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American Rappers Are Thirsty for French Cognac

Who still drinks Cognac in France? In its native land, the four-hundred-year-old brandy from the Charentes region is showing its age – and its old-fashioned image. But in the United States, “yac” is enjoying a renewed lease on life thanks to its association with famous rappers. It even has its own National Day, on June 4!
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The New York rapper A$AP Rocky teamed up with French Cognac producer Courvoisier. © Courvoisier

In March, the Revue des Deux Mondes announced it was publishing a special issue on the “incredible Cognac saga” with rapper Snoop Dogg and basketball star Stephen Curry on the cover. The former was an ambassador for Landy Cognac, produced by Maison Ferrand. (His Christmas recipes included “Landy in my eggnog!”) The latter, sporting his Golden State Warriors jersey, embodied the 2021 partnership signed between the NBA and Hennessy, the world’s leading Cognac brand.

The leading distillers in Southwest France have always sold their products in the United States. It is even said that the Hermione, a frigate chartered to Boston by Lafayette during the American War of Independence, was also carrying a sizeable amount of Hennessy Cognac! This transatlantic story quickly won over the African-American community. Schieffelin & Co., the New York-based importer of Hennessy, sponsored Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute and the NAACP in the early 20th century, and the brand took out ads in Ebony and Jet magazines in the 1950s. Several decades later, Cognac made an explosive entrance onto the rap and hip-hop scenes. Backed by a Jay-Z song in 1996, Rémy Martin Cognac became a bling symbol of social success and a chic reference to the Old Continent.

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In 2013, Nas celebrated his 40th birthday in New York at a party sponsored by French producer Hennessy.

Busta Rhymes then sang “Pass the Courvoisier” in 2002, a hit that saw the brand’s sales rise by 30%. Two years later, 2Pac offered his own tribute set to accordion music: “They wanna knows my role model, it’s in a brown bottle! Hennessy!” Drake, holding a glass of the same Cognac, refused to leave the dancefloor in his song “One Dance.” And in “Birthday,” Timbaland spared no expense for his “baby,” with a five-star hotel, luxury suite, and Cognac bar. Meanwhile, women have also been singing the drink’s praises. Cardi B enjoys a “Henny drink” before sex, and Megan Thee Stallion has crowned herself as the “Cognac Queen.”

Half of All Bottles Exported to America

The United States is the leading export market, absorbing 53% of all Cognac produced, far ahead of Singapore and China. Some 121.9 million bottles were sold in the U.S. between August 2020 and July 2021, compared to 5.4 million in France. Consumption has been exponential – despite the 25% tariff imposed since December 2020 – largely thanks to the African-American community. Almost every major brand has a partnership with a rapper. Hennessy has teamed up with Nas, Louis XIII with Pharrell Williams, Rémy Martin with Usher, Martell with Quavo, and Naud with Jeezy, who regularly posts photos on Instagram wearing a jacket in the colors of the French distillery!

The eau-de-vie that Victor Hugo called the “liquor of the gods” is also enjoying a comeback in cocktails. Backed by a Protected Designation of Origin label and exclusively aged in oak barrels, Cognac is hugely popular with mixologists. It is used in several American classics – the Mint Julep, the Sidecar, and the Sazerac – as well as in several contemporary creations. On National Cognac Day, June 4 in the United States, why not order a French Negroni, which replaces gin in the original recipe with Cognac, or a Manhattan Royal, which swaps out whiskey for Cognac? Alternatively, opt for the aptly named Beautiful Cocktail, made with equal parts Cognac and Grand Marnier. To be enjoyed, of course, in a brandy snifter glass to enjoy the flavors and aromas to the full!

 

Article published in the May 2022 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.

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