Cocktails For You does Cognac!
Travelling to the heart of France to discover all things grown on the vine, aged in oak & carefully crafted for the whole world to enjoy. We were invited to take part in the Rémy Martin Bartender Talent Academy. Find out all the details below!
There are a lot of cool things about this job. We used to think bartending was the most sociable job in the world (despite the nocturnal existence), but really, running a social channel covering this amazing profession kinda tops it. And then there’s having Rémy Martin call you up to come and experience Cognac (liquid and locale) in all its glory, snapping shots and judging their amazing global competition, the Bartender Talent Academy. The idea behind this Academy was to bring brilliant minds together over some fine cognac whilst sharing ideas, techniques and methods from around the world. By doing this there is an opportunity to create a network of bartenders globally all sharing our passion and love for quality cognac made by Rémy Martin.
I arrived pretty late – my flight was delayed and I got into Bordeaux well after dark. I hopped in a cab and began the drive to Cognac, eventually arriving after dinner, with all the international finalists gathered merrily around a table that was perhaps worryingly bestowed with fine Rémy Martin. They immediately presented themselves to be a lovely (and perhaps more importantly), fun bunch and we got along well. I had perhaps more than a splash of the good stuff and went to bed, feeling pretty damn great. It’s worth mentioning that the hotel was ridiculous, by the way. On the river Charente, and a series of lodges – if you were to witness a Netflix comedian perform an insensitive impression of a stereotypical Frenchmen, this is where the character would live; utterly idyllic. Anyway, I awoke, suitably rested, had my petit dejeuner and hopped straight on our minibus for the first adventure.
This was, of course, seeing a vineyard. Rémy Martin is an enormous operation and they partly buy in the finest eau-de-vie and partly produce their own. We met one of the growers, who told us about the grapes, the soil, and all the other elements contributing to the word of the day; ‘terroir’. She was truly passionate, and though we could tell that her disposition was typically chirpy, she was obviously tired – a recent hail storm had caused damage to her beloved grapes and had been up all night. Truly a devoted grower, and illustrative of the quality that Rémy Martin needs – of people, as well as grape.
Of course, inspiration is a challenge on an empty stomach, so we were quickly transported to lunch in the vineyard, where we sampled some excellent local cuisine, and, of course, wine. It goes without saying that the wine was superb – it was never going to be anything less, and we certainly indulged a little before heading back to the hotel for nap that we all said we didn’t need but unanimously undertook. The Rémy Martin Bartender Talent Academy aims to really create a truly immersive experience where bartenders can discover the long storied history of the House of Rémy Martin as well as their unique products!
Next was a trip to their distillery; as I said, Rémy Martin buy in much of their eau-de-vie, but, in order to stay in touch with the nature of their product, produce some themselves. Their distillery was a monumental – not the single pretty copper still and condenser rig for lesser distilleries (and gullible tourists) but a truly impressive series of stills, accomplishing an enormous quantity of distillation without sacrificing on quality. Their head distiller, too, was clearly a man with a debatably unhealthy devotion to his job – if such a thing is possible in the world of cognac.
Shortly before dinner, we tasted the eaux-de-vie as they come off the still, post dilution, and then headed to sample it following a short trip in several barrels (only 10/20 years or so, not much...) – we had XO Old Fashioneds before another sublime meal, with more wine, and again, headed back to the hotel notoriously satisfied with ourselves. I was, anyhow. The competitors were probably stressing about the following day as it up to them to compete against each other and showcase their creativity as well as talent using Rémy Martin products not just in their homeland but in the heart of Cognac.
The following morning was an early start so that we could get to the cooperage. Any good cognac, rum or whiskey is a balance between the flavours/aromas derived from fermentation and distillation, and those from maturation. Cognac spends more time in wood as standard than any of the others, thus the barrels are of the utmost importance, and our trip to the cooperage was eye-opening. The sheer amount of work that goes into each barrel (let alone the distillate) is staggering, and the skill of the workers produced a great deal of entertainment when one of the finalists had a crack at even the simplest of tasks. Their physical stamina alone is positively Olympian. We were told about the sourcing of the oak, how it becomes staves, how those are eventually toasted and bound, and sealed.
But all that paled when it came to the actual Rémy Martin maturation warehouses. A somewhat daunting introduction was that, due to the strength of the distillate in the barrels and the atmospheric factors within the ageing warehouses, a great deal of evaporation (le part des Anges, for those in the know) occurs, making for a) the actual best room you’ve ever smelt – forget new cars, and b) the single worst place to light up.
Seriously, they have the same security as a nuclear reactor. No lie. Tell you what, though – if all our favourite ridiculous politicians do finally toss their toys out the world’s collective caravan of prams, that’s where I’ll be hiding, waist deep in bliss. Actually, hell. Sign me up. I’ll just get the password to Putin’s twitter account and start tweeting about Trump’s coiffeur. There’s 4G in the paradis cellar, right?
Anyhow. We walked through the incredibly aromatic spaces – a variety of different cellars for the VSOP, 1738 and XO expressions, all aged separately, learned more about the history and intentions of each product, and, of course, tasted as we went. Truly the best way to experience the finest. From this mind-blowing experience were we taken to Rémy Martin’s private club, where we were presented with quite the image.
Before us lay a table bearing all the sources of aroma typically associated with their exquisite XO expression – cacao, apricot, a variety of candied fruits, honey, almonds, dried citrus, saffron pollen... the table was enormous, and packed. We sipped and tasted – it was the most visceral means of experiencing a spirit I have ever experienced. Once again, I returned to the hotel, dazed with joy, while the competitors were perhaps a little stressed.
