Drinking cognac— especially a Remy Martin—which you can loosely spend Sh4 million on a rare cask is like smoking cigar.
“You don’t smoke a cigar, you enjoy it. A lot of time goes into crafting cognac right from selecting the grapes to the bottling and importing to Kenya. There is no rush...just appreciate it,’’ says Brandon Mudiangombe, the brand activator for Remy Cointreau brands in East and North Africa.
We are seated at the Cigar Lounge of Villa Rosa Kempinski where an array of dark, elegant and understated cognac bottles in his portfolio are on display in the liquor cabinet. Beer may be the perfect drink for casual occasions but cognac is undoubtedly a symbol of class and substance.
“Cognac has to specifically come from the Cognac region of France, and to create one, there are a few rules,” he explains.
“First, you need to have white grapes from Cognac, do double distillation then age it for a minimum of two years in an oak barrel. From there you can have the possibility to bottle and put the label cognac on it.”
Fuelled by a rapidly growing middle-class who are continually developing a taste for finer things, the love for cognac has been rising in Kenya with Remy Martin’s most popular grade in the market being the VSOP.
A 700ml bottle of VSOP cognac costs about Sh6,250 and it is the most affordable in Remy’s portfolio with elegant floral notes and a silky, well-balanced body, coupled with the signature brown hue acquired from aging in French Limousin oak barrels.
Hennessy, the world’s largest maker of cognac, is also pushing for a bigger share of the Kenyan market.
WOW Beverages also imports cognacs such as Meukow and Chabot priced between Sh5,000 to Sh20,000 a bottle. “Remy Martin has a different way of doing cognac,” says Mr Mudiangombe, adding that normally, there is the VS, VSOP and XO, and some houses then do special limited edition bottles.
‘‘We exclusively offer superior quality cognac, which refers to cognac fine champagne because of the quality of grapes used. When a house offers that, there is no real need to do VS. We therefore start at VSOP,” he said.
The top of the line Remy Martin bottle is the Louis XIII which Mr Mudiangombe says costs about Sh300,000 for a 700ml bottle, and insists that there are enough bottles in Kenya to meet demand. Some traders, however, sell the cognac for double the price.
“It is the king of spirits and is expensive because it is older. So much detail goes into the bottle which is beautiful to look at. It takes 100 years to craft with four generations of cellar masters working on it. The youngest eaux-de-vie is 40-years-old, and there are about 1,200 blends in the final bottle.”
A waiter from The Balcony bar of the hotel brings out a Remy Mojito for me. The menu has about seven Remy cocktails listed at Sh1,500 each, including a sidecar, negroni and old fashioned, all targeting different palates.
According to Mr Mudiangombe, how you choose to enjoy your drink depends on the place, occasion, company and mood.
Mr Mudiangombe who speaks fluent French, English, Spanish and Lingala (and is currently learning Mandarin and Swahili) first arrived in Kenya in April 2016. His passion for brand building saw him work in marketing for Central and West Africa for cosmetics brand L’Oreal before making the shift to the wines and spirits industry.
Tasked with representing Remy Cointreau in this market, he understands that cognac is not for everybody.
“When it comes to quality and price point, Remy Martin is above the competition. Already the price of cognac isn’t the same as whisky so we are targeting specific people. Given that and the number of brands available here, I think we have a good share of the market. Every brand has a different signature and appeals to different clients, even just in terms of the image,” he said.
For Christmas, if you are looking for a fine cognac at an affordable price, this brand ambassador recommends the XO. The best prices are at the liquor store of his distributor, Slater & Whittaker in Westlands, Nairobi.
“The nosing gives summer fruits with a velvety texture and a really nice finish, and it can make a nice gift bag for your dad or boyfriend. Ladies will also like it because it reminds one of a very nice and expensive perfume,” he said.