Cognac is one of life’s great pleasures. Rich and supple, it presents an elegant conversation between barrel and grape, evoking 500 years of tradition in each sip. But it is so much more than a beverage. Cognac is a place. And Rémy Martin wants to take you there.
Just in time for National Cognac Day, VinePair in partnership with Rémy Martin presents the Bartender Talent Academy, an exciting cocktail competition. To enter you’ll be asked to “Reinvent the Sidecar with Style.” Competing means facing off against talented tastemakers from every corner of the United States, with the top five receiving a special invite to New York City this September. If you’re one of them, you’ll compete for a chance at the grand prize: a trip to Cognac in the southwest of France in October to test your skills against the world’s best. All you need is a shaker and a passport.
To call it the opportunity of a lifetime is no overstatement. Just read what recent winners had to say about the prize.
“As bartenders, we learn as much as we can about the products we pour, but having the opportunity to see it at the source through competition is so special,” says 2018 finalist Karen Grill. “I spent a large part of my bartending career on the competition circuit. It’s something that really propelled my career forward. It broadened my horizons and helped hone my skills to make me a better bartender and a better professional in the hospitality industry.”
In other words, you’re vying for a priceless opportunity to connect with influential personalities and power players across the global industry. Rémy Martin does its part to facilitate these bonds through its Bartender Talent Academy. The program emphasizes storytelling and artistry — expressing creativity through cocktails and camaraderie. No small incentive for those seeking meaningful community in the trade.
But let’s be real here. After the past year, the added benefit of a free European vacation is especially enticing. A dream come true, some might say.
“The whole experience of being the U.S. winner was surreal,” says Devin Kennedy, who took home the top prize in 2019. “Going to France and seeing where all of the Cognac magic and history goes down was pretty epic. The trip itself was definitely a big enough prize alone. But I was able to leave France with some extra euros as well.”
Although participants strive for top recognition, they bond under a banner of convivial competition. It is an exercise in encouragement. After all, bartenders are nothing if not experts at building things up. Unsurprisingly, win or lose, almost everyone involved speaks of the lasting friendships that are forged. “Growing a global network alongside the Bartender Talent Academy was pretty cool,” says Kennedy. “I’m still in contact with these bartenders today.”
Of course, you’ll also get to sip on some sensational Cognac along the way, though how could you not when your host has been maturing the world’s most elegant eaux de vie for nearly 300 years? As if you needed the introduction, Rémy Martin was founded as a premier purveyor of Cognac all the way back in 1724. The name has epitomized luxury in the spirits space ever since. Its iconic Louis XIII bottling is enshrined as the centerpiece of any self-respecting back bar, the gold-topped standard in ultra-aged liquids.
The Sidecar, meanwhile, has long served as the standard in Cognac cocktails. Celebrating its 100th anniversary next year, the original arrangement — modified with Cointreau and lemon juice — first appeared at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. So it’s only fitting that your reimagining of the classic could bring you back to the country where it all began. The historical drink was even featured in the original “Savoy Cocktail Book,” and now one lucky winner will have the chance to write a chapter all their own.
Exciting stuff, to be sure. But perhaps you’re still not feeling it. Maybe you’ve just never thought of yourself as the competitive sort. Well, consider this:
“Taking yourself out of your bar is going to expose you to new ideas and new techniques,” Grill points out. “The big- picture goal should be to become a better bartender, serve your guests in better ways, and spike your creativity. Responding to the challenges of a competition also broadens your horizons well beyond your home bar.”
So, ultimately, it’s not even about competition at all. It’s about the experiences that fuel your passion, the engagement that informs your art. The memories you’ll cherish wherever your career takes you. And who knows what’ll happen once you get there? “I was inspired to create one of my favorite Cognac cocktails to date,” Kennedy recalls of his own journey.
Think you’ve got what it takes? These recent winners certainly do. “You should definitely throw your hat into the ring,” says Grill.
“You never know what will happen. Worst case scenario, you’re drinking a little more Cognac than normal in the name of research and development,” says Kennedy. “That doesn’t sound too bad.”
So buckle up and get ready to shake the world’s best Sidecar. You’ll find everything you need to register here, starting on June 4.
This article is sponsored by Rémy Martin. Enter the competition here!