Cognac cocktails for your last summer party

22 August 2014 by in Spirits distilled, Wine and spirits

Here in the UK next Monday is August Bank Holiday, a national holiday that signals the end of the summer. Traditionally that means gardening, DIY and meeting up with friends to squeeze the last drop of sunshine out of the season. If you’re having a lunch, picnic or barbecue with friends this weekend (wherever you may be), why not brighten your gathering with a cocktail (or two)? Cognac makes the ideal base for a range of cocktails. This may be a surprise if for you cognac conjures up images of stuffy, leather-chaired gentlemen’s clubs, huge balloon glasses and cigars. So here’s Nicholas Faith’s explanation from his book, Cognac: The Story of the World’s Greatest Brandy, which we’ve followed up with a few recipes from our friends at Cognac Expert.

Cognac is an ideal base for cocktails; as Pierre Szersnovicz of Courvoisier puts it: ‘other spirits provide purely alcoholic support for cocktails whereas cognac brings a definite character to any blend’. Every cognac brand offers such a complexity of taste that all a professional mixologist has to do is to identify one of the many flavours and aromas in the spirit and enhance it by blending it with complementary flavours. Because it is made from grapes, cognac is eminently suitable for cocktails that will not react too violently with the wine to be drunk later in the evening. The old wives told the right tale: grain and grape really do not mix. I can attest to the ill-effects, felt the next morning, of even the smallest tincture of whisky before drinking wine in any quantity. Cognac-based cocktails are healthier.

Cognac’s virtue as the spirit of choice for cocktail makers has come at a time when Britain has emerged as the cocktail centre of the world. The reasons are many: ‘They don’t make bad cognacs,’ says Dick Bradsell, London’s cocktail pioneer, aware that there is less quality control in the making of competing spirits. He and his colleagues are discovering that cognac is mellower and softer and has the necessary smoothness and balance. It helps that you don’t need relatively expensive VSOP; VS does fine for cocktails. Moreover, cognac was due for a revival because it had been out of fashion for so long. In Bradsell’s words, cognac ‘missed out on all the funny drinks of the 1970s and so doesn’t have any gimmicky connotations’. It also helps that, in the United States anyway, drinkers believe that cognac is stronger than competing spirits, possibly because it has more character and far greater complexity.

The basic formula for most of these drinks is relatively simple: something sour with something sweet to exploit the flavour and strength of the cognac, together with a touch of character from bitters or the like. The flexibility of cognac is also important. ‘Any mix is fine,’ says Dave Steward, a cocktail expert, ‘provided you can taste the cognac’ – a direct contrast to the distillers’ attempts to make a competitor like vodka as anonymous as possible and, as he points out ‘we hope that these mixes will lead us back to the better cognacs – drunk neat.’ Also in its favour is its capacity to provide a more interesting twist on classic whisky-based cocktails – barmen sometimes admit that they’re often doing the equivalent of merely reinventing the alcoholic wheel. But then some of these – notably the julep – were originally based on cognac only to be usurped by bourbon.

If you’re using lemon or even orange then obviously you want a richer style of cognac – say Courvoisier or Hennessy – to compensate for the bitterness of the citrus fruit. Ready made ones like Grand Marnier or Cointreau which combine orange and brandy can be replicated – after a fashion. There are obvious mixers apart from citrus fruit and other fruit like apples, such as cream, chocolate and coffee. Just think of the Brandy Alexander favoured by Anthony Blanche, a character in Brideshead Revisited – though Waugh is clearly painting him as a bounder. The Alexander normally uses dark crème de cacao and grated nutmeg, though Blanche obviously wanted cream with his. Either way it’s fine because although it’s inevitably sweet, you’re not overly conscious of the individual constituents but only of the blend.

A classic cocktail that goes down well on any occasion. Once again, easy to make and provides a taste sensation that’ll delight the taste buds. A great aperitif to enjoy before any meal. Add Media

6cl cognac (quality and brand of your choice)
1.5cl Cointreau
1.5cl lemon juice
3cl cranberry juice
crushed ice
wedge of lime

Prepare and chill cocktail or martini glasses. Place all the ingredients except the lime into a cocktail shaker. Mix well and allow to chill. Strain into the glasses and garnish with a wedge of lime. Serve immediately.

