From rum to agave spirits, everybody has an opinion on the next drink to ‘do a gin’. In this series, Clinton Cawood looks at the contenders striving to follow in the footsteps of the juniper spirit and hit the big time
Considering how ubiquitous it once was, and its enduring status in certain circles, from gentlemen’s clubs to hip-hop fans, not to mention how often it’s called for in classic cocktails, all the ingredients are there for cognac to make it big once more.
‘I think its main benefit is its flavour profile,’ comments Martin Siska of Scarfes Bar. ‘As an aged spirit, there’s a big opportunity for it to become more and more popular, the way whisky has. And it works perfectly when mixing drinks, especially those cognacs that are somewhere between VSOP and XO, where you get really nice balance, and a really good drink. More and more bartenders are using those styles for cocktails. They really have potential.’
Cognac Shrub Cobbler
‘When I started bartending people went to classics like the Sazerac and the Old Fashioned, but I think they’re now looking to lighter drinks. The Cobbler is a simple, refreshing drink,’ says Siska. ‘It works with a cognac that’s between VSOP and XO. It helps to have that extra bit of ageing.
‘A shrub is perfect for this, bringing acidity, fruit and sweetness, and you can change it seasonally. For instance, you could use an apple and black cardamom shrub, or a berry and fig shrub, in which case an oloroso sherry would work instead of the fino.
‘You could use a cordial instead, or a natural sugar like honey, and then use lemon juice or verjus. And you could add some cider, or something healthy like coconut water or tomato water, or even kombucha.’
Glass: Wine glass
Garnish: According to shrub used
Method: Build over crushed ice in a wine glass.
5ml-10ml fino sherry
Lemon juice if needed
Here lies the secret for cognac’s resurgence. ‘The way to go is through cocktails. Sure, there are bars focusing on serving cognac on its own, but if you’re not one of those, and you want to sell cognac and attract a younger crowd, you need to sell it through cocktails. That’s the future for the category.’
He singles out a few increasingly popular, lighter classic serves that cognac is well positioned to capitalise on.
‘There’s the Horse’s Neck-style drink, with cognac and ginger ale, that’s coming back to menus. And we’ve included a Crusta on our new menu, for example. There’s definitely potential to see it on more cocktail lists.’
Siska has some strategies for encouraging customers to explore the category.
‘A lot of people aren’t very familiar with what it is,’ admits Siska, ‘so we try to explain where it’s from, and give them a taste. Someone asked me recently for an Espresso Martini with something other than vodka, so I used our house cognac. You can do that with a lot of classics. For Sazeracs we offer rye, cognac, or 50:50 of each.’
Cognac is increasingly offering a combination of innovation and tradition. ‘There are a few interesting new projects from brands that are focusing on experimentation, but also realise that they need to respect its heritage.’