Mix it up: You don't have to be a supertaster to enjoy a cognac cocktail

Philip Salter
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MAN is a social animal; so is woman for that matter. And it is through our interactions with others that we acquire our tastes, values and prejudices. Even the way we perceive the world is influenced by when and where we live. Take our perception of colour: seeing my five-year-old niece dressed – of her own volition – from head to toe in pink, it is hard to believe that for Victorians pink was just as commonly associated with boys as girls.

Social conditioning impacts other sense associations – including taste. Every week, without fail, a bartender will describe a drink as being “feminine” when they are actually trying to dissuade me from drinking something sweet.

Stereotypes are useful because they simplify a complex world; but they are pernicious in the way that they ingrain prejudices. Believing that certain drinks are masculine and others feminine is a prejudice – it means that women are discouraged strong, bitter, sour drinks; and men are embarrassed to order sweet, creamy, floral ones.

Ironically, if an argument were to be made based on nature, as opposed to nurture, women would have the greater claim to prefer complex flavours. So-called supertasters – who have more taste buds than the rest of the population – are more likely to be women: 35 per cent of women are supertasters, versus just 15 per cent of men.

You’re probably now wondering if you’re part of this elite band of brothers and sisters. If you want to find out: put some blue food colouring on the tip of your tongue; the papillae, which house the taste buds, will remain pink; take a piece of paper with a 7mm-wide hole punched through it and put it over your tongue; finally, use a magnifying glass to count the dots – if you count more than 35 then you’re a supertaster. Perhaps though, this time is better spent drinking.

All spirits are trying to attract more female drinkers: but none is trying harder than cognac. It is strongly associated with the intensely masculine (pre-smoking ban) image of mature men conspiring in dark (male-only) private members’ clubs, puffing on cigars while working their way through cobwebbed bottles of old cognac.

From vine to glass, cognac remains dominated by men, but there are exceptions. Pierrette Trichet of Rémy Martin stands out from the crowd – she is the Cognac region’s only female Cellar Master in the history of its major producers. There should and will be more.

At the recent GQ Men of the Year awards, Rémy Martin produced a cocktail incorporating the holy trinity of masculinity: cognac, ale and a tankard. Despite the testosterone in the room, some brittle female models were tentatively clutching tankard over champagne flute. Like many of the best new cognac cocktails, the R&GQ combines cognac and ginger: a sublime match that will be appreciated equally by XXs or XYs – whether you’re a super or a second-rate taster.