The Summit
This was created in 2008 specifically for the occasion known as the International Cognac Summit, an event organised by the BNIC. Mixologists and other cognac experts joined forces to create the ultimate cognac cocktail. The cocktail had to be simple to produce, with easily accessible ingredients. It also had to look fabulous – and taste amazing. And the Summit cocktail was the end result.

4 slices of freshly peeled ginger
1 slice of lime
4cl of VSOP cognac (brand of your choice)
6cl of lemonade
a fine peel of cucumber, to garnish

Place the lime and ginger into a glass and add 2cl of cognac. Add the ice and stir to mix. Add the rest of the cognac and the lemonade, then garnish with the cucumber. Serve immediately.

This classy little cocktail is both simple and chic. It not only tastes fabulous, but looks just wonderful when served. It is believed that it was so named after the motorcycle sidecar in which an eccentric British captain in Paris during the Second World War was transported to the bistro where the cocktail was born. The first recorded listing for this cocktail can be found in the early 1920s books, Harry’s ABC of Cocktails, and Cocktails, How to Mix Them. In the USA the Sidecar is often served with a sugared rim, and is very popular. 

2 parts of VS or VSOP cognac
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 part Triple Sec
dash of sugar syrup
1 twist of lemon peel for garnish

Place all the ingredients (bar the lemon peel) in a cocktail shaker with some crushed ice and mix. Allow to cool and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the twist of lemon peel and serve immediately.

Cognac buy

The Premier League season 2014–2015 kicks off

15 August 2014 by in Business and finance, Football Business

Well, after what seems like an eternity with not even a mention of football, the new Premier League season is about to begin. So are you excited, wondering how your team will fare this year? Looking forward to some flashes of goal-scoring genius? Wondering who the season’s new star will be (perhaps it’s the manager – or perhaps not)? More importantly – have you been saving up?

As football fans are all too well aware the price of following the world’s favourite sport can take its toll – some have even started to protest the prices of attending a match. When you look at some of the costs assiociated with supporting football these days you can start to see why these fans are angry. Here are just a few examples of current Premier League prices:

  • A season ticket for last year’s cup champions Arsenal, the Premier League’s most expensive, will cost you a minimum of £1,014. Which makes last year’s league champions seem like a bargain – a season ticket at City will only set you back £299.
  • A ticket to Manchester United’s match versus Swansea at Old Trafford tomorrow (could you get your hands on a legitimate one) will set you back between £31 and £53.
  • Should attending matches be too rich for your blood you could always subscribe to Sky Sports for an extra (yes, on top of your basic subscription) £24.50/month. But don’t forget you’ll need an account with BT too if you want to watch all the Premier League matches, as many of the top games this season will be live on BT Sport.
  • A shirt for any of the big five costs £49.99. If you want one for your offspring too that’s another £35–40 per child.

But OK, it’s 2014 and the prices of everything have gone up in our lifetimes; that’s the way commerce moves. Perhaps it doesn’t matter that with your season ticket to Arsenal, a new shirt and attendance at all the away games you’re going to be spending in the region of at least £2000, if you get £2000-worth of enjoyment from it. But as author Tsjalle van der Burg points out in his new book, Football business, the cost of football has risen out of line with the economy as a whole. He thinks it’s unlikely that the enjoyment of fans has risen in line with the costs of being a fan.

In fact the way football is run now it is likely that it has become less enjoyable for the fans, largely due to what Van der Burg calls ‘competitive inequality’. In simple terms this means that the wealthier clubs (those owned by oligarchs and sheikhs) can afford better players, making them more likely to win tournaments and leagues. Consistently winning teams get more supporters and sell more tickets, get more promotional opportunities and make more money from the TV rights to games. So the rich become richer. If you support a less wealthy club, watching matches against the wealthier clubs can be frustrating as you know you have very little chance of winning. But this inequality can also make games less enjoyable for the fans of wealthier clubs – if you know you have very little chance of losing, a lot of the excitement of winning is taken away. As Van der Burg points out, enjoyment can’t be measured scientifically but he notes:

“In football, the quality of the basic product – football matches – has not improved over the years. Barcelona–Real Madrid is no more enjoyable or exciting today than it was in the past. Lionel Messi does not entertain the average Barcelona fan more than Johan Cruijff used to. And in all competitions, fewer goals are scored now. It’s a safe bet that in the next final of the Champions League there will not be ten goals in 90 minutes, as there were in the 1960 European Cup final. One of the reasons may be that current coaches put results ahead of entertainment, precisely because of the enormous amounts of money at stake.”

