M: Why is cognac great for cocktails?
Arnaud Mirey: Since most cocktails are fruit-based, cognacs are a better bet as opposed to vodka. Cognac is made of brandy and is a fruit-based spirit. Mix whisky in a fruity cocktail and it's bound to clash, whereas vodka is flavourless. Cognac made of white grapes is light and high in acidity. It adds to the flavour and goes well with most drinks.
M: Tell us a bit about cognac. It is traditionally considered to be an after-dinner drink, not as prolifically drunk as other spirits like whisky, vodka and rum.
Mirey: It is surprising that you single out cognac, as rum is equally popular as an after-dinner drink. Cognacs are made using the old style process of evaporation—warming up alcohol to retain its heart. As opposed to other drinks, the quantity of ethanol and methanol is much less and a lot of volume is sacrificed to retain its authentic, much evolved flavour.
What's more, in order to bear the name, cognacs must meet strict guidelines formulated by the French government to ensure the production process remains unchanged. Hennessy cognacs were founded in 1765 and there is a certain romance attached to the way we make them.
We lay a lot of emphasis on the human quality of taste and for generations we've relied on the same family of tasters and blenders. A 150-year-old cognac would retain its fruity character, but a 50-year-old whisky would have notes of cinnamon and woods as the base isn't fruits. The USP of cognacs is their fruity character, which makes them great for other drinks.
M: How should one store cognacs?
Mirey: Cognac in a bottle doesn't age at all. The temperature doesn't matter, but it's advisable to close it properly and keep it in a dark room as the enemy here is evaporation. Also, its colour may change when exposed to sunlight.
M: The cognacs offered by the House of Hennessy in India include Hennessy V.S, Hennessy V.S.O.P. and Hennessy X.O. How are they different from each other?
Mirey: The aromatic component is higher in X.O. and it's thicker and richer and is best had neat. V.S. is lighter and the sensation of alcohol is much stronger, so it's advisable to mix it with water and soda. V.S. is our youngest cognac (four years old), while X.O. is about 30. V.S.O.P. is a very special old pale that was first created in 1817 for the future king of England.