Living in Cognac, the bar is set high for all things relating to taste and flavour – this pertains to both food and spirits. In early 2016, a new breed of restaurant sparked into existence in Cognac with the arrival of Poulpette. In an unpretentious setting, Amandine Bernanose and Antoine Vernouillet, who run the show, have achieved something equally minimalist as it is intricate in its attention to quality and detail. Everything from the physical space to the service, from the amuse-bouches to the selection of wine exudes their own individual style and standard. It is modern cuisine which doesn’t fall into the kitsch; quality driven, but not harking back to ‘Grandma’s kitchen.’
Before I go on, I will admit my bias, having become good friends with Amandine and Antoine. If ever you get the chance to visit Cognac, I do recommend Poulpette at the top of the restaurant priority list.
A few months after they opened, Antoine and I were discussing digestifs. Aside from their broad selection of cognacs and a few other spirits to serve at the end of the meal, there was nothing which could be as signature and individual to them as the rest of the offering. Having circled around the idea of a collaboration for some time – we decided this was the moment to start! The problematique was to create a bespoke digestif which was complex enough to sing to the Cognaçais palate, yet which didn’t require 15 years in a barrel.
Poulpette’s menu changes every day, always making use of seasonal ingredients, usually foraged, bought daily from the market or from selected producers. Antoine’s cooking is clean and rich but not heavy – painting beautifully with the use of umami, bitterness, acidity and green (chlorophyll). It was this ‘green’ flavour that Antoine wanted to shine through. We both wanted a cognac base; ‘un Cognac Vert’ – le Covert.
Fig leaves are something I had been distilling for years; harvested at the right time, they are fragrant, fresh and bright. Being part Jewish-Tunisian, I grew up with sips of Boukha; distilled fig leaf is lighter in its sweetness than the fruit, very green and delicately perfumed with the milky sap. This was my flavour of choice.
Wanting to achieve the depth of an aged spirit, without ‘dumbing’ it down with sugar, led me back to an early experiment deconstructing cognac by redistilling it under vacuum*. By doing so, one manages to separate the spirit into two parts – the clear distillate which is fruity, light and best described as a slightly oxidised version of the cognac spirit as it would have flowed directly from the original still (reverse ageing the cognac). The second part is the aged, tannic-rich, oak & walnut-noted ‘rancio.’ It is this latter part we were interested in.
For this base, I wanted to choose a classic cognac – one which was matured enough to have a hearty rancio, but not so much that the fruitiness is completely lost. Guillon Painturaud is based just outside of Segonzac, the capital of the Grande Champagne region. Their selection of cognacs are truly beautiful expressions of what Cognac (with a capital C) can be if treated with diligence and tradition. They distill with a balanced level of lees and age using predominantly fine grain barrels. After testing the range, I decided to use the 10-year-old expression for the product.
My initial experiments went back and forth to Poulpette, but were very messy – combining everything from botanical distillates, vermouth reductions and prune macerations, with the two key ingredients; the liquids were palatable at their best, pallid and bitter at their worst. My mind was chaotic – I was trying to achieve aromatic complexity through complexity. This style did not suit the product; it was Antoine’s wise voice which lead me on course, limiting the ingredients to two: cognac and fig leaves.
The research process had taken a couple of weeks so far and by this time, mid-spring, the fig leaves had matured, and had started to lose their typical freshness and aroma. Flavour was diluted throughout the entire plant – the fruits were starting to form. As the leaves’ beautiful freshness was lost, the distillates became muted. I panicked. After several days of searching online for solutions and frantic phone calls around the globe to my girlfriend, my family and friends, Ian had the heart and mind to pull me away for a day. The project was consuming time and consuming me, as it became an obsession which pushed me beyond the brink of reason. Ian and I went to a botanical garden in a medieval hospital situated in the small town of Pons. After moping around for an hour or so, sniffing and nibbling on leaves and flowers under the heavy sun, we sat under an enormous fig tree in the back of the garden – its broad leaves gave us shelter from the heat.
The air lay heavy and warm with the intense fragrance of sun-burnt fig leaves; jammy, and rich with nostalgia and a sweet melancholy. It was an embalming experience. This was the flavour of Covert – the keystone I needed.
When I got back home, I dehydrated a handful of leaves and then lightly roasted them in the oven. After macerating them in alcohol, I realised I’d achieved capturing this beautiful memory as rich as the aroma itself.