The competition began. Being as thorough in their assessment of quality with drinks and bartenders as they are in cognac production, Rémy Martin had created three juries, all of which would assess the finalists separately. The first discerned taste, in black glasses, entirely isolating the taste and aroma from other qualities of presentation. The second rated the contestants on their presentation; their speech, independent of making a drink.
The final jury, on which I sat, would assess them on their physical technique in the construction of the drink, without actually tasting the drinks. This was obviously utter torture for me, but I bore it with dignity, I hope. Being a world final, the standard was, of course, very high, but thankfully our jury had the easiest job – while points were available for fluidity and style, the techniques we were assessing were pretty black-and-white. I pity the other juries, but at least they got to hear their stories and drink their drinks. Bastards.
Still, the hardest part was finding out shortly after who’d taken 1st, 2nd and 3rd and having to sit on the goss until the award ceremony later that evening. Thankfully, there was ample distraction – we were taken back to town and to the Rémy Martin museum, to The Room. Yep, caps. Right there, caps, and for good reason. No photography permitted, and an audible cough would earn you a look that could whither a battering ram built entirely of blood diamonds.
This Room is the treasure of Rémy Martin, and houses possibly the most expensive collection of bottles in the world. Every expression they’ve ever produced is in there, as well as a selection of single-vintage eaux-de-vie and pre-phylloxera Cognacs. ‘Awe’ does not describe it – even the lady who showed us around (who could answer literally anything we asked, which, given the breadth of knowledge required was a feat in itself) had a certain reverence, even fear, in that room.
Fair enough. One trip and you could break something worth more than our hotel, not to mention a genuine piece of history, an embodiment of struggle, success and the glorious pursuit of perfection in the production of one of life’s finest products. But that wasn’t the only reason most of us were nervous – the award ceremony awaited us, after all.
We left the museum and proceeded back to The Club, where there was nothing shy of a full-on, Gatsby-in-a-sidecar, swingin’ 1920’s party. Glamour abound, with crystal glassware, bowls of punch and much Champagne, I felt rather underdressed, even in a tuxedo. As the band continued, we eventually sat to a delightful meal, each course paired perfectly with a Rémy Martin cocktail. Then silence fell and the announcements began...
The atmosphere was more tense than the abs of a teenager being playfully poked by their fancy. Everyone’s breath was held in a corresponding manner. First, all of the competitors were lovingly acknowledged, individually, by the brilliant team of ambassadors. They received a reward for getting so far; a keepsake featuring a great shot of both them and their cocktail, somehow produced beautifully in the short time available.
Then, with dessert a distant memory, the real announcements began. Canada’s Jake Dolgy took third place, with Poland’s Wiktor Marycz claiming second place, and finally, Danilo Bozovic of Miami’s Employees Only emerging victorious. The other competitors, now his good friends, leapt to their feet – it was a win much-deserved. Naturally, there was a disappointment in loss for many, but the atmosphere did not reflect it – this was a time for celebration, for all.
The remainder of the evening gets kinda hazy as the adrenaline rush from the day finally started to leave my body. I think we left the 1920’s party around 1 and I do remember enjoying one last sip of XO by the pool at 4am with the competitors. His drink “The Early Morning Sour” was a roller coaster ride of flavours and emotions, served in what looked like a chalice of an emperor it utilised Rémy Martin 1738 with black tea infused amaro and a touch a Scotch as its main flavour components and was one of those iconic combinations that I won’t forget for many years to come.
Name: The Early Morning Sour
1oz Rémy Martin 1738
3/4oz Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Single Malt Scotch
1/2oz Black Tea infused Amaro Montenegro
3/4oz Fresh Lemon Juice
3/4oz Demerara Syrup
1 Raw Egg White
Heads were sore but spirits were high the next day, when we were carted off for a day of fun in Paris. The ambassadors of Rémy Martin got us a coach on the train to Montparnasse station, and continued to treat us like royalty by even providing the sort of packed lunch Jay Rayner probably has in uber luxes between Atherton’s restaurants. We arrived surprisingly refreshed, checked into a pretty Parisian hotel, and the fun resumed.
What would you say is the most iconic cognac cocktail? Take a moment. There are a few answers available, but we’re not talking about age or even quality, but its historical importance – there, I’d say the Sidecar has the throne. So we went for a Sidecar. Where, you ask? At the Ritz, of course. How did we get there? Funny you should ask.
In a GODDAMN SIDECAR! We emerged from our hotel to see a row of positively ancient sidecars, each with riders dressed like they’d come straight from D day to give us a ride. It was outrageously cool. After our sidecar at the Ritz (did I mention that), and investigating the superb Hemingway bar opposite it, we got back in our sidecars and headed to Gentlemen 1919, a beautiful barbershop with a speakeasy in the back (obviously). We had more sidecars.
From there, we went for dinner, where I experienced one of the best seafood risottos I’ve had in my life (and that scale is steep, logarithmic almost), and, of course, more cognac. We finished the trip with drinks at an incredible rooftop bar, with a full view of the city of romance. I started this article by saying that trips with brands are one of the best parts of the job – either for a journo or a bartender. Rémy Martin, you’ve ruined me. That just ain’t getting topped. Think I’ll just go for that law conversion now. To find our more information you can visit https://www.remymartin.com/us/