Cognac

Dark spirits are for life, not just for Christmas!

 

I read an interesting article the other day on the Los Angeles Times website, about how clear spirits are the trend in Southern California at the moment. The article talks about ‘light drinks for sunny days, meant to refresh’ and goes on to say that ‘clear spirits often get the job done better than the dark stuff’. While I totally agree with much of what the article says, especially about treating these clear spirits with a delicate touch to stop them from being overpowered by other ingredients, it also got me thinking about how we often unfairly compartmentalise spirits to be for a certain occasion or time of year. So below are a few thoughts I have about not forgetting ‘the dark stuff’ when it comes to summer drinking.

I should start by saying that I love white Rum, Gin, blanco Tequila, and am even slowly growing fonder of Vodka. But having said that I’m often drawn to the complexities of dark spirits as a base for cocktails as well as for sipping neat. When the sun is shining I’ll admit that a Daiquiri, Margarita or Caipirinha are great thirst quenchers, or that a refreshing Collins can be hard to beat. But likewise there are some pretty amazing dark spirit drinks that fulfil the same role for me. A Mai Tai, Mint Julep or even a Whiskey Sour are pretty remarkable summertime cocktails.

Spirit and Cocktail gifts, all wrapped up

Well it’s that time of year again, the weather’s turned cold, the shops are packed full off people battling to spend their money as fast as possible and every bar has mulled wine or hot spiced cider bubbling away. Yep the run up to Christmas is in full swing, like it or not. So I thought rather than simply trot out a few recipes for hot cocktails or recommend where you should go for your office party, I’d instead work up a list of booze related presents to suit every relative or friend. So below is the official b&t cocktail and spirit Christmas list.

The great thing about giving spirits or cocktail related goodies for Christmas is that you’re likely to be able to share in the enjoyment of the gifts. I know they say that the pleasure is in the giving rather than the receiving, but as far as I’m concerned the pleasure is also in the sipping. So below you’ll find some of my favourite tipples, bits of cocktail equipment and booze related paraphernalia that should help you to have a very merry Christmas indeed!

 

Three ways with cognac

 

When it comes to cocktails for some reason cognac is not the first spirit that springs to mind. I suppose that’s partly due to the fact that when most people think ‘cognac’ they picture a super expensive liquid, enjoyed by the wealthy few, after a meal in a fine dining restaurant. It’s a fact that cognac is generally more expensive than most other spirits; the price point even of a VS cognac makes it one of the more expensive products in any bars speed rail, but that doesn’t mean that it’s inaccessible to the average cocktail lover.

 

Historically, cognac has been a popular base for cocktails, and without breaking the bank, offers good entry-level varieties that can be fantastic to play with in drinks. In fact in the mixing room at b&t head quarters we stock fine examples from Martell, Coirvoisier and Hennessey that all offer something different when used in cocktails. Recently I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Cognac as a guest of the Merlet family learning about both their liqueurs and their cognac, the ‘Brothers Blend’ and, after spending an hour watching Tony Conigliaro make cocktails in the sunshine, outside the family home I felt inspired to play around with this versatile and tasty ingredient myself.

Dave Wondrich: Imbibing punches with the man himself

 

David Wondrich author of Punch and ImbibeIt’s not every day you get to sit down with the author of one of your all time favourite cocktail books and have a chat, so when the kind folks at Courvoisier invited me to meet David Wondrich, I jumped at the chance! He was in London as their guest as part of their ongoing association with punch, which of course is the title of his most recent book. Now I’m sure that most people when offered an interview with an author and drinks historian do their homework and prepare a detailed list of questions… I however took a different approach. I arrived unprepared and decided just to see where the conversation led.

 

So below you won’t find an interview as such, but more of a collection of thoughts and quotes from a very pleasant morning spent chatting about everything from ploughing fields with oxen, to drinking ether. But let me start with a little background about Mr Wondrich and how he came to be a cocktail historian and author. Unsurprisingly this was not a chosen career path but more of a direction that life happened to take him in.

The devil is in the detail, part 2

 

As promised in last week’s blog, I’m back with part two of my look at the rules and regulations of spirit production. Once again this isn’t a short or light update, there’s a lot of information here that hopefully will go a long way to explaining how each spirit category must be made and what some of the differences are between one type of spirit and another. I've chosen to leave out liqueurs as I've written about those rules very recently.

 

This time we’ll be looking at vodka, tequila and mescal, and several types of brandy. So if you’ve ever wondered what makes cognac different from other brandies, or why rums from different countries taste so unique, then stir yourself a manhattan, put on your reading glasses and let’s have another look at the rules and regs!

 

We wish you a cocktail christmas!

Well the silly season is in full swing and this is likely to be the last update from b&t for 2010. It has been a hell of a year to be honest and 2011 is already looking like a corker too, what with trips to Copenhagen and New York in the pipeline, testing beginning on our full website and a list of topics to blog about as long as my arm (and at 6’6” I have pretty long arms!). So now we are nearing the end of 2010 I guess it’s time to shake a cocktail or two and reflect on the year past and look forward to the year ahead.
 
 
I always know it’s Christmas time when I start getting inundated with emails from brands and PR companies telling me about their amazing holiday drinks recipes and asking me to feature them on my blog. Each one seems slightly more cliché than the last. How many hot drinks featuring apple juice/cider, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg and stirred with a cinnamon stick, could any one person possibly want to drink? It seems like every spirit brand has come up with ‘this years must have’ Christmas drink, but maybe they all went shopping for ingredients at the same supermarket! Consequently precisely none of them have made it onto bitters&twisted.
 

Can a Spirit be Too Good for a Cocktail?

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to a tasting event hosted by Remy Martin cognac. Cocktails were provided featuring their VSOP cognac but the star of the show was their Coeur de Cognac, which was available to taste neat or with an ice cube. When I questioned why Coeur de Cognac wasn’t being showcased in the cocktails as well I received a familiar reply, ‘it’s too refined to be mixed in a cocktail, it should be enjoyed as it is’.
 
 
It’s not unusual for a producer to take great pride in the premium products that they have created, or to turn their noses up at the idea that you want to adulterate them by putting them in a cocktail, but when is a spirit too good to be used in a mixed drink? I think there are two schools of thought on that subject.
 

A Few of Our Favourite Things

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks for me, with distillery visits, new products being sent to me, catching up with master distillers and the first Imbibe bar show, not to mention a food and cocktail pairing hosted by Courvoisier and Bompass & Parr. I guess I can’t complain when every day there seems to be something new to try or someone new to meet.
 
 
So today I thought I’d share a few of the best tipples that I have stumbled across recently and drop a few teasers for the series of updates I have planned for the bitters&twisted blog over the next few weeks.