Curating luxury for the discerning traveller

COGNAC: THE GENTLEMAN'S SPIRIT

cognac-main.jpg

After many years, Cognac is creeping back onto London’s top cocktail menus. Elizabeth Finney goes in search of a unique aperitif experience

As the days get shorter and colder in London, the summer gin craze is waning and now, a warming glass of Cognac is on every spirit connoisseur’s mind. Cognac is a brandy, a distilled wine. In the 16th century, Dutch traders struggled to preserve the French wine they’d bought throughout the journey home, so began distilling it. The result was known as burnt wine, or brandewijn, which evolved over the years to become brandy. Produced in a region just north of Bordeaux, along the banks of the Charente River, Cognac is one of the two greatest grape brandies of the world, alongside Armagnac.

 While Cognac dates back a number of centuries, it became the gentleman’s drink of choice from the 18th century in England. Persons of quality drank Cognac – it was their spirit. “Poor people were dying because they were drinking too much gin and rich people were living because they were drinking nice, well-made Cognac,” says Rob Whitehead, an expert in spirits at Berry Bros. & Rudd. “This was of course, a long time ago. But Cognac is still about elegance. It’s about deftness, delicacy, poise and grace, and all of those nonsenses.”

Dining
cognac-left.jpg
cognac-right.jpg

Cognac, one of life’s sweet simplicities...

Berry Bros. & Rudd’s link with Cognac goes back a surprising number of years. The company has been bottling Cognacs under its own label for well over two centuries and the great grandparents of the family running the company today were buying from the respective ancestors of those running their careful selection of Cognac houses.

“Spirits make up a small portion of the business, roughly 10 per cent, and brandy is a relatively small part of that,” explains Whitehead. “Our house brands are our starting point. Beyond that, the handful of different houses we work with all have things to stand up behind because if there was one best we’d only stock one. I work with the people that I think are all great but in different ways.”

Cognac is one of life’s sweet simplicities. It can be enjoyed neat with a favourite novel, alongside good friends and rich desserts (think anything walnut, coffee or dark chocolate based) or, as Whitehead reveals, mixed with tonic for a refreshing interlude to your afternoon. “All these things are voluntary, you don’t need Cognac to live, much as we try,” adds Whitehead. “So, have the right thing at the right time, horses for courses.”

artesian-wide.jpg

Artesian

Inspired by the eclectic curio collections of wealthy Victorian English gentlemen, the Artesian Bar at The Langham hotel features chic yet idiosyncratic purple and gold interiors by the iconic designer David Collins. With high white ceilings, jewelled mirror panels, hand-crafted chandeliers and crocodile leather details, this is a truly regal spot in which to relax and enjoy your Cognac. “Our current menu features a cocktail with a Hennessy VS Cognac, yellow Caturra coffee, sesame and absinthe. It’s really delicious and even though it may be a little forward it is very accessible,” says Rémy Savage, head bartender at the Artesian. “I would probably direct novice Cognac drinkers to a classic cocktail such as a Sidecar, a Crusta or even a Champs-Elysees. Mixed drinks are a wonderful way to introduce anyone to a spirit.”

 For those who prefer an unmixed beverage, the Artesian also offers Rémy Martin VSOP, Hennessy XO and Martell L’Or. Relax at a bespoke butterfly-lacquered table and soak up the vibrant atmosphere of this extraordinary spot, or sit at the mirrored pagoda bar and work your way through the expansive and innovative cocktail menu, entitled ‘Artesian Moments’. Each cocktail draws inspiration from key lifetime memories, such as your first steps, learning how to ride a bike, falling in love and turning 30. Cognac lovers should opt for the aforementioned tipple, named ‘That moment when… you achieved success at work.’ “I am a big fan of looking at alternative disciplines to find inspiration for cocktails, whether it be art, architecture or even philosophy,” Rémy says. “I feel understanding the intention behind certain pieces opens many doors creatively.”

