ICS attempts to measure the pleasure of cognac

31 January, 2011

In its fourth edition, the International Cognac Summit (ICS) 2011, attempted to answer the question: can you quantify pleasure when tasting cognac?

Journalists, sommeliers, bartenders and drinks consultants from the US, UK, France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria were assembled in Cognac to discuss the question, courtesy of event organiser the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC).

The summit’s four-day schedule, which included visits to Martell, Frapin, Hennessy, Courvoisier and Rémy Martin, was supported by quantitative analysis of tasting.

Participants, who numbered around 40, measured the intensity and longevity of cognac on the palate, following a three-second period in the mouth.

Each participant recorded a numerical value - to represent intensity - at regular intervals, over a period of three minutes.

Findings were then collated and displayed in graphics for analysis and conclusions to be reached.

Christopher Nelson, sommelier at The Modern, New York said: “Most people judge a drink on the attack and the finish – few of us really think about the mid palate.

“A lot of people who don’t like cognac don’t like the first few seconds. We have to encourage them to wait and give it time.”

Organisers and participants agreed that while the theme of the event had been challenging, the process of quantifying pleasure had not been fully realised.

Spirits journalist and author Dave Broom said: “How do we measure pleasure? I don’t think we can but asking the question was positive and it has made us look deeper into how we analyse and how we taste.

“There has almost been a level of philosophical discussion going on. Certainly drinking Louis XIII [at Rémy Martin] was, for me, a Proustian moment.”

Spirits journalist and author Dominic Roskrow said that Cognac is too complex to measure in terms of pleasure over time.

He said: “Everyone got a lot out of it, but the methodology was redundant – you can’t empirically measure the enjoyment of a drink.”

The BNIC said: “Some thought that the simple answer to this was: no. But by trying to answer it the ICS has thrown light on many aspects of tasting and indeed advising consumers on cognac.

“All agreed that the original question set to by the ICS 2011 was challenging, daring and complex and therefore quite normal that we hadn’t come up with a snappy answer and some smart visual in 2.5 days.”

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