HYPE Magazine Interviews Hussain For World Cognac Day W/ Martell Cognac


The oldest of the world’s great cognac-makers delineates cognac vs brandy for World Cognac Day.

Martell Cognac – the oldest of the world’s great cognac houses – celebrates what sets this most elegant of spirits apart on June 4 in celebration of World Cognac Day. Cognac is the royalty of drinks and the apex of success and achievement, both characteristics that the House of Martell embodies. True to its French heritage, the bedrock of Martell’s reputation is its profound legacy of craftsmanship and excellence, and the connoisseurs who recognise it. This is the view of Hussain van Roos, Martell Cognac Lifestyle Brand Ambassador for South Africa, who says that World Cognac Day is the perfect occasion to celebrate what makes this special brown spirit different from brandy.

For a brandy to be called cognac, it must be made from specified grape varieties grown in the Cognac region in France,” says van Roos. “Regulated by law, cognac can only come from one region in the world. Brandy, on the other hand, refers to any spirit distilled from fruit-based wine – including grapes made anywhere else,” says Hussain. Cognac’s distinction furthermore is that it is double distilled in copper pot-stills, explains Hussain. “Distillation is a highly delicate operation that requires the close attention of the Master Distiller and his team. To change the fruity wine into a perfect eau-de-vie, the time and temperature of the distillations must be precisely controlled.  As it simmers away, the vapour rises up through the still head, passing through the swan neck and into the coil, where it condenses to form a clear, warm liquor.” In contrast, Brandy allows for both pot and column-still distillation, but the final blend must contain at least 30% pot still brandy.

Cognac is aged for at least two years in Limousin or Tronçais oak barrels, whereas South African brandy must be aged for at least three years in barrels no larger than 340l and these are typically French oak. Lastly, cognac must have an alcohol content of at least 40%, while SA brandy content is either 38% or 43%. He says, “Alcohol influences flavour, or how flavour is perceived. A good balance is an indication of a fine cognac.” Simply put, cognac is unique,” concludes van Roos. “On World Cognac Day, Martell celebrates all those who’ve boldly followed their passion on a courageous journey to change the game. The knowledge and skill of Martell’s Cellar Masters have been passed down to create the unique Martell style: elegant, complex and balanced.”

Now HYPE Magazine got the opportunity to have a chat with Martell Lifestyle Brand Ambassador, Hussain van Roos and discussed more on how the Martell brand has grown over the years, how to determine Cognac quality and of course the perfect serve/cocktails that can be made with cognac.

So, World Cognac Day is around the corner and we’ve caught on how the Cognac industry has grown in terms of not only serving qualitative drinks to the people but growth in terms of creating connectivity between the brand and consumer. How has Martell’s growth in SA been and what reactions has Martell been getting from its consumers?

Martell Cognac’s growth has been incredibly strong since the South African launch in 2015. The Cognac category is one of the fastest growing categories not only in South Africa but globally consumers growing an appreciation for the exceptional quality liquid has been phenomenal to witness. We believe that our consumers have dispelled the notion that our spirit is brandy and we have gradually educated and informed the market on this premium spirit, rich with 300 years of heritage.

For a long time, Cognac has always been looked at as an offering for an older target market but with Martell we’ve noticed how the brand is very proactive with involving a younger crowd via the collaborations, event experiences, etc. Why has Martell positioned itself amongst a younger generation even though Cognac is defined as only for the mature lifestyle?

It is very true that Cognac has been deemed an old man’s drink. Sitting in a dark room with a cigar in hand. Gone are those days. We had to move with the times and embrace the ever-changing world where politicians were old, billion-dollar companies were in high skyscrapers now they pop up in bedrooms and style was a European thing. Gone are those days and who would Martell be by not embracing the ever audaciousness of the changing world.

 Word. What then would you say makes Martell such a stand-out Cognac brand?

What makes us stand out from the rest is the rich heritage that Martell holds, with over 300 years of history which inspires our craft till this day, this heritage has been our DNA and the one true definer in crafting and breaking boundaries in how we blend our cognacs.

How does one determine the quality of Cognac?

Our Martell distinctive style is defined by the unique terroir of France’s grape-growing region of Cognac. It gives our cognacs their hallmark elegance and subtlety. Traditional Charentais copper stills, applied by singular method, give the concentrated spirit its distinctive Martell style. The eaux-de-vie are aged exclusively in fine-grained oak barrels and matured for at least four years before being blended for consistency. The knowledge and skill of Martell’s Cellar Masters have been passed down to create the unique Martell style: elegant, complex and balanced. One of the best cognacs on the market.

And what’s the best way to appreciate the taste of Cognac?

For devoted cognac lovers, I would say go for it neat. Pair it with food or with a nice cigar. As the Martell style is all about the roundness and the smoothness, food pairing can truly be amazing: Readers should try Martell XO with beef, Martell Cordon Bleu with chocolate and Martell VSOP aged in red barrels with sushi. Each bite will reveal new notes and will make them travel to the finest terroirs of the Cognac.

Okay… Now let’s talk about making the perfect serve/cocktails that can be made using Martell. What mixing ingredients go well with Cognac?

When mixing a cocktail, the spirit of choice needs to be the hero of the drink. Ideally, you use ingredients that will not overpower the aromas and taste profile of the cognac, but rather allow the ingredients to graciously marry in the glass.

One of my favourites for this winter is the Martell Robust Coffee:

This is a twist on a classic cognac drink and you will enjoy how Martell VSOP works in harmony with bitter coffee flavours while maintaining a freshness and vibrancy. An excellent after-dinner cocktail.

  • 50ml Martell VSOP
  • 10ml gomme (Sugar Syrup)
  • 3 dashes of homemade coffee bitters
  • Branca Menta (Herbal Liqueur)
  • Orange twist
  • Add a dash of Branca Menta to a rocks glass. Combine cognac, gomme, and bitters in a shaker, shake and strain into glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
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