Like all of the classics — whether artistic or culinary — Cognac’s appeal is timeless. Not only is the history of mixology anchored to that of France’s finest spirit, the cream of the modern bartending crop continue to innovate with it. And cocktails only tell half of the story. With its age expressions and diverse range of producers, Cognac fulfills every profile on the sipping-spirits spectrum.
Whether beginning or continuing a Cognac exploration, most drinkers’ experience with the spirit likely looked a little different in 2020, with that journey taking place almost exclusively at home. Some may have stocked their home bars with their first bottles of VS, as others furthered their exploration, discovering smaller producers and terroir-driven bottlings online. Many will have shaken their first Sidecars — but surely not their last.
Given that trends are typically defined and driven by the on-premise, one begins to wonder what this all means for Cognac in 2021 — how the unprecedented events of the last 12 months will influence the year ahead of us.
While none among us holds a crystal ball, there are those who are better placed to make such predictions. Cognac educators from around the U.S. say the impact of 2020 will be felt this year. But most importantly, as life returns to some kind of normal, Cognac’s place in drinks culture will only continue to evolve.
An Established Place on the Home Bar
For the first months of this year, educators say Cognac will continue to play an important role in at-home drinking experiences. Building on how they discovered and embraced the spirit last year, consumers will continue their exploration via multiple avenues.
New York’s influential bartender Ms. Franky Marshall says the ever-increasing variety of expressions and producers that are available online was a huge boon for Cognac last year. Notably, this allowed consumers to support the brands they love without leaving home, while also helping smaller producers to stand out. “Cognac has been doing very well in online retail, and I expect that to continue,” she says.
Others point to at-home cocktail creation as being a firm fixture this year. Dan Nicolaescu, beverage director of New York City’s Brandy Library and Copper and Oak, believes last year’s stay-at-home orders turned many onto making their own Cognac cocktails. As this chapter of history starts to turn a corner, and with one such cocktail in hand, Nicolaescu says “the light at the end of the tunnel” will only burn brighter.
Millennial Drinkers Embrace Cognac
Cognac’s increased availability online may have had a hand in another trend many educators have experienced and are predicting will continue.
“One thing I’m seeing is that a larger population of younger guests are enjoying and specifically asking for Cognac drinks,” says Ezra Star, the Boston-based former general manager of Drink. Like Marshall, Star notes that consumers are no longer just looking to the big names, and are instead exploring deep into the category.
Linda Pettine, associate professor at Johnson & Wales University’s College of Food Innovation Technology, agrees that Cognac will continue to entice younger drinkers, with VS expressions offering an approachable but nuanced stepping stone. “Millennial consumers will embrace Cognac as an affordable luxury spirit and seek out limited and distinct offerings,” she says.
Heading Back to the Bar
No doubt, the main experience all of us will most be looking forward to this year is properly returning to bars and restaurants. When we do, Cognac will be there waiting for us in both familiar and innovative new forms, educators say.
Miguel Lancha, beverage director of José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup, says Cognac succeeds as an ingredient for classic cocktails. But beyond that, he says bartenders’ embracing of the spirit for proprietary drinks has only improved its standing. “Using cognac in drinks that seem innovative is how to bring the spirit more to the forefront,” he says.
Those looking to explore such creations don’t need to go far, Star says, adding, “It seems as if every bar I visit has at least one Cognac cocktail on its menu.”
Marshall notes that including Cognac-based drinks on menus, whether house cocktails or classics, is the sign of good bar programs. “Cognac will continue to be one of the de rigueur spirits as a base for cocktails on menus,” she says.
Nicolaescu shares a similar sentiment and — pointing to its timeless nature — asserts that “Cognac will always have a place behind the bar!”
This article is sponsored by Cognac.