“We take the time to make it, so take the time to appreciate,” instructs Sullivan Doh, a revered mixologist, certified Cognac educator by Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), and D’USSÉ global brand ambassador.
Doh recalls falling in love with Cognac when he was 21 and bartending in London. He was visiting a friend and fellow bartender who gave him a really good pour of a very expensive Cognac at the end of his meal. Doh likens the experience to the moment in the animated movie “Ratatouille” when the main character discovers the delectable flavors of strawberry cheese as fireworks explode around him
“That’s what happened to me,” explains Doh.
While the D’USSÉ brand is relatively young, launching the super-premium D’USSÉ VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) in 2012 and XO (Extra Old) in 2014, it’s developed in one of France’s first Cognac castles that dates back to 1795 when Baron Otard purchased the historic Château de Cognac — also the royal residence and birthplace of King Françios I — and saved it from destruction.
Otard recognized that the Château’s thick walls (it was initially built in the 10th century as a fortress designed to stop Norman invasions) and its location along the Charente river would provide the perfect conditions for aging spirits. The river has the natural ability to regulate temperature and humidity, which allows the château to house both wet/humid and dry cellars. This diversity offers the cellar master the ability to cultivate hundreds of different eaux de vie — the liquids that remain after the double-distilling process — and purposefully blend them to create the flavor profile of the house.
The most famous Cognac houses formed during this time, but an aphid outbreak in the 1870s would destroy nearly all the vines in the region. The spirit would experience a resurgence in the 20th century when Cognac-growing regions were defined and protected by law. Today, 90 percent of Cognac is exported because while it’s exploding across the globe, the demand is not high in France. In spite of its popularity in the U.S. as a classy and elegant spirit with swagger, the French tend to regard it as an “old” spirit and have demonstrated a preference for spirits outside of the country, particularly whiskey.
A Modern Twist
Enter D’USSÉ, a brand created as the modern expression of Cognac, and Sullivan Doh, a man on a mission to educate the world about the versatility of the spirit as well as the exquisite experience of tasting it.
“I knew it was underrepresented and needed some love,” he says.
Ever since his “Ratatouille” moment 13 years ago, Doh has been pouring Cognac. His passion for the French spirit led to the opening of his first bar in 2014 — Le Syndicat in Paris. It would be the only cocktail bar at the time to exclusively showcase French alcohol and other local ingredients. It would also land on The World’s 50 Best Bars list.
Doh made a point to meet the producers and understand the production process of the brands he served. “I was educating myself and educating my consumer,” he says. “If people can come to my place and learn something about the spirits or cocktails, it elevates the experience.”
It was through these meetings that Doh became familiar with D’USSÉ and the story behind the brand. He’d been approached by other Cognac houses that asked him to represent them, but Doh felt an immediate connection to D’USSÉ and its vision.
“Taking the tradition of Cognac and bringing it to modernity — that’s what I was already doing with my bar,” he says. “D’USSÉ uses the expertise and knowledge of our historical brand to make today’s Cognac.”
Something Old, Something New
As a modern expression of Cognac, D’USSÉ VSOP can be served alone, but it is created with the younger generation in mind to be incorporated with cocktails.
“It’s one of the most versatile spirits out there,” Doh explains. He likes to use VSOP in tropical cocktails with mango, passion fruit, and pineapple. If you prefer something bitter, like a Negroni, he suggests substituting gin for Cognac. “Coffee and cognac also work really well,” he adds.
D’USSÉ XO, with a higher price point and longer aging process, is designed to be savored in the old tradition of Cognac: neat. It’s a tradition Doh likes to share with his patrons.
He begins by inviting his guests to sniff the XO to experience the aromas.
“There’s a subtle spiciness,” Doh notes. “You can close your eyes and think about walnut and hazelnut and just a bit of oxidation. You have a nice vanilla aroma and some baking fruits, like dried apricots or ripe blackberries. There’s also a note of forest undergrowth.”
Next, Doh suggests taking one sip to coat the mouth and appreciate the silkiness of the XO. “It’s rich in texture, but not thick,” he says. “There are notes of the baking fruits, pear, and floral, along with a hint of cinnamon and allemande-like marzipan.”
Doh explains how the dry and wet cellars contribute to the flavor profiles of the eaux de vie. “The dry cellar provides all the woodiness and spiciness through the aging, and with the humid cellar you have more citrus and melon notes.” The eaux de vie in the XO range from 10 to 20 years, with some time spent in the dry cellar but most of the time in a humid cellar to get a more rounded and refined flavor profile.
“We have over 200 different eaux de vie inside one bottle,” Doh says. D’USSÉ’s passionate cellar master, Michel Casavecchia, hand selects the rarest eaux de vie to create and maintain the flavor profile of the house even while the liquid is always changing. He’s overseen production at the Château de Cognac for 30 years.
“Using his knowledge, Casavecchia thought about how people drink today and created a flavor profile in the VSOP that will work in cocktails and yet another in the XO that people can sip and savor.”
It’s the second sip of D’USSÉ XO that delivers the fireworks. On the palate, Doh describes how XO brings notes of hazelnuts and nutmeg, followed by well-rounded and complex apricot and orange, and hints of wood and subtle warm spice. With notes of rich dark chocolate and walnut, D’USSÉ XO culminates in an exceptionally balanced finish.
It’s a fine spirit, housed in a fine bottle. Adorned with the Cross of Lorraine — a French symbol of honor, courage, and perseverance — D’USSÉ XO is an expression of how the brand has incorporated both classic traditions with a modern aesthetic and intention. Be it for Francophiles, mixologists, or simply those who appreciate the history and tradition of spirits and their ability to endure in the modern era, D’USSÉ XO is truly a gift.
This article is sponsored by D’USSÉ.