Cognac's place in the classic cocktail hall of fame is rather assured, with such venerable concoctions as the Sazerac, Sidecar and Vieux Carre in its arsenal. But there's plenty of space for a few new entries to the hall of fame.
With this in mind, Imbibe recently teamed up with the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) to run The Cognac Competition.
The competition was open to bartenders and sommeliers, who could create a cocktail or a pairing serve inspired by the angel's share – the liquid lost in the evaporation of eaux-de-vie that's ageing in barrels. The amount of liquid lost equates to about 2% of a barrel’s contents annually, and across the region the equivalent loss is over 20 million bottles a year.
The alcoholic vapours feed a fungus called torula compniacensis that covers the white stone walls of the cellars, turning them black.
With plenty of really impressive entries coming in, a shortlist of six finalists was decided upon, and their entries judged by the London Cognac Bureau's Liz Lock, cognac educator Michelle Brachet and Imbibe's Laura Foster and Isabella Sullivan.
Let battle commence
First up was Massimiliano Terrile of Duck & Waffle, who had created a refined serve with just three ingredients. Having smoked a tulip glass with a struck match, his drink mixed Hennessy XO, maple syrup and maple verjus together, resulting in a drink that really emphasised the rich, nutty flavours of the cognac.
It was from the refined to the sublime, as Quaglino's Riccardo Russo took Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal and paired it with a homemade fig and kaffir lime syrup, lemon juice, Yellow Chartreuse and chocolate bitters, completing the offer with a pretty spun sugar ball acting as a garnish. He'd also created a 'cocktail' for the angels, burning lavender, star anise and French oak to make an aromatic smoke for them.
It turned out that this was the Chantelle Hicks from the Opera Tavern's first ever cocktail competition, and she'd decided to focus on the raw ingredient of cognac – grapes – by mixing Voyer XO with freshly muddled grapes, prosecco, lemon juice and sugar syrup, resulting in a refreshing drink with a distinct almond flavour to it.
Charlotte Street Hotel's Sandor Biro took inspiration from the Blue Blazer with his drink, mixing Courvoisier VS with an Earl Grey tea, lemon peel and cherry syrup and setting it alight, to provide some evaporation for the angels to enjoy. He served his cocktail over a Laphroaig and Earl Grey ice ball, which changed the flavour of the drink as it evaporated.
The Lanesborough's Luca Rapetti had learned that torula compniacensis is the latin for 'small and round', and he equated that to sloe berries and citrus myrtifolia, the latter of which is a small orange that is used to make chinotto. He took Pierre Ferrand Ambre, chinotto liqueur, sloe gin, balsamic vinegar and cloudy apple juice, before topping everything off with Gosnell's sparkling mead. The resulting drink was a fruity, honeyed concoction served in a highball glass.
Last but not least was Martin Zemanovic from Oblix, who decided to create a modern twist on a Sazerac, using Remy Martin 1738 and a touch of Don Julio Blanco to 'fill up the missing part of the cognac', plus a homemade apple and cinnamon syrup, sea salt and a Yellow Chartreuse rinse. It was a complex, layered
And the winners are…
It was a really tough decision to make, but after much deliberation, the judges settled on Terrile and Zemanovic.
'I was really impressed with the quality of entries, and even including those bars that weren’t shortlisted we were really blown away with the calibre of bars that entered,' enthused Lock.
'I'd have liked to have seen more of the entries answering the creative theme of the angels' share, and perhaps creating a little more theatre around it, but the thing that really shone through today was simplicity, with a lot looking at the angels' share through their ingredients instead.
'Massimiliano used three ingredients, he made cognac the hero but used other flavours that shone in themselves and helped the cognac come to life.'
Brachet, meanwhile, was full of praise for Zemanovic's entry: 'It was quite complex in elements, but when you tasted the cocktail, not only could you taste all the ingredients, but as an overall drive it was sublime. It was very clever.'
Both have won a three-night trip to Cognac, where they will enjoy exclusive tastings, one-to-one meetings with cellar masters and the chance to experience Cognac's incredible gastronomic scene.
The winning drinks
Massimiliano Terrile, Duck & Waffle
50ml Hennessy XO
Martin Zemanovic, Oblix
40ml Rémy Martin 1738