Former Drinks International editor Patience Gould enjoys cocktail innovation from Cognac and Japan
Last month was definately a month when brown spirits were at the fore – perhaps more proof that summer has yet to arrive in the UK, but that’s another matter. The two spirits I refer to are Cognac and Japanese whisky – Rémy Martin and Nikka to be precise, and both parties are using the cocktail as a means to broaden usage and to develop a consumer following.
The Cognac cocktail movement has been hubbling and bubbling now for nigh-on a decade and I think it’s fair to say that, of the four big Houses, Rémy has been relatively slow out of the blocks. But the producer is now making up for lost time with its international initiative One Night In. London was the test bed for this promotion and the thinking is to take it to other main cities around the world.
The selected top watering holes in the capital are the Langham Hotel’s Artesian Bar, the Connaught, The Lab, Bam-Bou’s Red Bar, Happiness Forgets and Novikov. They are all very different, as are their bespoke cocktails, as I was to find out. I was lucky to be included in a Rémy soirée which ferried guests around three of London’s top watering holes. It kicked off at the Artesian and its truly delectable take on the classic New Orleans cocktail, Vieux Carré. This heady mix of Rémy, vermouth, Pikesville rye whiskey, Benedictine, plus dashes of Angostura and Peychauds bitters, was beautifully presented in an absinthe glass served straight up over a sculpted ice cube containing the outline of a butterfly. A straight “douze points”.
We were then ushered on to a Routemaster red bus, clutching glasses of R&G (Rémy & ginger ale) to help us on our way, and we were soon rumbling (and I mean rumbling) towards The Lab, where we sampled the Bitter Sweet Truth. Finally, with more R&G for the trip, we arrived at Happiness Forgets and its Baptiste cocktail.
Homeward bound – this time without an R&G – I reflected on the evening and decided it was a definite first. Yes, I’ve written about and tasted Cognac cocktails over the years but never had them in an actual cocktail bar, and this is a vital part of Rémy’s strategy to get people thinking R&G or another Cognac cocktail whatever type of outlet they are in, and whatever time of day it may be.
It’s a hard nut to crack because, of all the stereotypical drinking occasions, Cognac with a balloon glass and the smoking cigar is inarguably the most entrenched. However, it’s now formally under siege and the cocktail is pivotal to a successful outcome.
Nikka, and its UK agent Eaux de Vie, is using the cocktail too, but the aim here is to attract consumers to the delights of Japanese whisky, of which there are many. In the UK alone the Nikka range is 17 strong, so there should be lots to crow about. The producer’s cocktail initiative is being showcased with a pop-up bar at Smiths of Smithfield – a suitably trendy nightspot – which even on a Tuesday was packed to the gunnels.