A trip to Pierre Ferrand Cognac house

After spending a few days conferring on how to persuade women to drink Cognac and touring the big Cognac houses, I was more than happy to spend some time at a smaller Cognac maker, getting down to the nitty-gritty of how the spirit is actually distilled.

I had met Alexandre Gabriel, president and owner of Cognac Ferrand, on one of his visits to New York, and liked a number of his products, so I was happy to learn that I’d been invited to spend a little quality time at his family’s distillery before heading back home.  Here are a few snaps from that visit.

imageIn the distillery, we sampled the Cognac in virtually every stage, including the relatively undesirable “heads” and “tails,” as well as the desirable “heart” (Coeur) of the spirit. It’s crystal clear at this point; barrel aging is what provides the amber color.


A view of the chateau from the outside.


Inside the warehouse where the Cognac ages. Note the colorful mold growing on the floor and the cobwebs and dust on top of the barrels; we didn’t see much of either in the larger Cognac houses. This was very old school.

This is bartender Willy Shine — it’s a little hard to see, but he’s holding an apparatus used to extract Cognac from the barrels for sampling. It’s akin to a large eyedropper; in whiskey language they call this a “whiskey thief” or a “valinch.” I’m sorry to say I don’t recall what the Cognac folks call this device.

My glass of Cognac, fresh from the barrel. I swear it tastes better this way; it was like liquid butterscotch.

After the Cognac barrels are emptied, Ferrand then re-fills those barrels with other spirits, a technique known as “cask-finishing.” Here, the barrel has been refilled with rum from Trinidad. This one also was particularly delicious.
imageBack inside the chateau. This is Alexandre Gabriel, treating Willy and me to a sampling of some of his extremely old and rare Cognac collection. Really, a remarkable way to end the visit to Cognac.

For the perfect Gin & Tonic, just add…spice?

Is this the "ultimate" G&T?

So I’ve survived Snowpocalypse 2010. There’s still two feet of snow on the ground, and I plan to distract myself from the big dig-out with a warm-weather drink:  a cool, crisp gin and tonic.

Not long ago, a distiller confided to me his recipe for a “perfect gin & tonic.” Sure, it features his gin…but still, I love meeting (and drinking with) distillers. They tend to be intelligent people (often with advanced degrees in engineering or chemistry) and passionate about what they do and what they drink.

So when a distiller makes a cocktail suggestion, I listen.

The distiller in question was Alexandre Gabriel, president of Cognac Ferrand. I’ll spare you the details of our interview, but it’s important to note that his portfolio includes rum (finished in Cognac casks, natch) and Citadelle gin.

Gabriel mentioned that Spain is the number one market for Citadelle, and as a result he travels there frequently.

Only Spain knows how to make a gin and tonic,” he insisted. “They use a big glass, like a tumbler or a Riedel burgundy glass. They use a full mini bottle (about 1.6 ounces) and then the full bottle of tonic, so the proportions are correct. And lots of good ice, so it refreshes the drink but doesn’t dilute it down. They add lemon, lime, or around Christmas they add a little cinnamon, anise, or nutmeg.”

Say WHAT? To me, a G&T is served in a tall glass, maybe a squeeze of lime, and that’s it. But…nutmeg?

“Oh yes,” Gabriel assured. Further, he continued, in Madrid, there’s a restaurant named Padre, which brings around a G&T cart loaded with different gins (over 200 brand are available in Spain, according to Gabriel), and an array of spices for you to select for your drink. A good gin & tonic, Gabriel said, “should be like being in a garden of spice.”

The verdict:  It’s very good. Those who groove on the botanicals in gin will especially love the extra kick and aromatics that fresh spices add to the drink (note – skip the straw so your nose is all but immersed in the pretty fragrances). However, I’m not sure I’d describe this as the ultimate gin & tonic for me. I still prefer the long, tall, cool version.

That said — I can see the potential for adding fresh herbs and spices to G&T’s, Spanish style. I’m still dreaming about the cilantro-and-muddled-lime G&T I recently had at Bar Basque. (They don’t have a G&T cart, but they do have an intriguing G&T menu.)

Alexandre Gabriel’s Recipe for the Perfect Gin & Tonic

1.6 ounces Citadelle Gin

200 ml Fever Tree tonic

Lime or lemon skin (for just a little oil from the peel; not the full wedge)

Grated nutmeg, star anise, or cinnamon stick

In a large tumbler, stir together gin, tonic, and ice. Twist citrus peel over the drink and add to the glass. Garnish with spice and drink (no straw). And as per Gabriel, “Toast to the Spanish!”