I’ve eaten a piece of peach, wearing a blindfold, while a jazz band jammed in a corner. I’ve danced a waltz with my father in a Rococo ballroom. I’ve licked my finger and tasted turmeric and muscovado sugar. I’ve chatted about Madagascan oranges with a greengrocer. I’ve drunk an awful, I mean an awful, lot of cognac. And I seem to have sworn myself in to some sort of eternal cognac club. This was the preview night of the Courvoisier Institute of Grand Cocktails. I’m home now. I have a sugar cube in one pocket and a satsuma with my name written on it in the other. And I’m about to pass out.
Courvoisier has taken over the Heritage Rooms in Bloomsbury Square for an immersive theatrical tour through the history of cognac. Or something a lot less logical than that sounds. It’s a spoofy revival of an institute which, a century ago, used to help bartenders refine their skills, and its doors are open for one weekend only. Each room offers a different and very silly host and a mini party, with Courvoisier cocktails designed by three of London’s top bartenders, Amanda Humphrey, Mickael Perron and Chris Lacey. Courvoisier punch in the fruit room, while the greengrocer chatted about oranges with me and my dad, who came with me as my guest, a Champagne cocktail in the ballroom with a loud, riddling host, and a lethal Courvoisier Sazerac in the New Orleans apothecary. The apothecary was where the blindfold taste test thing occurred, with the madcap aim to find your ‘Sazerac point’, the spot at which you experience maximum sensory pleasure, by getting you to touch, smell and taste things in various combinations. Turns out a bit of peach can work wonders on me.
And the sugar cube and satsuma? Well, it’s all perfectly reasonable really. When I was in the spice room sitting on the rug with the spice man, I was invited to lick my finger and dip it into plush pyramids of spice to have a taste, and rewarded (I think) with a sugar cube which I was instructed to keep and look after. And the satsuma I wrote my name on and brought with me because I was told to beforehand by Maximillian Borche, Eternal Chairman of the Board. I didn’t meet Maximillian, and nobody asked me to proffer the satsuma. Very mysterious.
And it occurs to me as I sit here, late, turning over in my hand a satsuma with my own name felt-tipped on it, that I’m not really quite sure of anything… maybe none of this happened at all and all those rooms are empty. My only evidence, the sugar cube, is rapidly crumbling, along with any certainty. Please, go and check for me, will you?
Courvoisier Institute of Grand Cocktails, The Heritage Rooms, Victoria House, Bloomsbury Square, London WC1B. Friday 13 July 6.30-10.30pm and Saturday 14 July 5.30-10.30pm. Tickets are £10 and you need to book a time slot. Website.