Meet the Makers: Cellar Master Baptiste Loiseau
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"I'm getting plums and pears—lots of fruits and plenty of dates. There's a little bit of spice, too. Maybe cinnamon."
When Baptiste Loiseau noses a glass of cognac, he rattles off an intimidatingly long list of descriptors.
And that's literally his job: As the fifth cellar master at the House of Rémy Martin, Loiseau oversees the blending and aging of more than 140,000 eaux de vie in 29 different cellars. In a matter of hours, he can determine the quality and aging potential of dozens of brandies based solely on smell.
He's also responsible for the creation of the House's premium cognac, Louis XIII, which he'll never get to taste. A blend of 1,200 eaux de vie, the stuff is aged up to 100 years before it hits the market. (If you're curious, it'll set you back about $2,500 a bottle.)
We asked Loiseau about the day-to-day process of evaluating eau de vie and how we should appreciate a fine glass of cognac at home—on its own or in cocktails.
TT: How do you determine the quality of an eau de vie?
Baptiste Loiseau: Through blind tasting, but only on the nose. We evaluate 25 to 35 samples in a row, and they're evaluated twice—the first time it's neat and the second time it's cut with water to help expand the aromas and give us an idea of its aging potential. Then we decide whether it'll be aged in a new oak cask or a seasoned cask or very old casks, called tierçons, depending on the quality.
TT: What characteristics make for a great eau de vie?
BL: Fruitiness and richness and especially aromas of pear. But some samples have floral notes, like lime blossom, and some have aromas of mint or honey. Some have buttery aromas. There's a huge amount of diversity in the aromatics.
TT: What's the best way to appreciate a fully aged cognac?
BL: Something like Louis XIII deserves a lot of time and respect. If you're going to taste that sort of nectar, you want to appreciate it neat, because it's the product of generations of cellar masters. Have it at room temperature and look at the color and texture. Take quick breaths at first; as you approach the glass you can take longer breaths to really appreciate the aromas. Then, you can take a drop on your lips. I really like the sensation of this drop warming your senses.
TT: Is it ever acceptable to use a cognac in a cocktail?
BL: Sure, and if you come to cognac in the summertime, you'll see plenty of people mixing something like VSOP or 1738 with ginger ale and a little bit of lime. It's the perfect way to have it with friends, and it really brings out those floral and vanilla notes.
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