Poetic point of view of a San Francisco bartender and his take or cognac.
The first time I tried cognac, I was taken aback by its subtle complexity. As a tattooed, plaid-wearing, mustachioed, hipster bartender in San Francisco, my palate was more accustomed to the rugged fire of American whiskey and the mentholated vim of bittersweet Italian amari. Self-described as an enthusiast of strong water, I knew that every distilled liquor told a story of a specific place and the people who found reason to make it.
So, that begs the question: If one had to describe France in a few words, what words would suffice? No matter the impression, there’s an undercurrent of nonchalant perfection. While it’s difficult to distill down the undeniable je ne sais quoi, it stands to reason that the true spirit of France lives beyond words.
It wasn’t until many years later that I personally investigated what gave cognac it’s delicate intricacy. What I discovered was a big story told softly – patiently. While I can imagine the Cognaçais grumbling on about the delusional pace of nearby Parisian life, they in fact share common threads when it comes to outwardly presenting themselves to the world. The American perception of the legendary wine spirit from Cognac, and France itself, is one of old-world refinement with a touch of self-satisfaction. While this is a liquid that has literally been enjoyed by emperors and monarchs, we must also take note that it has withstood the test of time, surviving famine, wine blight, and two World Wars. It is through this resilient lens that we must view cognac.
Pour yourself two fingers of the good stuff, inhale its intoxicating perfume, and you’ll surely be lured into a world reserved for those with elite taste. A rich indulgence, perhaps, but only because it is a product so pure that it conveys a true tale of roots, soil, and ritualistic tradition. Yes, this is what perseverance and patience tastes like.
As the legs grow long upon your snifter, stop and ponder the near medieval setting from which this spirit is born. Open plains and rolling hills meet with narrow cobbled streets and white stone houses. Along the Charente River, there exists this place – so impossibly stuck in time that it distorts your senses. A romantic vision, the villages of Cognac are a glimpse into the way life is meant to be lived: intentionally present, purposely constructed, and forever enjoyed to the end. I believe this explains the subtle complexity I experienced upon first tasting cognac. A joy for life and all its possibilities. This is France in a glass.