Every year, Rémy Martin, the French cognac giant, scouts the world to pick 11 of the best young bartenders to showcase their talent at a competition held at the brand’s Bartender Talent Academy in their home city of Cognac, and then in Paris. Besides their bartending skills, the participants are selected on the basis of what the company calls their ‘slash’ personality, which includes their other interests outside of mixology. At Cognac, the contestants are required to present an original Rémy Martin cocktail that ’embodies this slash persona’. The winner is awarded 3000 Euros and the runner-up 2000 Euros, which they are expected to use to realise their ‘slash’.
How was your experience at the Rémy Martin Bartender Talent Academy?
For me, it was a lifetime worth of memories. As a brand, Rémy Martin gave us an experience that I will never forget. We went to the distillery and saw the spirit being made from scratch, the emotions and hard work invested in the making of what goes into the bottle. On the last night, we went bar-hopping in Paris, which was amazing. I got to connect with some of the world’s best bartenders.
Tell us about your experience of working with cognac, and with Rémy Martin in particular.
Rémy Martin has always been a part of every bar I have worked at. I worked in Dubai for four years, and that is when I really discovered it. It’s one of my favourite cognacs to work with — it’s amazing whether you want to sip it neat, with a cube of ice or in a cocktail. Now, after this experience, it has become my number one choice.
“For me, it was a lifetime worth of memories. As a brand, Rémy Martin gave us an experience that I will never forget.”
What is the best way to drink cognac, according to you?
It really depends from person to person, and as a brand, Rémy Martin doesn’t want to restrict it either. I love drinking it neat, but not everyone does. It’s not so trendy in India, but internationally it does very well. Cocktails are helping to promote it a bit more. Bartenders are putting a lot of effort into coming up with drinks with cognac — you have to be sensitive and sensible.
How do you intend to encourage more people to drink cognac in India?
I think the bartender’s role here is so important. Unless they entice you to try it, you won’t. Now you see a lot of people seeing a trend abroad and then asking for it here. I think the perception is going to change soon. I tell my patrons, “Please continue drinking what you like, but tonight just try this.” This kind of passion yields very positive results.
On my part, I’m going to serve the cocktail I created in Cognac, at Kode in Mumbai. It’s not about doing myself or the brand a favour. It’s just a cocktail that will always be special to me. Coming up with new recipes for cognac cocktails, the sky is the limit, but there are always classics like a Sidecar. It allows the spirit to shine. You can make an Old Fashioned as well. You can really play around with cognac, because it has a lot to offer.
What was your favourite part of the experience?
The whole experience was amazing. The brand heads created a WhatsApp group on which we were all interacting even before the trip. Every one of us was made to feel comfortable, and the hospitality was great. Everyone made me feel so good about being from India; it felt like an advantage. The activities included tours of the distillery and winery; there was a Sidecar Tour, where we all rode bikes. A really interesting experience for me was at the Gentlemen 1919 speakeasy, which was inside a barbershop. Even after the experience has ended, the WhatsApp group is very much active. I also know that no matter how much money I spend when I plan my next trip, I will not be able to buy this kind of hospitality.
Abhishek Parameswaran, Country manager, India & Sub-continent at Rémy Cointreau, on Desai’s selection for the experience and the cognac market in India:
How was Himanshu Desai selected for the Rémy Martin Bartender Talent Academy?
Himanshu’s talent was identified by the brand among the bartending community as the ‘one to watch’ in the industry, for his outstanding skill and dedication. In addition to being gifted in the craft of mixology, each of these bartenders must showcase exceptional passion and a unique “slash” personality, which includes diverse interests beyond their chosen field. Himanshu fit the bill perfectly as the ideal representative from India.
What is your take on the cognac market in India?
There has been a steady upswing over the last few years, and Rémy Martin is at the forefront when it comes to growing the market here. For many years, the cognac market was restricted to the metropolitan cities and certain regions. However, with the new, emerging breed of well-travelled and knowledgeable Indian consumers, this magnificent and versatile spirit is now gaining popularity across the country.
“Rémy Martin is at the forefront of growing the cognac market in India”
How do you plan to increase awareness about cognac in India?
We believe it is important for consumers to gain firsthand knowledge of the brand, its legacy and to be able to identify deeply with it. Our recent campaign One Life/Live Them seeks to do just that, as we showcase achievers who have defined themselves by their achievements in diverse fields. Our consumers are constantly seeking unique experiences, and our events, such as tastings or paired dinners, reflect that. We want the consumer to create their own journey with the brand. With the growth of quality bars and mixologists in India, consumers are now opening up to Rémy Martin’s versatility. We are constantly working at building a strong trade training and relationship program and showcasing that Rémy Martin can be consumed in a variety of ways.
‘FOR THE GOOD TIMES’
Desai’s cocktail, ‘For The Good Times’, is a delicate, balanced creation that uses Rémy Martin VSOP along with apricot puree, aperol sous vide, lemon juice, a pandan leaf and a couple of drops of sandalwood tincture. His presentation at the event was also Indianised, with his choice of glass and the placement of a miniature sword atop it.
“We were asked to create a cocktail inspired by one of our childhood hobbies. If not a mixologist, I would definitely have been a photographer, so that is the hobby I selected as my inspiration. I went on the trip with a travel journal and Polaroid camera, documenting my experience there. My cocktail was presented served on my journal. I shot a picture of the judges on the spot, and attached it to the presentation to justify my hobby,” Desai says.