If you are in your early 30’s or 40’s, you might just have a new suitor. Cognac, which has long been seen as an older, upscale product, has been shedding its old skin and reaching out to a new generation of consumers who it hopes will embrace the spirit in a whole new way. “It’s our own fault,” explains Jennifer Szersnovicz of Courvoisier. “Cognac as a whole had been too focused on the after dinner, consumed neat, upscale market that people forgot how versatile a spirit cognac can be.”
Mixability and flexibility seem to be the new buzz words that are surrounding cognac’s renewed attempts at wooing new fans to the spirit. Courvoisier has gone to the drawing board and completely revised the way they deal with and talk about their products. At the centerpiece of this is a program entitled Le Nez de Courvoisier, which translates literally into “The Nose of Courvoisier”. With this program, Courvoisier emphasizes the aromas of cognac and is engaging wine consumers, who may not traditionally seek out cognac, in a space that they are familiar and comfortable with.
For Remy Martin, the strategy is to reach the hearts of drinkers through their stomach. Remy Martin now routinely shows off their spirits with food pairings emphasizing cognac’s compatibility with food, from the more traditional creme brulee to the less conventional fois gras, smoked salmon, and goat cheese. “Lightly chill our VSOP and it pairs amazingly with shellfish or fish,” suggests Lauren Beckett, Brand Ambassador for Remy Martin. Olivier Blanc, Director of Cognac Gourmel, recommends drinking his cognac with coffee. “In Scandinavia they call it ‘avec cafe’, an espresso with an ounce or two of cognac served on the side. You sip one and then the other. It’s exquisite.”
Mixability has been seen as a key to bring cognac to a new generation of drinkers, and several cognac houses have released products which are focused on the cocktail. Pierre Ferrand recently released their 1840 Original Formula Cognac, which was modeled after an actual archival bottle of cognac from 1840, bottled at a higher proof (90 proof) than the rest of their cognacs. Courvoisier has brought Cognac Exclusif, a product originally designed for the Asian market, to the US as another option for cocktails. “It doesn’t have to be complicated,” says Cyrille Gautier Auriol, Brand Ambassador for Hennessy Cognac. “Our VS Cognac mixed with either tonic water or ginger ale makes a fantastic, approachable, and easy drink.”
Cognac hasn’t abandoned its focus on the after dinner drink or the higher end connoisseur. Attempting to woo connoisseurs from other spirit categories, some of the cognac houses have created releases which are attractive to that category. Courvoisier has 12 year and 21 year old Connoisseur Collection releases with aging and packaging very familiar to whiskey consumers. Hine focuses on releases which identify the years of spirit inside the blend. For the European market, Camus has a pair of cognac releases from Ile de Re, a small island in the Bois Ordinaires region of Cognac, whose flavor profile parallels that of Islay Scotch.
Cognac has built its reputation through blending, but one cognac merchant is set to challenge that. Cognac Grosperrin has a line of vintage cognacs aimed at the connoisseur which are unblended, at a higher proof, and highlight the amazing complexity and personality that a single vintage barrel of cognac can have. “Complexity and personality are not the same thing,” explains Jean Grosperrin. “You can make something pleasant and technically correct, but it’s boring.”
Some cognac producers have abandoned the traditional cognac grading of VS, VSOP, and XO for more approachable ways for consumers to understand their products. “I’ve broken down the different stages that cognac goes through as it ages: fruit, flowers, and spice,” describes Olivier Blanc, Director of Cognac Gourmel. Pierre Ferrand also has abandoned the standard grading with their Ambre, Reserve, and Esprit des Dieux.
Expanding its image as an affable and mixable product that pairs well with food on one hand while convincing whisky connoisseurs to try the category on the other could lead to significant gains for cognac; however, that is only if consumers are willing to overcome dated perceptions about a category making a concerted effort to woo them.
Cognac & Tonic
1 oz of VS or VSOP Cognac
3-4 oz of tonic
Perhaps the best cocktail to showcase cognac’s easy and affable side is the cognac and tonic. While the drink is extremely popular in Cognac, it’s fairly unknown in the United States and it is a fantastic way to introduce someone to the category.
Cognac Summit Cocktail
1 lime zest
4 thin slices of fresh ginger
1 1/2 oz of VSOP Cognac
2 oz fresh lemonade
1 long cucumber peel
Place lime zest and ginger slices in glass and pour in VSOP Cognac. Lightly press the lime and ginger 2-3 times with a muddler. Half fill the glass with ice. Stir well for 5 seconds. Add 2 oz of lemonade and cucumber peel and stir again.
The Cognac Summit Cocktail is another fantastic showcase of the light, spicy, fruity, and refreshing qualities of cognac.