Yours Sincerely, Cognac.
Not just a spirit, Cognac is a destination.
Bien à vous, Cognac – En français, c’est ici.
Welcome to Cognac, France – a jewel in the Charente department’s diverse and picturesque crown – Cognac is far more than the famous spirit it is named after. The city itself is a an epicentre of sophistication and natural beauty that is complimented by a unique culture that belongs to its people, known as ‘Cognaçais’.
As I write this article from our house in the heart of Cognac, my head is bubbling away with so much inspiration. We’ve met some amazing people from Cognac on this trip and have been given a heartfelt and authentic insiders look into this boutique, and very chic city in the South West of France.
We’ve been introduced to local artists, toured magnificent homes and explored Cognac by night with torch lights – real torches that would give the Olympic flame a run for its money. This is only scratching the surface – Cognac has so much to offer, award winning restaurants and bars, galleries, chocolatiers, charcuteries, specialty wine and food stores and museums. Cognac has something for everyone and it’s absolutely fabulous.
My partner Andrew and I have been visiting France now every summer for six years and this summer has been one of our favourites. Andrew, an interior designer, completed the renovation of our home in Cognac earlier this year, his second renovation in France. The house in Cognac also doubles as his France based interior design studio.
This summer we met some new friends and it’s been fascinating to hear their stories and to understand why they love to call Cognac home. You see, Cognac is a place you never really want to leave – certainly a place we love calling home, and for visitors, a place you’ll long to return too.
Meet Bastien Gardrat, 24 – born and raised in Cognac. Bastien like many Cognaçais grew up living and breathing life amongst the worlds most iconic vines. His mother has worked for the House of Martell for over 33 years and for Bastien it’s like he grew up with Martell, a institution he also very proudly works for today. Life for Bastien in Cognac is all about friends, fitness and community – running, basketball, gym, meeting friends in local bars and cafes, or cruising the streets of Cognac in his car appreciating the instagram worthy moments presented around every corner.
With that said, this is Bastien’s story, in his words, sincerely from Cognac.
“Cognac is a quiet city, however the industry is very very big”, says Bastien. “It is a peaceful and very comfortable place to live. We are so near to the ocean, but also large cities like Bordeaux as well as the mountains that peak close to the border of Spain. The people of Cognac are very proud to be Cognaçais. The Cognac brand is so known all around the world – this is testament to our rich culture, history and hard work over many centuries.
I’ve always lived in Cognac, apart from my time in New York City where I attended the European Bartender School. This experience not only taught me the fine art of making cocktails, it also taught me the value and importance of community, as well as sharing skills and knowledge with others. I also learnt a new move or two and different ways to perfect my cocktail making techniques. A little flair goes a long way when creating beautiful cocktails.
My horizons were greatly expanded thanks to Germain Canto from Konoisseur Cocktail Cabinet, Germain also Managers Bar Louise at the Hôtel François Premier in Cognac – he has been a mentor of mine for some time. I also worked at the Hôtel François Premier after returning from New York and at the same time I also worked at Martell where I was completing my internship. The House of Martell has a very rich history. It was founded by Jean Martell in 1715 under the reign of Louis XIV, today it is the oldest of the great cognac Houses.
Martell has been a long and fulfilling journey for me and my work there is a big part of my life. Martell is a wonderful place and I hope I have a long future working for this great company. I work with very passionate and caring people, and I am always very proud to say I am from the Martell family – I proudly live and work by the values of the House of Martell. After 33 years, my mother still works for Martell, so for me this feels very natural, like a sense of belonging.
Martell has provided me with many opportunities – I feel very fortunate. In my role today, I meet people from all around the world who come to Cognac to discover the history and to taste the finest spirits produced from the regions richest soil. Demonstrating to our guests how diverse the Cognac spirit is can be a lot of fun – this is where my cocktail making skills indeed come in very handy. When people experience our special warehouse and tasting tours, they are always very surprised about how diverse Cognac is. I love presenting new ways for people to taste and enjoy Cognac, and with that added ‘flair’ I mentioned earlier, our tastings and tours are always a memorable occasion.
Cognac is the place I call home, a place I am very proud of, both for our rich history and our very bright future.”
I asked Bastien a few questions ranging from his favourite Cognac through to why people should visit his home town of Cognac. Here’s what he said:
Baguette or Brioche? Baguette please!
Your favourite Cognac right now? A little piece of heaven called Martell Chanteloup Perspective
I drink coffee in Cognac at… I enjoying hanging out at Grain de Cafe, however Le Marignan has a great selection and they roast their own special blend on site
Your favourite French food? Perhaps Magret de Canard (seared duck breast with honey), or Bavette (skirt steak) with potatoes and haricots verts (green beans) – I am not the best person to discuss French gastronomy, talk more about Cocktails and Cognac please (laughs)
What cheese is on standby in your refrigerator? Always Camembert
Visit Cognac because… It is a place you have to see to experience. Not only for the famous spirit, also for its history. Our first King, François 1er was born here. Cognac has some of the best restaurants in the region and the main cocktail bars in town are world class, professional and highly creative. Indigo by Martell is also a unique destination and it comes with 360 degree views of Cognac – plus you can come and say hi to me!
Shaken or stirred? Please… Do you even need to ask? If you’re talking about a Martini, stirred with a good gin and extra dry Vermouth garnished with a fine lemon zest – The Martini is one of my favourite cocktails – I also make a mean French Old Fashioned using Martell Blue Swift, want to try?
… And of course I said yes and it was a resounding success as I watched Bastien’s flair unfold like a polished magician. Seamless and made to perfection, but as Bastien said, he loves to show people how diverse Cognac really is and he is right. I came away not only getting to know more about Bastien from Cognac, I have a brand new appreciation for the spirit which name belongs to the town we love, Cognac.
You can follow Bastien’s Cognac adventures on Instagram here.
Oh, and I didn’t forget you either – I asked Bastien if he could share the French Old Fashioned cocktail recipe with you so here it is…
French Old Fashioned Cocktail by Bastien Gardrat
What you’ll need:
3 dashes of Suze orange bitters
50ml of Martell Blue Swift
10ml of brown sugar syrup
Orange peel as a garnish.
- First, take a rocks glass fill it with cubes of ice to chill the glass
- Take a mixing glass and add 3 dashes of Suze orange bitters
- Now add 40ml of Martell Blue Swift, followed bu 10ml of brown sugar syrup
- Add cubes of ice to your mixing glass and stir the mixture until it becomes chilled
- Discard the ice in the rocks glass and replace with 2-3 large new ice cubes
- Strain the mixture from the mixing glass into the rocks glass
- Garnish with a twisted slice of orange peel.
You can immerse yourself in the home of the oldest of the great cognac houses for a number of experiences. Tour of the historic Martell site, learn about food pairing possibilities on the Maison Martell XO tour or enjoy the fun of a cocktail workshop with a qualified Martell bartender just like Bastien. You can visit Martell online here, or find them on Facebook or Instagram.
Cognac is a fine wine and spirit, a boutique and culturally rich city and a destination that you must visit. Bonne dégustation, Mike x
I would like to thank the great people of Cognac and the businesses that showed us wonderful hospitality. Special mention to Dominique Daigre who introduced us to a side of Cognac only locals know, to Bastien Gardrat for sharing your story, Fabrice and Stephane from Le Jardin Facile for everything you do for us and Anne Loloum Frangeul from Living in Cognac and her husband Dominique for your kindness and the Cognac by Night experience. We will never forget this summer x