.