Guillaume Ferroni, the inquisitive mind behind Carry Nation, is a leading specialist in the history of cocktails. After entering the secret bar hidden in the centre of Marseilles via a door in a cupboard, customers leave feeling like they have travelled through time and space. Journalist Cécile Cau went to try out the experience for herself and interview Guillaume whilst she was at it.
Cognac is quite on-trend at the moment, a bit like mezcal, for example. It’s a spirit I can use for tastings. I even have five or six Cognacs for a small group of informed clients that we act as prescribers for.
For me, Cognac is one of the most noble products found in a bar. It has history. The very first American cocktails were made from gin, vermouth and Cognac. Although, every barman has a story in them and we spend a lot of time sharing them with customers. I like looking at history in general, that’s my signature.
I visit Cognac once or twice a year. In France, there are very few spirits regions outside Charentes, you might say it is our Scotland. I’m inspired by relationships, by the people I’ve met. When you get to know the inner workings of a producer, it makes it easier to talk about their products and creates a sort of pride.
Cognac is a dry spirit that works really well in cocktails. For me, it’s good to keep things simple, using only a few ingredients so as not to lose its sweetness. I use it as a base spirit, sometimes even as a liqueur, this way it works as a spice or aroma. I came up with a daiquiri-inspired short drink called Good Girls Go to Heaven. It uses a small amount of Cognac XO, ground ginger, a pinch of vanilla, orgeat syrup, crushed, ground and very zesty lime, and Gambetta – an old Marseilles syrup – all shaken without ice. For a long time, it was my favourite cocktail. But I also like working with the classics. The first Sazerac recipes used Cognac (as the name implies), which matches really well with the freshness of absinthe. Cognac gives it more depth, aromas and harmony than other spirits. I also came up with a twist on the Mai Tai, called the Scorpion. It’s one of the best tikis I know… I also have my own take on the Californian-style Soft Toddy, which is a really old recipe, like an Old Fashioned but without Angustura. It’s very zesty, with tequila and Cognac. It’s superb! The mineral freshness of the tequila works really with the roundness of the Cognac. The two balance each other out, making it refreshing but not sour. It’s one of my all-time favourite cocktails!