The Cognac business has always been on an international roller-coaster, depending much on good economic times to boost sales. Lately, of course, as the world economy has shrunk, Cognac has struggled to keep pace. Among the Cognac producers' many efforts is an annual hosting of international bartenders and sommeliers, just completed, so we thought it timely to check in with a Cognac fan and one of the three recently certified educators cited by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac, Bridget Albert of Southern Wine and Spirits.
NCB Mix: You're in select company as a Cognac educator now - is Cognac a special interest of yours?
Bridget Albert: Yes. As the director of the Academy of Sprits and Fine Service for Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois, I offer a session that focuses on the history of Cognac and cocktails; this is a two-hour class.
NCB Mix: What qualities does Cognac offer in cocktails that other brown spirits don't supply?
Albert: Cognac offers a variety of complex flavors such as dry fruits, honey, vanilla, tobacco and spices. This of course depends on the age of the Cognac.
NCB Mix: Do you find some house styles make better cocktail ingredients, or perhaps Cognacs with greater mix of spirits from certain zones - Borderies or Petite Champagne, for instance?
Albert: They all have a place. A Cognac from Grand Champagne may be more delicate and refined, therefore best served in a spirited cocktail. A Cognac from the Borderies may have tastes of fresh fruit, therefore more fun and tasty to mix with herbs and fruits.
NCB Mix: As someone who works with bartenders a lot, what are the common misconceptions you hear about Cognac?
Albert: The biggest misconception is that it is mass-produced and not made with quality. Cognac is one of the fussiest spirits made, with strict laws for distillation. It also has an extraordinary heritage.
NCB Mix: Is price the major problem in getting bartenders interested in making Cognac-based cocktails?
Albert: Price of the base spirit is always an issue when creating any cocktail. However, if used properly and not in a wasteful way bartenders can create affordable Cognac cocktails. You don’t have to reach for an XO to make a great drink.
NCB Mix: As someone who knows and appreciates Cognac, what do you think the suppliers need to do to develop a more prominent place in American mixology?
Albert: Suppliers need to get the word out and spread some love for Cognac. This can only be done through education.
NCB Mix: What's your favorite cocktail right now?
Albert: Right now I enjoy Cognac in a Hot Toddy as it is freezing cold in the Midwest!