Around the mid-2000s, Yoann Demeersseman stepped behind the former Zenna Cocktail Bar, a legendary London hotspot, where he first discovered Cognac. Today, he is head of L’Atelier Cocktailier (Rennes), where he trains mixology professionals and enthusiasts alike and remains a fervent supporter of Cognac, even qualifying as a certified Cognac Educator. Interview by Mathilde Bourge.
When did you first become interested in Cognac?
– Fifteen years ago, when I went to London. All the bars offered several varieties of Cognac, which they naturally used in cocktails. This was not the case in France, which, by comparison, is relatively new to the cocktail scene. The word “cocktail” first appeared in 1806 in an American newspaper, where it was defined as a stimulating drink composed of spirits, sugar and bitters. However, when people talked about spirits at the time, they were talking about wine spirits… mainly Cognac.
What role does Cognac play in cocktails today?
– It is still a really great product to work with. It boasts a unique range of aromas and a lovely long aftertaste. My training programs inspired by my book, Mon Cours de Cocktails, always feature two historic Cognac-based cocktail recipes: Sazerac (Cognac, bitters, sugar syrup, orange zest) and Stinger (Cognac, crème de menthe). Industry professionals, particularly in France, expect to taste a pretty strong cocktail so they are often surprised by the very subtle result! Cognac also stimulates creativity. The Cognac Summit (Cognac, lemonade, ginger, lime) cocktail was fine-tuned around ten years ago, to great success.
As you were saying, cocktails have a very strong Anglo-Saxon heritage, but they are increasingly popular in France. Is this also true for Cognac-based cocktails?
– Definitely. There has been growing interest in consuming local products, so there is a real opportunity for Cognac in French bars. However, bartenders often stick to more mainstream spirits in their drinks menus. Sometimes, it’s a matter of cost since the most prestigious Cognacs tend to be more expensive compared to other spirits. Still, there are some great VS or VSOP Cognacs available at affordable prices. However, things are rapidly changing: all the big cities are now home to great cocktail bars and even the smaller town of Cognac boasts two innovative cocktail hotspots, Bar Louise and Bar Luciole.