Cognac is no longer a sleeper on the backbar. The famed French brandy is now a standard part of any self-respecting craft program. However, watching cognac break out into the well, we wondered.”What’s next for cognac?” After one grants Cognac a beachfront in the bar and adds that one drink to the list, how does a beverage director expand on that start? For help on the matter, we turned to ms. franky marshall, Cognac Educator/Modern Bartender.
Cognac’s popularity has come a long way in a short time, but it is still far from headliner on the backbar. For many programs, the next clear step is creating options. Elevating your program requires building a range of cognacs on the backbar just like one good programs do with other spirits like whiskey.
“When I started in this business, we had one cognac [at a bar].”
“When I started in this business, we had one cognac [at a bar]. You know, just one expression that we used for everything,” mused Marshall. “Things have changed so much. The last place that I was working, we had eight cognacs, plus a different bottle in the well.”
Of course, like any sippable, it’s not just about having different labels; it’s about having different tastes.
“For cognac, there are so many different expressions, ages, and of course the various cellar types and barrels that all affect the final product,” explained the pro. “I think it’s important to chose a cognac that suits the cocktail that you’re trying to make.”
Marshall explained that one benefit of variety is the ability to pair your spirits with the weather.
“People think about changing their menus seasonally—which is great. But, that doesn’t always work for every bar,” opined the cognac cognoscente. “So, I think that an alternative to changing your menu is changing your spirits so that they reflect the season.”
As an example, Marshall recalled a bar program that she once ran in a Brooklyn bar. Classic French 75’s were a year round fixture on the list, but she tweaked the drink’s base a few times a year to sync with the seasons.
“In the spring and summer I used the lighter VS that had more floral notes and was a little more fruity,“ the expert elaborated. “In the wintertime, I used a full bodied VSOP which had a spicy character, and a more distinguishable wood presence.”
HOW TO MAKE CONVERTS
We, in the Neat Pour offices, have an intense love for cognac; however, we’re pragmatic enough to understand that the the brandy is still exotic to many bar guests. So, we asked Marshall the $64,000 Question: How to win some converts to the cause?
She returned to her earlier anecdote.
“I like to go back to the French 75, one of my favorite cocktails. It’s an easy sell. It just sounds great. Sparkling wine! Fresh lemon! Even people who don’t know cognac want that drink,” she professed. “I actually had a woman say, ‘I’d like this drink, but without cognac because I want it to be refreshing.’”
Marshall responded in character. “I told her, “Dahhhling. Let me make it for you and if you don’t like it, I’ll drink it,’” she recalled. “Of course, she just didn’t know that cognac could be refreshing. And, I think a good way to demonstrate that is through cocktails.”
Marshall’s believes that cocktails are a great way to turn a customer onto cognac. Neat serves have their niche audience, but cocktails are far more accessible and can utilize so many different flavor profiles through different modifiers.
“It’s a spirit like anything we have in our arsenal…”
However, she is clearly a big fan of the refreshing, like the 75, profile especially as an introductory point. A couple other simple crowdpleasers in that category are the Cognac-Ginger Ale or Cognac-Tonic as two classic drinks of the Cognac region.
Marshall told NP that the sky is limit using that long drink model. “You can start with a highball and from there, you can play! You can incorporate teas, anything effervescent, herbs, fruit, mint…“
In short, cognac swaps well into most classic cocktail families. Ultimately, it is up to the bartender. “There really are no rules,” said the authority. “It’s a spirit like anything we have in our arsenal. You see what works in your environment.”
However, all the knowledge in the world will not help a program unless the entire staff shares this knowledge—and is able to express covey this info to the customer.
Marshall added that there are plenty of ways to educate your staff. Group tastings, talk to brand ambassadors, importers, distributors to get real facts about the brands.
Yet, her bottom line remained the same: without the a well educated staff, very little else matters.