Freakin’ Frog owner Adam Carmer was absolutely giddy. Sitting at a sturdy oak table at his upstairs Whisky Attic, Carmer was holding court with six lucky souls who had gathered New Year’s Eve to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—sampling a shot of Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac, considered by connoisseurs the world over as the Rolls Royce of Cognacs.
As Victor Cole, Nevada Market Manager for Remy Cointreau USA, poured shots into small glasses reading “Glenlivet,” Carmer explained that we were all about to experience cognac as it should be experienced. At the other end of the table stood a red carrying case, opened and propped on its side to display a 750 ML bottle of Louis XIII opposite a looping video showing the product’s preparation and preferred tasting method. At the bottom of the case were tiny bottles containing the scents for plum, walnut and other flavors you are expected to find in each sip. Carmer invited us to smell them so we’d know what flavors to expect.
Carmer, arguably the most knowledgeable beer and spirits guy in town—hell, he even teaches classes at UNLV on this stuff—was giddy for two reasons: He was able to offer the good stuff for $100 a shot (go anywhere else in town and you’ll be looking at a $250 price tag, minimum), and he’d come up with a tasting method that he felt kicked ass over any previous incarnation.
As Carmer explains, the traditional tasting method is: 1. Look at it. 2. Smell it. 3. Taste it. But many people don’t get anything out of this process. “They just end up tasting alcohol,” Carmer says. So through research and meticulous experimentation, Carmer has come up with a method that turns standard tasting on its head a bit:
1. Do NOT smell the cognac before drinking. Take a small sip and let the liquid rest naturally in your mouth. Hold your head normally, mouth closed, and feel the cognac, by nature of gravity, drift down your jawline to the front of your mouth and the top of your tongue. Wait about 10 seconds. A burning sensation is normal, Carmer explains, as that’s the alcohol burning off, leaving you with pure taste.
2. Take small swallows, letting the cognac take its time. Tearing up is a normal reaction during this period, he explains, encouraging you to relax and not to fight it. You should get at least 5-7 swallows per sip.
3. Once you’ve completely swallowed all the cognac, lift your glass and smell. “You’ll find you no longer smell any alcohol.”
And damned if he wasn’t right! I’ve sampled cognacs before, once attending a cognac tasting featuring the full line of Hennessy products, and none of them tasted and smelled like this. On the first sip, I was focused mostly on getting the technique right, but on subsequent sips (I got a full 11 out of my glass!) I found myself amazed at how the cognac seemed to reveal new tastes each time. A buddy who tagged along with me, Adam Bucci, said he started off tasting a sharp fruit flavor, then nuts with a hint of berry, and by the end detected more earthy elements—as he put it, “bark.” Cole said it’s normal for tastes to vary, as no two bottles of Louis XIII are alike. Carmer said that in an earlier tasting, he even detected blueberries!
This was all part of what Carmer called “BYE”—Bad New Year. Since so many Las Vegans had such a lousy year, he wanted to say “good riddance” by going out on the highest of high notes. To call Louis XIII decadent is to understate the case considerably. A 750 ML bottle is just shy of $2,000, and even the bottle is a collector’s item—just one 1.75L bottle takes 80 man-hours to create, according to Cole, and because of the materials used—crystal and gold—costs $800. “The usual custom is if you order a shot and empty the bottle, they’re supposed to give you the bottle,” he added.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the last shot. But I did get a great way to start the New Year.