artesian-bar.co.uk

mexican-room-wide.jpg

Annabel's

This iconic member’s club reopened in spring 2018 two doors down from its original home on Berkeley Square, where it first opened its doors in 1983. The new club sprawls across a four-storey Georgian townhouse and boasts interiors vibrant were created by Martin Brudnizki in the spirit of ‘English eccentricity’. Flora and fauna feature heavily throughout, and guests can choose from the Asia-inspired Elephant Room, the elegant Rose Room, the adventurous Mexican Bar, the Jungle Bar or the extraordinary garden terrace, which features a huge array of plants and a one-of-a-kind retractable glass roof so guests can enjoy the space in all weather. If you’re keen to pair your Cognac with a cigar, head down to the Humidor to select the perfect something from the selection of rare, vintage and premium Cuban cigars.

 “My recommendation for a first-time Cognac drinker is for them to take their time,” says Francisco Santos, bar general manager at Annabel’s. “The beverage has spent years in the making, so why rush the moment? Enjoy each sip and create a moment between you and your drink.” For those who have opted for the illustrious Elephant Room on the first floor, pull up an intricately-patterned chair and enjoy a Golden Star cocktail. Santos’ favourite, it combines Cognac with hints of vanilla, homemade Feijoa and Tonka bean cordial, elderflower and orange bitters, garnished with gold star anise.

If you’re not in the mood for a cocktail, go for something with real flavour. “When it comes to Cognac, it is very easy to grow fond of the Hors d’Age, Cognac that been carefully crafted and aged for more than 30 years,” adds Santos. “I personally love Martell Cordon Bleu – it’s a great Cognac. It’s rich, full-bodied, with dried fruit notes such as date, plum and sultana.” Annabel’s also offers an array of VSOP and XO Cognacs, including the Frapin 1942, Croizet Extra and Richard Hennessy.

annabels.co.uk

cahoots-wide.jpg

Cahoots

For a less traditional Cognac experience, descend the steps in Kingly Court to Cahoots, a beautiful underground cocktail bar that harks back to London during the Blitz for its interior design. Relax at one of the many mismatched vintage tables surrounded by historical curios or even inside the old-fashioned train carriage and enjoy an expertly mixed cocktail or a neat tipple, while watching an array of jazz, swing and ragtime musicians.

A collection of vintage station signs, old travelling trunks, leather bound books, antique crockery, Union Jack bunting and reclaimed furniture has been curated by CT Creative alongside metal grills, concrete flooring and tiled walls to create the feeling of being in a wartime underground station, which were often used as community bomb shelters during the Blitz. “Cognac is a fantastic spirit and we love to mix here in Cahoots. It’s really versatile with a great character,” says Michele Venturini, bar manager at Cahoots. “I love Hennessy, I have visited the house before and is just fantastic what they do there.”

Cognac was still extremely popular among the upper class throughout Europe in the 1940s, even though the masses were encouraged to drink beer. It was recently discovered that Adolf Hitler had a secret Cognac and Champagne cellar hidden in the grounds of Moritzburg Castle, while Winston Churchill’s love of Hine was well-known – he was partial to a nightcap that consisted of nearly a whole bottle.

However, if you’re not looking for an evening of Churchill-esque debauchery, Cahoots is the place to mix things up. “I would recommend the Fine and Dandy, a super refreshing cocktail featuring a base of Courvoisier VSOP, with fresh rhubarb and lemongrass, apple and ginger jam and topped with Schweppes 1783 Cucumber tonic water,” says Venturini. “Alternatively, the French Kisses for my Missus is a twist on a classic French negroni, made with Hennessy VS, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, Suze gentian liqueur and a lavender and lemon mist.”

cahoots-london.com

More

DINE OUT IN STYLE

Dine with style in some of London's new restaurants in London

A PASSAGE TO INDIA

They say that the best Indian food to be found outside India is in London and, as three new restaurants bring the taste of authentic Indian food to the capital, we certainly think that’s true.

SCANDI STYLE

Kathryn Conway enjoys an evening sampling the very best of Nordic cuisine