Van der Burg is an economist so he has tried to work out the problem using economic calculations. He asks if the sport would be more enjoyable if all clubs had the same chance of winning. You might think the simple and obvious answer is ‘Yes’ but as Van der Burg points out, if you take it down to bare statistics it’s not that clear cut – after all Liverpool have far more fans than Swansea so when Swansea beat Liverpool the enjoyment is experienced by a smaller proportion of fans. But:

“If Swansea were to win the title next year, the pleasure of the average fan of the league champion would possibly reach an all-time high. In addition, people who have sympathy for the underdog would also be pleased. A Swansea title would show that, however hopeless a situation may seem, and however life turns against you, hope is always justified. This will also make the fans of other clubs feel better during the next season, since much of their pleasure is based on hopes and expectations. Indeed, this is what [Major League Basebell promoter] Bill Veeck taught us long ago: sports clubs produce dreams. And to enable fans to dream, it would help if clubs like Swansea had some chance of winning the title one day.”

One thing is certain – football has more fans than ever worldwide. When the season kicks off at Old Trafford at 12.45 tomorrow excitement will be high not just in Swansea and wherever it is that United’s fans live but as far afield as Asia and South America. If we could find a way to keep that feeling going for all fans all season we’d be on to a winner.

Do you think football has become too expensive? Have you lost your enjoyment of the game as prices have risen or do you think it has become more exciting and enjoyable? Let us know what you think by filling in the comment box below or contacting us via Facebook or Twitter using the social media sharing buttons.

Football business

Competition: Best International Prediction of 2014

4 August 2014 by in Codebreaking our future

To celebrate the release of Codebreaking our Future by Michael Lee we are offering readers of our blog the chance to win a free subscription to the FutureFinder System for Individuals, which will help you identify future influences you can monitor.

While we’re interested in all your theories about the future, however outlandish, this article might help you come up with more reliable predictions. Once you’ve looked at these successful predictions (from Knowing our Future) and the methods behind them, let us know, in 300 words or fewer, using the form below, what your prediction is and how you arrived at your conclusion.

Michael Lee offers the following additional advice for predicting our future:

  • Read the news and pick an area of interest in which you would like to make a forecast (for example, technology or politics);
  • Look into the history of the evolution of the entity or subject you’ve chosen, to the current time;
  • Try to identify causes or strong influencing factors most likely to affect outcomes in this field;
  • Make your own rating of probabilities of possible outcomes based on this causal analysis, and choose pathways and outcomes which have strong probabilities.

Closing date is 5 September 2014. The winner will be notified by 19 September and their idea published on this blog and on the Institute of Futurology site. The subscription to the FutureFinder System for Individuals will be shared with the winner who will then be able to use the system without charge.

We're sorry but this competition has now closed.

Bereaved mother wants to spread the word about consequences of recreational drug use

7 July 2014 by in 5742 Days, Lifestyle

An Oxfordshire mother who wrote a book documenting her experiences after losing her only daughter to recreational drug-use is making free copies available to readers around Oxford city centre in the hope that, by reading of her experiences, others can avoid the fate suffered by her daughter.

Sunday 20 July 2014 is the first anniversary of the death in Oxford of Martha Fernback. To mark the occasion Martha’s mother, Anne-Marie Cockburn, author of 5,742 Days: A mother’s journey through loss, and her publisher Infinite Ideas will leave free copies of a special anniversary edition of the book, published this month, in various parts of the city. These free copies carry a sticker inviting ‘Infinite Readers’ to take the book away, read it and then bring it back to the same spot for someone else to experience. The book will be found in public places throughout central Oxford on 19 July 2014.

