Sometimes one good cocktail leads to another.
Blathering on about the H by Hine Cognac Old Fashioned at the Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library stimulated quite a few comments, most on the order of “Hey, if you liked that cognac cocktail, you should try this one I found!”
The most intriguing comment, though, was “Hey, if you liked that cognac cocktail, you should come over and try the one I make.” Uttered by a bartender, of course. His description was intriguing enough to follow up on, so it was off to Kask@Grüner.
It was a dark and stormy night. No, really, it was; not an uncommon event in Portland in winter, and in this instance perfect for a clean but not particularly well-lighted place (hey, it's a bar) out of the rain and wind, and made even finer with a freshly made old fashioned in hand.
Robbie Wilson, tall and lean and friendly, yelled out a hearty greeting from behind the bar and proceeded to make the advertised cocktail. Similar structurally to the MWL H by Hine cognac old fashioned, but immediately and intrinsically different, this one was made with Maison Park Borderies Single Vineyard 15 year old cognac.
Right about now a cognac purist would be having the vapors and looking for the fainting couch at the idea of profaning and polluting such an exquisite cognac by using it in a cocktail. They should, respectfully, get over it. There is nothing sacrosanct about cognac: it is meant to be consumed and enjoyed in the most pleasurable way possible. If that is in a snifter, carefully hand-warmed, then fine; if it’s in a superb cocktail, that’s fine too.
It’s always interesting to taste the difference between kindred spirits in the same basic cocktail, but this was stunning. Where the H by Hine Fine Champagne VSOP gave a sturdy structure and revealed a spicy tang to the fruit, the Park Borderies was softer, more lush and luscious in texture. It’s difficult to distinguish between the terroir of Borderies with its clay soils and the benefits of 15 years of maturation---because both are very much present in this cognac---but the combination, sweet red cherry with a light dusting of baking spices, is both aromatically and texturally superb.
The differences between the two cognacs were apparent: where the Hine was caramel, the Borderies was buttercream; where the Hine was forceful, the Borderies was elegant, understated but amazingly persistent; where the Hine had robust power, the Borderies had sophistication and complexity and a beguiling harmony with the cocktail.
It’s natural to ask “Which one was better?” But that is the wrong question, and so impossible to answer. Within the template of the old fashioned, the Hine and the Park offer two entirely different expressions. Both are impressive, but each in its own way. And that’s just as it should be.