The Seductive Saga of Cognac

It is fitting that Kyle Jarrard’s new book, “Cognac,” starts by summarizing millions of years of tectonic shifts and geological systems. After all, when you are as passionate about the subject as he is, cognac is an entire world of its own with a story as old as the earth istelf.

So convincing is he that as a reader you develop the sneaking suspicion that the entire universe was created for just one purpose: to bring cognac into existence. With the publication of “Cognac: The Seductive Saga of the World’s Most Coveted Spirit,” Kyle Jarrard has assigned himself the task of going one step beyond mere amateur, to missionary in an attempt to win over converts thirsting to learn more about this special eau-de-vie.

Testament to his dedication is the fact that even after surviving a collision with a tour bus (not his fault, and not cognac-related) and subsequently arriving late for his own book launch, Jarrard – a tall, jovial man with a pleasant drawl – remains the perfect gentleman, ensuring that his guests are all offered a taste of the drink that has become his obsession.”My wife is from cognac country,” the author later relates when asked how he first discovered cognac. “When we got married everyone from her family insisted on taking me to visit all of the cognac makers in the region,” he says with a laugh.  “Ever since then I’ve been hooked.”  Certainly, “Cognac” is a testament to Jarrard’s infatuation, but it is clearly not the product of a short fling – like the drink itself, his book speaks of long reflection, attention to detail, careful research, and a singular obsession with perfection.

A senior editor at The International Herald Tribune, Kyle Jarrard has used his journalistic talents to great effect, ensuring that not a single piece of the puzzle is left out and leaving the reader with an appreciation of the thousands – or millions, he would claim – of years that have resulted in the production of what the writer calls in his book, this “miracle.”
As is evident from the historical saga laid out in “Cognac,” a combination of factors has contributed the drink’s success, though Jarrard, after some prodding, will suggest one crucial turning point in its history: The immigration of Dutch families into the region en masse in the late 1500s.  It was these people that imparted to the local Cognaçais the distillation techniques that are at the heart of cognac making.  “But they weren’t making real cognac at that time,” Kyle is quick to point out. “It was just a fortified eau-de-vie that was easy to transport but most of the time made you sick.”

When Kyle Jarrard starts talking about cognac, it’s hard to get him to stop – there’s always one more anecdote, one more historical moment, one more way to describe its unique taste. With Jarrard, who exudes a childlike thrill in discussing it, cognac has perhaps found its perfect spokesman, one who can do away with its image as the drink of stuffy and pretentious old men.  Hearing the slight quiver in his voice as he gushingly describes his favorite cognac (Delamain, too expensive for a beginner), you get the sense that you’re missing something crucial – that the whole world just might actually revolve around cognac. That fact, of course, wouldn’t surprise this connoisseur in the slightest.

Cognac: The Seductive Saga of the World’s Most Coveted Spirit by Kyle Jarrard John Wiley & Sons, Inc