Anne-Marie has recently called for drugs to be regulated. She says:

5,742 days anniversary edition“What is crystal clear to me now is that strict and responsible regulation of drugs is vital. This means taking drugs out of the hands of dealers and treating them in the same way as pharmaceuticals. Licensed drugs are labelled, ingredients are listed and necessary dosage information is provided.

Under prohibition, it is impossible to fully educate people as there is no way to tell what drugs contain, but despite this, many people are still willing to take risks.

It is important to stress that we need to do what we can in order to deter young people from taking drugs. However, had Martha known that what she was about to take was 91% pure, she would probably have taken a lot less, in fact I’d go as far as to say that she might still be alive.

Martha wanted to get high, she didn’t want to die. No parent wants either, but there’s one of those options that’s preferable to the other.”

Oxford book drop stickerAnybody who finds a book can let Anne-Marie and Infinite Ideas know via Twitter @5742Days; @Infinite_Ideas.


For further information contact:
Catherine Holdsworth:
Telephone: 01865 514888

5,742 Days
A Mother’s Journey Through Loss
(Special 1st Anniversary Edition)
Anne-Marie Cockburn
£9.99 | Publication date: 7 July 2014 | ISBN: 9781908984333
Paperback | 198 x 129mm |174pp | Published by Infinite Ideas

Notes for editors

  • Books will be left in restaurants, cafés, museums and public places around the city centre on 19th July, exactly 52 weeks after Martha Fernback died.
  • As a legacy of Martha’s death, Anne-Marie set up a website to encourage others to become involved in safeguarding the lives of young people:
  • To commemorate Anne-Marie’s last perfect day with Martha at the beach the day before she died, she’ll be holding a public picnic on Saturday 19th July from 12.30pm at Hinksey Lake, where Martha died. Just bring along a picnic and a blanket to sit on.

Climbing the ladder of chaos – why we all need some Littlefinger in us (ahem)

7 July 2014 by in Business and finance, Entertainment, Game of Thrones on Business

Can we control the future? Maybe, says Tim Phillips, a better question is should we even try?

There’s a famous speech, one of my favourite bits, in Game of Thrones in which Petyr Baelish, the amoral political fixer known as Littlefinger, dismisses the historical texts as, “a story we agree to tell each other over and over, until we forget that it’s a lie.” When Lord Varys points out that the alternative is chaos, Littlefinger points out that chaos isn’t something to fear:

“Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb. They refuse, they cling to the realm, or the gods, or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.”

Littlefinger and Varys exchanging philosophiesIf the inhabitants of the seven kingdoms are fully occupied trying to avoid falling into a pit of chaos, the environment in which they live doesn’t help. When dead people can be reanimated, for example, which must be disorientating. ‘Winter is coming’, we are told at the beginning, which reminds inhabitants of the time when a previous winter lasted a generation. Why did it do that? Maybe it doesn’t matter much if there are undead people coming to kill you as a result.

So Littlefinger has a point: when things change, old certainties become less valuable, less useful, no matter how comforting they are. Yet the idea that our societies and lives are in equilibrium is alluring for all of us.

We build it into the way we teach business, in which the forces of supply and demand balance to create stable prices and employment and growth. Yet, at the same time, we also know this isn’t really true. The economist Joseph Schumpeter was the first to identify a process he called ‘creative destruction’, in which innovation destroys the old world to create a better one. Real entrepreneurs don’t just tweak existing ideas, they rip them up and start again. If you do this successfully, you get your reward because you are in a field of one: but the risk of disaster is much greater. Schumpeter realised that disequilibrium is normal. We also now know that this applies in society, or to the weather.

It doesn’t even take an entrepreneur to create disequilibrium. In the UK, one in seven workers have been made redundant since the start of the financial crisis, which would have seemed inconceivable a decade ago. The chaotic nature of what economists call ‘the business cycle’ means that we might have a good idea of how secure our jobs will be next month, but no clear answer to the question if we ask about next year, and certainly no idea of the next 10 years.

