Love whisky? It's time to give Cognac a try

Joko Magalong-De Veyra

Posted at Mar 07 2018 07:46 PM | Updated as of Nov 05 2018 08:19 PM

Pierre Boyer, brand ambassador for Martell in Asia. Photo by author

MANILA -- Martell is looking to change the conversation about Cognac in the country as it continues its quest to popularize the French spirit among Filipino drinkers.

“So far in the Philippines, Cognac and Martell are lacking a little bit in popularity and they deserve better. We know that the Philippines is more and more curious on Cognac and we are trying to give them everything they need—a little education about the product, a little bit of drinking ritual on how to drink Cognac because most people are very intimidated about Cognac,” noted brand ambassador Pierre Boyer said at a recent tasting event at Conrad Manila’s C Lounge.

Cognac gets its fancy reputation largely from its controlled appellation of origin. Cognac can only come from Cognac, France with specific rules and regulations in its production. The terroir in Cognac -- limestone rich soil, different altitudes, it being near the ocean, among others -- gives what starts out as brandy, its unique characteristics — sweet and smooth with hints of various fruits and spices. 

And Martell is one of the oldest Cognac houses in France.

Martell Cognacs. Photo by author

Three Martell cognacs were served at the tasting event, led by a smiling Boyer, who also talked about the process of making the liquor from grape to euax-de-vie to its aging (at least two years) and finally, bottling. 

The tasting kicked off with the Martell Cordon Bleu, one of the most classic and historic blends of the Cognac house. This 1912 creation by Edouard Martell was smooth all throughout from initial sip to finish. It’s an easy Cognac to like – with candied orange with hints of chocolate, and a long silky lingering finish. 

Meanwhile, the Martell XO takes on the characteristics of its barrels. Aged for at least six years in oak, this Cognac is woody and spicy. Sweetness (fig and raisins) comes out almost close to the finish, which is smooth and slightly spicier than the Cordon Bleu. 

“Whisky lovers should try the XO,” Boyer advised. 

Then there’s the Martell VSOP (which stands for very special old pale), the youngest Cognac of the lot. With sweet notes of dried fruit and caramel, this was more brash on the palate compared to the previous two, making it the Cognac of choice for mixing Martell cocktails.

“Some people don’t even imagine using Cognac to make cocktails, but Cognac cocktails used to be very popular and the very best, I think,” said Boyer as he introduced two Martell cocktails. 

Martell Sidecar. Photo by author

The Martell Sidecar, which used a classic recipe of Martell VSOP with triple sec (orange liquer), and lemon juice, was popular in the 1920s. In this cocktail, the citrusy notes of the Cognac were highlighted, with the Cognac giving a sip a spicy backnote. Iced and in a glass, this Martell Sidecar was a treat to enjoy while looking out the floor to ceiling windows of the C Lounge in the afternoon. 

Originally a medicinal concoction, mint julep usually has brandy simply muddled with mint and sugar syrup. Using Martell VSOP, the Curious Julep highlights the sweet fruit notes of the Cognac, and balances it with some oak and spice. Very easy to drink. 

“We haven’t talked about Cognac in a playful way, and now, we realized it, we want to change it,” Boyer said.

If the goal is to move away from the image of old men with their snifters and make Cognac more accessible, Martell seems to be well on its way.