Founded in 1724, Rémy Martin is not just a brand but an institution, started by a young and ambitious Frenchman who made and sold Cognac under his own name. Just 14 years after its humble beginnings, Rémy was recognized by royalty when King Louis XV of France, acknowledging the excellence of his product, granted the winegrower permission to plant new vines. More milestones gathered quickly from there: In 1810, the Cognac crossed continents, expanding from France to the United States, Asia, and the Pacific. In 1828, the first Rémy Martin Grande Champagne Cognac was created. Nearly a century later, the Sidecar, the enduring standard of Cognac cocktails, was first whipped up at the Ritz Hotel in Paris.
Today, after its history-making beginnings, Rémy Martin prides itself on the blending of tradition and innovation. With those values in mind and the 100-year anniversary of the Sidecar approaching in 2022, the brand recently invited inspired mixologists to reinvent the beloved cocktail “with style” for this year’s edition of The Bartender Talent Academy, its annual international competition.
The contest, presented in partnership with VinePair, kicked off in June, and after the examination of countless original (and surely delicious) submissions, five talented semi-finalists from across the country have been shortlisted to present their creations in New York City this month. The winner of this round, along with finalists from across the globe, will be awarded the trip of a lifetime: a journey to Cognac to sip Rémy Martin in the most scenic of surroundings, and soak up the beauty and history of the town in the birthplace of the iconic spirit itself. More importantly, they’ll have the opportunity to crack open a bottle of Rémy and battle it out in the Sidecar championship against some of the best bartenders from across the globe.
While Rémy Martin has been crafting Cognacs for longer than the United States has been in existence, that doesn’t mean our bartenders don’t know how to make great use of the fine spirit. Each of our U.S.-based semi-finalists have enhanced the classic cocktail with unique twists and touches to transform it into something new, exciting, and unique. Like the best bartenders, they’re not just making a drink, they’re telling a story. Through their one-of-a-kind recipes, they’re paying homage to one of the industry’s most prestigious brands while inserting their own personalities and perspectives to transport us from the past to present, and even the future — all from their individual hometowns to France, and, in some cases, far beyond.
Read on to learn more about the Rémy Martin Bartender Competition contestants and their creative concoctions below. And when our winner is selected and heads to Cognac to meet and compete against other nations’ finalists in February, get some Rémy Martin, make yourself a Sidecar, and be sure to “cheers” them on.
The Bartender: Channing Centeno
When Channing Centeno isn’t behind the bar, you can probably find him on the mat.
Along with serving drinks at Bandits, an “all-day watering hole” in New York’s West Village, Channing recently completed his yoga teacher certification. While those two worlds are in many ways at odds — late nights on the town aren’t quite conducive to early mornings in the studio — it was the bartender and instructor’s true passion for helping and healing that informed his contest entry.
Inspired by an Espresso Martini, Channing’s cocktail, the Ganesh, is a harmonious blend of relaxing and invigorating, traditional and trendy. Channing hopes it brings a sense of comfort — a goal he aims to accomplish by enhancing Rémy Martin 1738 with palo santo, as well as sage for cleansing, healing, and new positive energy.
“I wanted to make my cocktail based on my talent for healing people through yoga, spirituality, cooking …” Channing says. “I just hope they feel like they’re being taken care of a little bit. And, you know, Ganesh is said to be the Hindu god of new beginnings, so hopefully, they can drink this cocktail and feel like the rest of their night has a new beginning.”
In addition to elaborate elements such as an orange oil-infused espresso and a five-spice Cointreau inspired by Chinese medicine, because the cocktail’s namesake often comes bearing treats, Channing also plans on serving the Ganesh with a little sidecar of sweets on the side.
That’s our kind of fresh start.
THE COCKTAIL: Ganesh
Channing’s cocktail features Rémy Martin 1738 enhanced with a homemade 5-spice Cointreau, orange-oil-infused espresso and toasted coconut cane syrup. Presentation takes it to the next level: The drink is mixed in and poured from an elephant teapot, with smoked sage and palo santo adding additional aroma and allure.
THE BARTENDER: Peter Hannah
Peter Hannah isn’t new to the industry. The bartender has worked in hospitality for two decades and on three continents, a career that started in the U.K. has steered him to what just might be the States’ equivalent: Rose & Crown, the British pub at Disney’s Epcot, where he offers excited visitors a taste of English drinking and dining on this side of the pond. No passport required.
With his cocktail entry, the Ampersand, Peter is once again bridging two worlds, this time through a beverage that connects Orlando, Fla., and Cognac, France.
“What I love about the Sidecar is that there’s few drinks that allude to such an air of class, without being stuffy,” the bartender says. “It has the panache of a Martini but isn’t something I solely associate with old Russian ladies in Monaco casinos in mink and pearls. It’s a mini-escape for the everyman in all of us. That’s something the best drinks and foods do: transport us to other places and times and provide that escapism that great bars do, too.”
A seasoned pro, Peter is also no stranger to competition and has previously been a finalist in other cocktail contests. Will he take home the crown in New York and go on compete in Cognac? Only time, and judges’ tastes, will tell.
THE COCKTAIL: Ampersand
When working on his creation, Peter thought about what a Floridian take on a Sidecar would be, infusing signature elements of the Sunshine State while maintaining the integrity of the cocktail. His final product: Rémy Martin 1738 with homemade toasted-coconut Cointreau, pineapple Champagne marmalade and “fairy bitters,” with some lemon juice, orange-rose garnish and a sucre vert rim made with green Chartreuse.