We instinctively value continuity in our lives and our societies, and many of us react irrationally to disruptive change. In a recent experiment, the Royal Statistical Society took people who overestimated the problems of immigration, and confronted them with well-researched facts that contradicted their ideas. The people overwhelmingly decided that the statistics must be wrong.

We all think we wouldn’t do the same thing in our lives, but most of us react to sudden change by holding on to the stories we tell ourselves, even if they are not true. Not all of us can be a Littlefinger, climbing the ladder out of chaos, or a Schumpeterian entrepreneur, who creates the ladder in the first place.

We spend our lives in the understandable hope that chaos doesn’t come to our homes, families or workplaces. Insurance, savings and sandbags in the shed may help; but to flourish, rather than survive, we need to have a little bit of Littlefinger in us, and recognise that clinging exclusively to ‘the realm, or the gods, or love’ will eventually put us on the receiving end of some process of creative destruction.

Tim Phillips is author of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The PrinceBertrand Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness, and Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.


Getting your message across – Westeros style

1 July 2014 by in Business and finance, Entertainment, Game of Thrones on Business

It’s tricky trying to get messages around in the Seven Kingdoms, which seem to lack a basic postal or parcel delivery service, even in the cities – and no one has email. They don’t even have social media. But they make a pretty good job of it.

Long distance message-passing is done by attaching a letter to a raven. According to the books, the value of a carrier-raven was taught to the First Men of Westeros by the Children of The Forest. At this point the birds could talk, which would have ensured an even higher quality of service. A verbal message is encrypted (it exists in the raven’s little brain, and so is harder to intercept without catching every passing raven and torturing it with tiny instruments). It would also have been easier to direct the message to the person who needs to read it, because you could have told the ravens that your letter was urgent, so not to hang around scavenging, for example. This scavenging thing, it seems to me, would be an argument in favour of pigeons. Pigeons fly direct, without stopping to feast on corpses.

How to send a message in WesterosWith this constraint, the rulers of Westeros have become extremely adept at communicating the Big Ideas. They really get the value of symbolism as a way to make a point efficiently. There’s a phrase in advertising: ‘show, don’t tell’. So, if you want to make thousands of people afraid of you, don’t make long speeches telling them to be afraid, or write lots of nasty letters and attach them to every raven you can find. You do something unexpected that should make them think: watch out.

In the disordered world of Game of Thrones, it’s hard to list without giving away spoilers the (almost weekly) moments when some ruler or other follows this plan, so I’ll try to be general. Pouring molten gold on an ambitious person’s head, walking into your husband’s burning funeral pyre and walking out again the next day to show that you’re a bit special, or chopping off the hand of the best swordsman just to show everyone that you can, isn’t necessarily a communications strategy to follow at home or the office. But, in the real world, communications directors who work for our largely-ignored politicians, who weep silently as they arrange another tired visit to a small factory somewhere in the midlands so that their boss can be filmed in a hi-vis jacket pretending to know what the machine does, must wish they lived in Westeros from time to time.

We’ve mentioned Machiavelli before as a link between Game of Thrones and our world. In The Prince, he relates how Pope Alexander VI cleaned up the Romagna province. With a weak government and crime everywhere, the Pope sent Remirro de Orco, his fixer, to clean house by punishing lots of people harshly and cruelly. Everyone hated Remirro, because he was good at what he did: Romagnan crime rates dropped, with a large amount of bloodshed along the way. So, when the job was done, ‘Alexander had him cut in half, and placed one morning in the public square’. Result: everyone liked that there was less crime, and they liked the Pope even more. Remirro showed that no one is above the law, but Alexander showed that no one was above the Pope.

Here lies the difference between sending a message and making a gesture. When a prime minister is photographed pointing at something while wearing a hard hat, it no longer sends us any strong message, because it is what we expect. It delivers no new information. If we even notice, we shrug. A strong message is easiest to convey when it implies new clarity and unexpected change, even if only for a few people. That’s why the most memorable messages often emerge from disorder and confusion, and why most big gestures in our world are so forgettable.

You might also like: What Machiavelli knew and Robb Stark found out; Why Game of Thrones is better than PowerPoint; What Game of Thrones tells us about corporate inbreeding.