The Things That Go Through Your Mind When You’re Drinking $22,000 Cognac

The Time: Thursday, 2pm. Springtime. Sunny. The Place: Astor Center, 23 E. 4th St., 2nd Fl., New York. A two-tiered auditorium designed for cooking demonstrations. Every seat has a corresponding sink. The Reason: The release of Louis XIII Rare Cask 42,6 Cognac, suggested retail price $22,000 per 750 ml bottle. The Scene: Pierrette Trichet, Cellar Master of the House of Rémy Martin, speaks to a gathering of spirits and lifestyle journalists. "Nature plays an important role," she says in French. "Every vintage, every harvest is different." A man with a tray places a tasting glass with an ounce or so of Louis XIII Rare Cask 42,6 in front of each of us. An uplit tile on our desks allows us to admire the color of the liquid. We look at it, sniff it, swirl it. Finally, we taste it.

My Brain: If this cognac is $22,000 a bottle, I wonder what the value is of the glasses on that tray. Can you imagine if he dropped that tray right now? Would Trichet scream at him, pass out, or cast her eyes downward, stoically, finding dark humor in the situation? What if one of us went crazy, grabbed that bottle on the counter, and took off running? Or smashed it? Would it make the news? If I was in charge of this event I’d deliver the glasses one by one. I’d never risk a tray. Eggs, basket, etc. Okay, focus. Look at this glass. It’s very pretty, this liquid. It captures the light. Smells nice too. Wow. Plums, dates, like she says. Ginger. Sure I get that. Can we taste it now? Great. Yes, I’m going slow. Small sip, make it last. Oh, that’s nice.

They say this is a blend of 1,200 eaux-de-vie, 100 years in the making. Another sip. That’s longer than any Scotch for sure. Another sip. They’re still talking but I’m having trouble concentrating. Having a moment here. I taste honey, I taste plum. I don’t know about the tobacco leaf. I never ate one of those.

Still, this is sublime. Another sip. I wonder how much money is in my mouth right now. They said fancy hotels and cocktail lounges will sell this for 1,800 euros a glass. That’s like 2,300 bucks, yeah? Maybe five sips in this glass. So, this sip could be $500. Whoah, man.

I mean it’s good, really good, but would I ever pay that? Ah, it’s a ridiculous question. I can’t even conceive of having so much money that I can just buy this. Nice to be a journalist then. It’s a rough business these days, but this is my Thursday afternoon.

I can’t say it’s not worth $2,300. Sure it is. I mean, how can you put a value on it at all? It’s the best in the world, or at least the best I’ve ever had. Maybe the best I ever will have. It opens your mind, lets crazy thoughts in. They’re still talking, but my eyes are closed. I hope I don’t look rude. Another sip.

Oh no, this is the last one. How long can I hold it in my mouth? Flavors exploding. Swallow it, let it go. Don’t hold on to the experience, savor the memory. There are metaphors here. Will this ruin me for other, more affordable cognacs?

What kind of person really orders this? Super rich guys? Guys who just won six figures in Atlantic City? How rich would you have to be to spend $22,000 and not really think about the money?

Doesn’t matter. I’m glad it exists. I’m glad I tried it. It’s gone now. I might never have it again. But I’ve tasted it. And it’s magnificent. I have to go back to the real world now. It’s different. I’m different. It really is a beautiful day. 

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Remy Martin 1738 Cognac: No (Smoking) Jacket Required

You want me to drink Remy Martin 1738 cognac? Sure, just let me grab my monocle, slip on my smoking jacket, and withdraw to a leather chair next to an oil painting of a fox hunt. What’s that you say? These affectations are unnecessary, as cognac is now being used by cutting-edge mixologists like Jim Meehan of New York’s PDT to create cocktails that are as innovative as they are delicious? Well now you’re speaking my language. I’ll be right over.

And so it was on a Tuesday night in Manhattan, when a contingent of BlackBook editors filed through the secret phone booth at Crif Dogs into the quirky PDT lounge, where bartender Jim Meehan (author of the new PDT Cocktail Book) schooled us on the history and versatility of the grape spirit, and Remy Martin cellar master Pierette Trichet discussed the finer points of chalky terroir, limousin oak barrels, and the meaning of eau de vie.

First, Meehan had us taste a flight of brown spirits ranging from rum to rye, just to see where a fine aged cognac fits in.  (Short answer: cognac shares their complexity while adding a smoothness that comes from its lower alcohol content.) He explained to us how popular cognac was in 19th century cocktail culture (the original versions of the Mint Julep and Sazerac called for cognac, which would have been known at the time as brandy). And he talked about his approach to mixing cocktails with cognac, which involves using flavors like citrus and mint that bring out the spirit’s essence, rather than burying it in sweet syrups and sodas.

Next, Trichet took us on a virtual tour of cognac country, which is located near the west coast of France. Its chalky soil is perfect for growing ugni blanc grapes, whose acidity is ideal for cognac production. The juice of the grapes is made into eaux de vie (fruit brandies), which are then blended and aged to produce the cognac house’s various "expressions." Of those expressions, Remy 1738 may well be the most versatile, easily fine enough for sipping neat while seated in the aforementioned leather chair, but also ideal for mixing in both classic and modern cocktails.

