What happens when you bring dozens of bartenders from the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic and elsewhere to Cognac, France, and turn them loose to recreate the major classic cocktails based on the French brandy? Yes, lots of late nights, story swapping, ego measuring and, perhaps, drinking, but also a concerted effort on the part of the bartenders to bring the drinks into the 21st century.
Two years ago, the first bartender Cognac Summit, as it’s grandly called, yielded a drink of the same name. At this year’s Summit, Eric Alperin of LA’s The Varnish was cited for making the best version of that drink. Others of us had bigger challenges: my group of bartenders and journalists was charged with creating a Stinger suitable for the modern palate. The gloom from being selected for the mixological equivalent of parking cars at the drag race gave our team a slow start, but gradually the group figured out the best route – reduce sugar, increase strength, add acid, manage mint – and the final result was a surprisingly drinkable after-dinner drink, one I’d serve confidently. The folks in Cognac are expected to release the recipes sometime soon.
After a day or so of multilingual brainstorming, recipe fiddling, even a few personality fender benders, the new versions of the seven drinks – Side Car, Mint Julep, Cognac Sour/Collins, Stinger, Mojito #3, Alexander and the Blue Blazer – were presented to the local and international press. Best moment: the intro by spirits and wine maven Doug Frost, Southern Wine and Spirits’ Francesco Lafranconi and Alperin with “Pimp My Julep.” As soon as the video emerges from the censors, I’ll post, but rest assured, they rocked the house.
Salvatore Calabrese, also an attendee at the Summit, reports he closed his Salvatore at Fifty, one of the must-stops on the international cocktail crawl. When the casino at the centerpiece of the location’s concept went broke, Calabrese had to shut his doors; a true loss for cocktail culture. Good news is that he’s looking for a new spot, though — smaller and clubbier than the stunning space where Fifty did so well.