Once considered a stuffy drink, Cognac has suffered from a little bit of an image problem in the past decade. Cognac consumers have primarily been older, affluent males, and demand in the on-trade has fallen. But now things are changing. Statistics show a growth in Cognac within the UK's nightclub sector. There has been an increased appetite for cognac amongst younger urban consumers with celebrity hip-hop stars lining up to endorse Cognac brands.
It isn’t just in nightclubs either, cocktail bartenders are falling back in love with Cognac and it’s enjoying a resurgence due to the popularity of pre and post-prohibition cocktail serves. To find out more about this resurgent category and to discover what licensees can do to grow Cognac sales we’ve spoken to Rebecca Asseline, Global Brand Ambassador for Courvoisier and Jack Charlton, Remy Martin’s UK Brand Ambassador.
Firstly, what separates Cognac from other brandies? “The use of the name Cognac is protected under French law. It is AOC, Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, and there are three main requirements to satisfy: firstly, it must be made from specific grape varieties. Second, it must be twice distilled in copper pot stills and finally, it must be aged in oak barrels for at least two years”, says Jack Charlton. “The qualities of the soils (in the Cognac region), the climatic conditions and the skills of the winegrowers, distillers, coopers and master blenders create a brandy with more complexity, and finesse”, adds Rebecca Asseline.
“The qualities of the soils (in the Cognac region), the climatic conditions and the skills of the winegrowers, distillers, coopers and master blenders create a brandy with more complexity, and finesse”By Rebecca Asseline, Courvoisier
“The market for cognac is constantly evolving, especially over the last 10 years,” says Rebecca, “the On-Trade is regaining interest in the category in the form of cocktails, especially the UK, the US too along with smaller European markets such as Germany, Italy, Austria and France”.
Jack agrees, “markets such as the UK, Germany or Russia are growing a lot, the US and Asia especially are in strong growth”. “In China and Russia, premiumisation and luxury remain the driver for cognac, with consumption mostly neat and a great interest in higher-end expressions from XO onwards”, adds Rebecca.
So the UK remains a key international market for Cognac, but how should we be talking about it to consumers? Jack believes “talking about the heritage, the story of the House and the versatility” of Cognac is the way forward. It is undeniably a product filled with history, “The origins of cognac date back to the 1600’s when wine was transported on boats in oak barrels. It often ended up partially distilled due to the hot journey. People tasted it and discovered this beautiful liquid and decided to make it a new beverage” explains Rebecca.
Beyond talking about the history of Cognac, Courvoisier is banking on a new initiative to bring Cognac and Coffee closer. “In an effort to grow category sales, licensees can utilise the Café Courvoisier platform which aims to unlock new drinking occasions by reuniting coffee and cognac”, explains Rebecca, “the rise of the $100bn coffee industry continues in cafes, bars and restaurants all over the world. In 2016, coffee stood as the 2nd largest growing drinking trend. Baristas are becoming mixologists and consumers are blurring the lines”.
"Baristas are becoming mixologists and consumers are blurring the lines”By Rebecca Asseline, Courvoisier
Café Courvoisier is a set of two serves that link back to the origins of the brand in Paris and its unescapable café culture. The Courvoisier Espresso Martini is a blend of VSOP Cognac, coffee liqueur, fresh espresso and sugar syrup that Rebecca describes as “deliciously a la mode”. The second serve is designed to provide “sophisticated in-bar theatre”, it’s a measure of VSOP with a shot of espresso, a sugar cube and an indulgent chocolate served alongside one another of a tray. “These two new creations suit an unprecedented range of occasions. Ideal for afternoon tea or pre-theatre, a popular way to start a night or toast a moment, delicious to sip alone as a luxurious treat, or savour with loved ones amid that happy post-dinner period”, states Rebecca.
While interest in neat cognac grows further east, it appears the way forward for Cognac in the UK is to be found in cocktail serves or alongside food. Jack Charlton from Remy Martin suggests that using “VSOP is an amazing way to showcase cocktails” with Rebecca adding VSOP is superb in “a classic cocktail, such as the Sidecar, the Sazerac, the Brandy Alexander or the Georgian Julep”. And with food? Enjoy with “Crème Brulee, or with cheeses, seafood, scallops or oysters” suggests Rebecca and we think that sounds delicious!
Considering cocktail serves makes business sense, there is huge opportunity to appeal more to general Cognac consumers, moving them from neat serves or serves with a mixer to higher margin cocktail serves. Cocktails done right demand a higher price tag, and therefore higher margins and more profits for you. The added theatre of a cocktail serve also creates an experience that can’t be replicated at home, bringing people back to your outlet.