Which brings us back to the purpose of our visit. Meehan mixed several amazing cocktails that featured Remy 1738 as a base spirit. The Mint Julep was sweet without being cloying, with the tartness of the grapes mingling with the coolness of the mint. His Sazerac – which featured an absinthe rinse – was divine, and the substitution of cognac for rye whiskey seemed to work perfectly with the bitters. Served in a sturdy tumbler, it’s definitely a man’s cocktail. And I truly enjoyed the Bow Tie, which combines Remy 1738 cognac with dry vermouth and fresh pineapple juice (not the sticky canned stuff) that gave the otherwise austere cocktail a tropical twist. Delightful.

I’ll admit it, up until last night, cognac was not my thing. But after tasting Remy’s 1738, both on its own and mixed in a variety of inspired cocktails, I’m happy to add it to my regular drinking rotation. You think it would go well in a Long Island Iced Tea?

The New Remy V: A Truly Delicious Non-gnac

Rémy Martin, the world’s leading producer of “fine champagne cognac,” recently unveiled its new Remy V with a party in the penthouse of the spiffy Mondrian Soho hotel. It was a fun affair, with a cocktail tutorial from master mixologist Charles Hardwick and DJ lessons from DJ Kiss and Paul Sevigny. (Related: I am the world’s worst DJ. Sorry, Paul.) As for the Remy V, it’s a delicious drink, crisp and refreshing, with hints of grape and mint. It’s delightful neat, or mixed into any number of cocktails. But what exactly is it?

Despite being produced by a renowned cognac maker, Remy V isn’t itself a cognac. It’s made from grapes from the top two crus in the Cognac region of France, but it’s not aged in wooden barrels, thus rendering it ineligible for the designation. Instead, it’s filtered using a special process that chills the liquid to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, giving it a transparent color and an ultra smooth taste.

Most of the time, the Remy people call it a “clear spirit,” and if you really dig into the marketing materials, you’ll see mention of a “clear distilled grape spirit,” yet that’s oddly unsatisfying. I want my booze to have a name. Rum, vodka, whisky, tequila: these are things I can wrap my mind around. But “clear spirit”? It’s a bit too vague.

Maybe we can help out by suggesting a few names for this new product category. Unaged cognac? Grape delight? Non-gnac?

I can’t pretend to know the minds of the marketing team over at Remy, but they may have made it intentionally vague. You can’t sidle up to a bar and ask for a “clear spirit on the rocks,” and if you did, you’d probably get a vodka. No, you’ve got to ask for Remy V by name, because, to borrow the most annoying phrase in contemporary English, it is what it is.

But what’s in a name? A booze by any other name would taste as smooth, and Remy V is pleasure on the palate. Like I said, it’s yummers on its own, and the cocktails they dreamed up — like the V-Tini, which adds Cointreau and white wine — are mighty tasty. So who cares what it is, as long as it keeps flowing. Remy V will be available across the country later this summer, and will cost about $40 a bottle.

Vincent Kartheiser Talks Rape & Dating, In That Order

Downtown types hunting for a cheap meal and canned beer won’t usually seek out the lavish Lambs Club to post up for the night, but it’s quite nice when Rémy Martin invites a few of those below-14th denizens (we’re getting far too used to those PBRs) to enjoy a perfectly curated, ludicrously luxurious evening with some true ladies and gents uptown. Last week, I was lucky to attend a so-called “intimate dinner” with Rémy Martin 1738, Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men‘s Pete Campbell), and the lovely Janie Bryant, who’s responsible for Mad Men’s award-winning costume design. Just as we were getting used to posturing as prim and proper – made difficult by the deliciousness of the cognac cocktails – Kartheiser offered up his special brand of table talk and dropped the “rape” bomb.

There’s a time and a place for everything, much like our dinner in the discreet, landmarked room known as The Stanford White Studio within The Lambs Club. The perfect venue for the kind of evening Rémy Martin was hoping to have. Call me quaint, but beginning the night with a short chat about rape over a painstakingly constructed meal by Chef Geoffrey Zakarian isn’t the most suitable dinner conversation to have—especially amid a group of wide-eyed writers and reporters. But I say: Kartheiser, bring it on.

“It’s not rape after the first 5 minutes,” Kartheiser mused as he explained the type of women he attracts. I breathed a sigh of relief and picked up my glass of cognac—I was now free to drink without restraint. “I mean, I’m no Pete Campbell,” he admitted when another guest at the table asked him about the infamous au pair rape scene, a question that seems fitting when the man who plays Pete Campbell is talking about rape. “It was written in the scene that she was supposed to kiss me back, and I kept saying to her,” he continued between clenched teeth, “kiss me back, damnit! But she wouldn’t.” After the scene came out, Matthew Weiner was confused about the negative press the scene was getting. “Why are they saying you raped her? You didn’t rape her—it wasn’t supposed to be rape!” Kartheiser mimicked. “The course of Pete Campbell changed, and it was all because the actress wouldn’t kiss me back. We dated after that.”

More looney talk: Vincent wears Pete Campbell’s wedding ring in reality because “It attracts the right kind of women.” His view on life: “I like money and women, though not in that order. I like women, and women like money.” Bottom line: Kartheiser is a perfect party guest. He gives great speeches, says what’s on everyone’s mind, breaks the ice first, gets a rise out of people, enjoys it all thoroughly, and may or may not go back to his hotel room with someone after it all (that’s all hearsay). More importantly, Kartheiser knows how to get an event some good press.

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After the dinner, some select ladies and gentlemen, including WSJ reporter Elva Ramirez and Food and Wine blogger Michael Mohammadi, headed over to The Bar located in the opposite wing of the Stanford White Studio to continue the festivities. That explains why I’m just now filing this report.