04 May 2011

Luc Merlet Interview

Luc and his brother Pierre joined the MERLET family business in 2005. Their father Gilles still heads up the company but allows Luc and Pierre to bring their modern ideas and methods into the company. Luc looks after the marketing and sales whilst Pierre focuses on production and quality. Combined they have created probably one of the finest liquer brands in the world.

1. What is the first cocktail you ever made?

-Being from a distillers family, I’ve been surrounded by alcoholic beverages since I can remember. Even though cocktails are not a big tradition in the Cognac area, I’ve always seen my father doing sort of cocktails for friends and family. The two I can remember the best are Kir and a Cognac punch with orange juice, campari and sparkling. As kid I had fun helping him to prepare them.

2. What are your 3 favorite drinks plus recipes; old, new and your own?
-The Sidecar is definitely my favourite classic. Depends on the Cognac and the Triple Sec but I make it either with 2 shots Cognac and 1 shot lemon, 1 shot triple sec, or 1/3 of each ingredient.
Among new drinks, I had been struck by the Bramble when I came to the UK in 2006 and I tried it first. It made me looking at my Crème de Mûre from a different angle and the perspectives that it opened the combinations of gin with dark berries.
Not being a bartender, I have my “safe” drink that I make to friends when they come home : Cognac, sweet vermouth, cassis and a twist of orange.

3.Tell us about a new flavor you have discovered recently?
-We’ve working the past month on our new Crème de Melon and beyond the difficulty to make a good liqueur out of it, that’s the kind of fruit which has quite a big gap between how it smells and how it taste. That’s a very interesting flavor which can add a lot to a drink but also can completely take over. I had lot of fun to sample it with bartenders and to experiment cocktail recipes with it. I particularly remember a Melon margarita we did with Dick Bradsell which was fantastic.

4. If you could pass just one thing, on to an young bartender what would it be?
-As spirits producer I would tell them not to listen to what everybody tells about brands but to try to find themselves the quality of a product and its real story. It’s not because everybody uses a product that it is a good. Taste your products, try them in your drinks and make your own opinion.

5. What does the future hold for yourself and what do you see happening in the future in the industry?
-We have a deep hearted project at Merlet which is to carry on producing the best possible liqueurs and now we’ve launch our own Cognac label, we want to gain the acknowledge of a high standard niche brand. It means a lot to the family as we’ve been distilling for 5 generations for other brands. I’d love to see the industry working on old spirits such as Cognac. It is a great thing that gin has come back in spotlight, I’d like to see the same with other white spirits which personality such as pot distilled cachaças, agricole rums, etc. but also dark spirits.

6. What has been your biggest satisfaction from working with Bartenders?
-My biggest satisfaction with working with bartenders has been to show my liqueurs from a different angle. It has changed our approach to elaborate new products. We now work a lot with them to test our recipes in drinks and to adjust them. The craft of a cocktail and a liqueur is very similar in a way but at a different scale.

7. If you were to have a conversation with a cocktail, (and presuming it could talk back to you and tell you its past). Which cocktail would it be and why?
-Tell me Mr Negroni, why do I like so much your bitterness, me being such a sweet person who usually hates disabused people???

8. What influences your drinks from outside the industry (i.e. art, fashion)?
-Gastronomy a lot. Since I’ve been traveling in many countries to promote our brand, looking at all those chefs from different countries has inspired me a lot. Then I’d say that travels in general is big source of inspiration : it forces you to look at things a different way, to consider different points of views, to discover new flavours, smells, combination of colours, etc.

9. If you where to break a bartending golden rule what would it be?
-I leave that appreciation to bartenders. But one rule which is very often broken and that bartenders should more keep in mind is that the client is king and you have to make him the drink he asks, even if it’s a crap one.

10. Outside of flavor and the craft of the cocktail what in your opinion effects the appreciation of cocktails the most?
-The atmosphere for sure. Everything counts and it’s all about the combination of the service, the presentation of the drink, the people you’re sharing it with. Music and lighting are often the last things which are appropriate. A lot of place should give more attention to them.

11. If you where to champion a cocktail which would it be?
-The mojito as it has brought a lot of people to discover cocktails, especially in France. Still it is not as easy to make as a lot of people pretend.

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