Follow Peter’s travel, drinking, and Disney adventures at @bringinthepete.
THE BARTENDER: Taylor Cloyes
The next time you’re wining and dining in Los Angeles, do yourself a favor and go see Taylor Cloyes at Here & Now, a hip haunt in the Arts District that was named one of the best bars in America by Esquire in 2019.
While she’s been in hospitality since the age of 17, in perfect Los Angeles fashion, Taylor also specializes in arts and entertainment. As a self-proclaimed “enthusiastic archaeologist,” the bartender believes there’s an interesting story to be found everywhere and in everything, and her skills include bringing these tales to life via poetry, acting, spoken word and, of course, cocktails.
Taylor’s contest entry, the Puducherry Pear serves as what she calls a “convergence of all the ways in which we can be inspired” — through people, cultures, histories and geographies. It’s this exact type of appreciation for not just a good drink, but all that’s gone into it, that the contestant references when speaking about Rémy Martin.
“A bottle of Cognac is time and story in a bottle,” Taylor says. “It is a living spirit with a powerful history. And Rémy Martin has many stories to tell.”
This cocktail’s story, like all, is an interesting one — and we imagine it has a very happy ending.
THE COCKTAIL: Puducherry Pear
The Puducherry Pear stars Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal featuring international flavor in the form of a a pear syrup made with vadouvan, an east-meets-west spice blend or “French curry,” plus Cointreau, some lemon juice, and a homemade pear-curry bark for garnish.
Follow Taylor’s behind-the-bar adventures in the City of Angels at @yourfavoriteshedonist.
THE BARTENDER: Ramsey Musk
While he now lives in L.A., the bartender and advocate is from a small town in New England, where as a queer person growing up, he experienced what he describes as both “beauty and strife.” Ramsey took this contest as an opportunity to recognize both sides of his origin story, acknowledging where he came from, celebrating where he is today and honoring the moments, good and bad, on the journey in between.
“What I think I was most excited about was how familiar this drink felt,” he says of his creation, which along with Rémy Martin 1738 features an East Coast touch in the form of an apple brandy. “It took me back to Lull’s Farm, the apple orchard my family would go to in the fall. It reminded me of all the good things about my home, and stood as a testament to how life is never predictable, but with resilience and a lil bit of love (for oneself and others) things tend to turn out OK somehow.”
As for the name, Ramsey took inspiration from something else that inspires emotion and brings back memories: music.
“‘Rugged Road’ is a favorite song of mine by Judee Sill which echoes some of the complex feelings I have about where I am from,” he says. “The title can easily describe anyone’s journey through this wacky ride called life, but we just gotta remember to keep on going, even when things seem a bit bleak or too hard and just remember, you are your past — but what is more important is how you use those experiences to shape your future.”
THE COCKTAIL: Rugged Road
Ramsey’s cocktail starts with Rémy Martin 1738, with the addition of the aforementioned aged apple brandy (Clear Creek 2 Yr), plus Cointreau, Lustau Amontillado Sherry, Giffard Orgeat, a little lemon juice and a dash of absinthe and Angostura Bitters. Shaken, double-strained, and garnished with orange twist and grated nutmeg for a little extra fall flavor.
For good drinks and the best kind of bad jokes, follow Ramsey at @dadsdrinks.
THE BARTENDER: Will Patton
A D.C. native, Will spent time in Chicago and New Orleans before returning to his hometown, where for the last three years he’s been running the bar as beverage director at Bresca, a Michelin-starred contemporary Parisian bistro.
Will’s dedication to contributing to the cocktail culture of his city, as well as his undying support of his “chronically underperforming” sports teams, makes it clear that the bartender has a focus on community. It was precisely this important element — one in line with the family values and inclusivity that serve as pillars of the Rémy Martin brand — that the contestant highlighted as the favorite part of the competition thus far:
“Brandy, and specifically Cognac, has always been a favorite spirit of mine so I jumped at the opportunity to create a Sidecar using Rémy Martin 1738,” he says. “The Sidecar is such an iconic cocktail that trying to create a new expression that highlights the smooth opulence of the Rémy was a challenge I couldn’t pass up. But what is most exciting to me is the chance to participate in the Bartender Talent Academy with friends from across the country, as well as the opportunity to meet new friends along the way. It’s been an exhausting year and at its core — distilled right in the alembic charentais —Cognac is best celebrated as a community. I look forward to raising a sidecar and cheersing à votre santé.”
A self-proclaimed “true breakfast connoisseur,” Will takes pride in his frittata. While we’re not sure a Sidecar technically qualifies as a brunch beverage, the Formosa Oolong tea the bartender turned into syrup for this cocktail does contain a little caffeine. So hey, we’re willing to round up.
THE COCKTAIL: Stolen Dance
Will went with Rémy 1738, with delicious additions in the form of lemon, Sauternes, Amer Picon, and a homemade Formosa Oolong Syrup. Served in a chilled Nick and Nora with an orange-twist garnish for a little zest.
For the best in beverages and sometimes breakfast, follow Will at @ramseydanger.
Follow along to find out whether it’s Channing, Peter, Taylor, Ramsey, or Will who wins this round and the opportunity to explore a gorgeous, history-steeped French town, show off their Sidecar skills, and rub elbows, clink glasses, and forge friendships with other best-in-class bartenders in Cognac.
With contestants this impressive and cocktails this innovative, it’s hard to imagine how the Rémy Martin judges will pick a favorite. But if they need any taste testers… well, they know where to find us.
This article is sponsored by Rémy Martin.