Alex Kratena travels the continents to develop new cocktails. Meeting with a world-renowned mixologist.
I often get asked about my favourite drink; a drink that stands out, a drink that places itself above all others. I used to struggle to answer because I would often find myself changing the answer based on who was asking. How can I rate my uncle’s wine, or the tea my mother made with honey to sooth a sore throat, against a drink at one of the world’s best bars?
The answer is that you cannot compare the greatness of drinks. There is not one great drink, no perfect standard against which you can measure every drink. But you can think of certain drinks as game changers – drinks so profoundly original and singular that they forever transform how you think about drinks.
To do this, you need to really understand a drink and its components. In order to make great discoveries and delicious drinks it’s not enough to ‘google it’ – you need to go to places.
Cognac is an incredible source of flavour and it is amazing in cocktails, not just because it is an aged spirit, but because it has so many layers of citrus, floral notes and fruitiness, as well as woody, leather and tobacco notes that you can bring out by pairing it with other ingredients and flavours. On one of my many trips to Cognac with a group of fellow bartenders we made a small pilgrimage to one of the vineyards so that we could fully immerse ourselves in the region, its terroir, heritage and tradition. It was at that moment, standing on top of a hill sipping cognac from a flask, that I knew I understood the commitment, patience, creativity and attention to detail that goes into creating such a versatile and stunning spirit.
Cognac’s journey begins in the vineyard and with the wine making process, through distillation to the cooperage where the barrels are made, ageing and blending, and it wasn’t until I had experienced all of this hands on that I got that ‘aha’ moment.
This understanding helped me to fully understand cognac, and to build an appreciation for its subtlety, richness of aromas and diversity of tastes and the culture it stems from. In turn this allowed me to realise how cognac can be used in mixology to create truly game changing cocktails.
Who ever made the rule that every drink needs to contain a double shot of spirit, sugar and bitters? When I create drinks, I focus on what I am looking to express in terms of flavour and personality of the base spirit, rather than what style of drink I want to create. As bartenders we are often too obsessed with historical recipes. I think that’s wrong. The moment you throw preconceived ideas out of the window and seek a harmonious relationship of individual components it’s easier to strike a balance. The moment you let go of your ideas of what cognac should be and truly do your best to understand it – it’s heritage, its uniqueness, it’s nobility – you can create so much more.
COGNAC, GENTIAN, BEE POLLEN & LAVENDER HONEY
50ml Bee Pollen Cognac
10ml Lavender Honey syrup
2dash Peychaud’s bitters
1ml Lavender hydrosol
BEE POLLEN COGNAC
5g Bee Pollen
Place all ingredients into vac pac bag, seal and cook sous vide for 1 hour at 60 Celsius. Allow the mixture to cool down, open the bag and strain using super bag, or coffee filter. Store in bottle, or airtight container.
LAVENDER HONEY SYRUP
350g Organic lavender honey
225g Hot Water
Place all ingredients into nonreactive container and strain until fully resolved, allow liquid to cool down, store refrigerated in airtight container up to month. Makes 575g.
TO ASSEMBLE AND SERVE
In mixing glass combine all ingredients and stir with ice till cold & properly diluted. Pour into chilled glass and perfume with lavender hydrosol.