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Cognac’s back: A tour of London’s cognac cocktail pioneers

Imbibe

Imbibe

31 July 2019

Cognac’s history when it comes to cocktails is indisputable. The Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) recently took a group consisting of some of the country’s top bartenders on a tour of some of London’s most revered bars to see how they’re championing the return of the cognac cocktail.

The gang

Luca Rapetti, Baptist
Conor Smith, Coupette
Liam Davy, Hawksmoor Group
Charlotte Charret, The Bloomsbury Club Bar
Margaux Josephine, Happiness Forgets
Marcis Dzelzainis, Sager + Wilde
Daniel Waddy, London Union
Sasa Rudivic, TT Liquor
Adam Montgomerie, Hawksmoor

UK cognac educators Kevin Armstrong of London Union and Phil Duffy of Amathus led the charge. ‘The idea of the evening is to show you cognac in cocktails. I know you’ve all been fans of cognac for a while, so we don’t need to convince you of that,’ began Duffy in Amathus in Soho.

To kick things off, Duffy opened two bottles: young Vaudon Fine Rare Cognac and the significantly older François Voyer Vieux Cognac Grande Champagne. ‘They both cover some of the trends we’re seeing in cognac,’ added Duffy. ‘The idea of terroir; the idea of transparency; the idea of affordable luxury; and the idea of eau-de-vie-led cognacs, rather than [those that are] wood led.’

Luca Rapetti of Baptist sees the benefits of these trends. ‘When you discover the difference between Fin Bois terroir and Petite Champagne terroir, for instance, or you compare a Folle Blanche based cognac with another one from Ugni Blanc you clearly understand that there is much more behind every single product.’

Phil Duffy noses cognac at Amathus
Phil Duffy noses cognac at Amathus

And with that it was time to hit the first bar, Milk & Honey, where Armstrong was waiting to present a series of cocktails, starting with the Brandy Tickler, which combined VSOP cognac, pineapple juice, Aperol, lemon juice and simple syrup. It was accessible, fruity, showcased the cognac, and – crucially – was easy to reproduce.

He suggested that the cognac cocktail category is in need of the right serve to take it forward. ‘Can we find a drink that is as good as a Pimm’s, or a G&T? I want to try and come up with a cognac drink that fits the criteria,’ he said.

Coupette’s Conor Smith agreed. ‘Cognac needs to have a drink that guests are knowledgeable about, and it should be approachable and be able to be made in all bars,’ he said. ‘There are a lot of bars around London that are putting cognac cocktails on their drinks menus though.’

Next up was Bar Swift, who presented attendees with The Old Compton. François Voyer Cognac combined with complimentary notes from Swift Jamaican rum and strawberry, and brightened up by some crisp bitterness from rhubarb amaro.

‘The Francois Voyer adds a great depth and texture. The fruity richness goes great with the other flavours in the drink, such as strawberry and nutmeg,’ explained Swift floor manager Coral Anderson.

Before moving on, the group was presented with a quick pick-me-up: a round of the bar’s renowned Irish Coffees, but with cognac – an inspired substitution.

Gluttony at Baptist
Gluttony at Baptist

Baptist was next, located within the L’oscar Hotel. Here, from the bar’s Seven Heavenly Virtues and Seven Deadly Sins menu was Gluttony. An inventive and indulgent take on the Espresso Martini, Hennessy and Barolo Chinato were combined with dandelion coffee, with some grounding, earthy notes from beetroot. A generous chocolate rim completed the picture.

‘Nowadays bartenders and customers are discovering that cognac can be enjoyed not only by itself, but in cocktails as well,’ explained Baptist’s Rapetti. ‘Cognac will have more and more visibility among bartenders in next few years, and we will see more cognac-based cocktails. The Hennessy in the Gluttony provides a distinctive flavour and the body that sometimes you can’t achieve with other spirits.’

To round off the evening, the group arrived at Lyaness, where they were served the Queenie Harvard made with Martell cognac, a rich and complex twist on the Manhattan. It’s based on the bar’s in-house Ultra Raspberry ingredient, which brings a savoury, umami element to the berry using sake lees, and is well matched with Martell VSOP. Additional chestnut, Aecorn Sweet Aperitif and Dubonnet added complexity to the drink.

Five stops that irrevocably proved that not only are cognac cocktails worth exploring further, but that their time has come.

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