Friday, February 5, 2010

The Hornet

The premise at the third annual Cognac Summit was the recreation of classic drinks first made with Cognac – Sidecar, Sazerac, Julep –into cocktails suited for 21st century tastes. For many of the drinks, deciding which direction to go was the hard part for the teams assembled randomly. But for my table, the first thought of most of the bartenders seemed to be “How do I get out of this?” Yeah, the Stinger was ours to play with, and the gloom that painted their faces was worse than any hangover stare.

But we soldiered on, at least the bartenders did – Shervene Shahbazkhani of the Voodoo Room in Edinburgh, Arnd Heissen of the Shochu Bar in Berlin, Eric Fossard of consultancy and Jozef Roth of Bratislav, president of the Slovak Republic Bartender’s Association. I tried to rally the troops, who were faced with the one drink in the range that had no fans, no adherents, no spokespeople. That’s not a surprise; as we found out later that week when someone produced bottles of 1920s era Cognac and Peppermint Get, both cordials and cognacs were much less sweet in the days (turn of the 20th century?) when the drink was created. But today, a cocktail made with two parts Cognac and one part crème de menthe is not only out of fashion, even as a digestif, but it’s a sticky, sickly, breath mint bomb, unpleasant and almost nauseating.

It’s not Cognac’s fault, though it can be argued that any recipe using Cognac created 40 years ago or more requires adjustment due to the much rounder and sweeter contemporary qualities of the spirit. Whether that’s due to changes in blending techniques, barrel management, subtle but legal product tweaks or technological advances that have finely tuned production, I don’t know. But contemporary cocktail trends demands a more balanced and angular drink than anyone can manage with just these two ingredients.

What did we do? Yellow Chartreuse came into play, as did green-, Earl Grey- and orange pekoe-infused Cognac, slices of ginger, mint leaves of course, simple syrup, etc., etc. Our range was limited, and we worked on fine-tuning what was becoming a very interesting drink, but as the deadline approached, Roth came up with a simpler version, closer to the original but balanced out with acid and fresh mint. It works as a modern digestif, we thought, and so here’s the final result of our two days work, called The Hornet.

1 3/4 oz X.O Cognac
1/2 oz white crème de menthe
1 barspoon cane syrup
3 mint leaves
1 lemon peel
1 lime peel

In a mixing glass, pour the cognac, the crème de menthe and the cane syrup. Add and muddle for 15 seconds the three mint leaves, the lemon and lime peels. Add ice to fill. Stir well for 30 seconds. Fine strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a mint leaf and small strips of lemon and lime peel

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