Bartender-friendly spirits & their cocktails
Sometimes it seems like bartenders have all the luck. After all, the top dogs get lavish trips to places like Scotland, Mexico and Barbados to tour distilleries and sample regional fare. In their off-time, they travel to cocktail weeks in great cities around the world. Upping the ante, spirits companies are even custom-making bartender-friendly spirits for them. Last year, for instance, saw the arrival of Auchentoshan’s Bartender’s Malt as well as an ergonomically-designed bottle for Death’s Door Gin. Joining in all the fun is Martell Blue Swift, a Cognac blend finished in bourbon barrels and made for mixing.
Just what type of cocktails are bartenders making with these bartender-friendly spirits? When it comes to Blue Swift, many are sticking close to classic Jazz Age recipes, since that’s an era in which brandy-based cocktails really rose to the occasion. In the 1920s, with Prohibition in effect in the United States, a number of American bartenders moved to Europe – especially Paris – so they could continue working. With bourbon and rye no longer available, a whole new cocktail canon was invented, much of which used brandy or cognac as a base. These are the ones coming back into fashion.
“I think cognac drinks are definitely getting a lot more recognition,” says Aaron Male, a Toronto bartender and consultant who works on custom spirited events. “I mean, the bourbon renaissance helped bring back a lot of classic cocktails. Now that people are getting a little more cocktail-savvy and knowledgeable, I think cognac is getting its turn.”
Cognac cocktails took longer to re-emerge than its bourbon cousins, in part because cognac is more expensive to mix. Blue Swift, for example, is around the $100 mark in Canada, meaning that it won’t be on the rail except at high-end bars and hotels. Some people still express a little resistance towards mixing the spirit, having grown up watching cognac served neat after dinner or, in extenuating circumstances, in a hot toddy. It was for Bond villains, people suffering from the flu and men in club chairs.
“Cognac used to be the old man’s drink, served in a snifter, usually with a cigar,” says Male, recalling the days when he first started in the restaurant business. “People used to take hot water and warm up the glass. And I think now people are realizing that’s not even the best way to drink it.”
That would be in a Riedel cognac glass (or a good sherry copita) and served at room temperature. Or, to many, mixed in a drink. And for those who want to start playing with cognac cocktails, Male advises sticking to the classic formulas. Blue Swift, for example, will show well in a simple Cognac Old Fashioned or Sazerac.
Male got a little more ambitious, however, when we asked him for a recipe. Inspired by the Vieux Carré, a classic cognac cocktail invented in New Orleans in the 1930s, as well as a recent visit to Paris, where he saw Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’s famous house, Male concocted the 27 rue de Fleurus, which he shared with us here.
“It’s a twist on a Vieux Carré, but made for two,” says Male. “So many restaurants are doing shareable plates and menus, so I figured, why not cocktails?”
27 rue de Fleurus
1 1/2 oz cognac
1 oz sweet vermouth (French, if possible)
1 oz Canadian whisky
4 oz Sloane Chocolate Truffle tea (it has some great dry cocoa nib and vanilla notes and isn’t too sweet)
3 dashes Bittered Sling Malagasy Chocolate Bitters
1 dash orange bitters
Brew the tea in advance and let it cool. Add all ingredients to an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir for 45 seconds. Strain and pour into two tea cups. Alternatively, Male says it can be served warm. A perfect way to stay warm as we impatiently wait for spring to truly arrive.