Combining this maceration with some early distillates of the young fig leaves and the cognac rancio, Covert was born. I brought a sample to Poulpette, and it was decided upon. With the elements I had at my disposal – I had just enough to make 36 bottles.
It is now roughly one year on and I am a bit better prepared – we’re hoping to produce around 180 bottles. They will be available only at Poulpette, just one small reason to visit this amazing restaurant.
Batch No III – Bob’s Batch
This was the first time naming our gin became a tradition, and for good reason too. It was produced in honour of the man who would go on to become known as Mr Pink Pepper, Boblem Lopes (aka Ian Spink). After having met Miko, and becoming close friends, Bob became a driving force of encouragement and energy in the quest to spread the Pink Pepper Love and grow the business. Initially, Bob took Pink Pepper to the UK with the aim of landing a distribution deal; little did he know at this time that he would go on to embody the spirit of our brand.
Boblem is generosity and kindness in its human incarnation – opening his heart and home without question. For Miko, he is a rock of support, holding him up through the full myriad of life’s challenges, from existential crises of identity and purpose, through to stabilising the funnel when pouring distillates. Miko would be a semi-functioning humanoid at best without Boblem.
Batch No IV – The Flea’s Share
The Flea (or Puce, in French) is Miko’s little big sister, Julia. She is known as Puce as, despite her petite stature, has the tremendous energy and daring of a warrior combined with the elegance of a Hollywood movie star. A pocket rocket in its greatest manifestation. Her stubborn goat mind-set means she achieves everything she sets out to achieve, all in her own time and her own beautiful way. She is the warmth and love of family – and carries home in her handbag which never leaves her side.
As an avid Audemus supporter, her shelves are filled with our creations, and due to her increasingly modern nomad lifestyle she leaves valuable depositories of these spirits in her trail. Visit more, Puce!
Batch No V – Le Batch de Pazu
Michel, AKA Pazu, is Miko’s dad – the man who opened the eyes of the future distiller to the love of all good things. From fine Cognac to spicy harissa or olive oil to intrepid wines – a love of food, taste and ritual were passed down with the utmost importance. Giving nothing but love, and sharing his passions as a natural way of life and living, le bon vivant influenced Miko more than he can imagine.
As a retired dentist in Australia, he can be found jumping around the country (usually in the best wine and foodie regions), doing replacements in surgeries for a few weeks at a time. He now has a roady lifestyle and is accompanied by Maaa (see below), Pumpkin, the family’s 18-year-old Jack Russell and his beloved Nespresso machine.
Batch No VI – Maaa’s Melange
Perhaps the greatest impact Miko’s mum, Nici, had and has is to instill, encourage and accompany a sense of eccentricity and unrelenting individuality in her son. It was with her that Miko first started experimenting with the spirited arts, as he helped his mum make fruit liqueurs from old family recipes. She pushed him to follow his childhood dream and his passion for spirits through to fruition. If it weren’t for this unquestioning support and love you would not be holding the bottle you have in your hands.
Despite her Polish roots, Nici’s inability to hold her drink is a defining trait. For better or for worse (most arguably the latter), this genetic trait was also passed down to both of her kids. Thanks Maaa!
Batch No VII – Brew de la Barde
You probably don’t know it, but Audemus Spirits was not always based in the heart of Cognac. For the first 6 months of our rather experimental life – the distillery was cradled in the empty out-houses belonging to Miko’s adopted Charentais family, the Loloums.
Situated in a little ‘hameau’ called La Barde, a few kilometres out of Cognac, Miko lived comfortably in their tiny pigeon house and set out to distill anything he could get his hands on; from the roses under his window to the capers in the fridge. The generosity of this intrepid family made the beginnings of the Audemus adventure possible – and continue to provide free sets of hands, winter raclettes, and all of the love and support needed.
Batch No VIII – Toad’s Tipple
The Toad referred to here is the one and only Jordene Rose Spink – Ian’s little sister. From the time she was a little baby, their Dad nicknamed her Toad – though nobody really remembers why! Now a fully grown woman with a successful career in the RAF, she may have grown out of the nickname but she certainly enjoys a regular Tipple!
Batch No IX – Ali’s Faff
Miko and Ali have known each other for about 28 years – other than their sense of fashion, hairstyles and the fact neither sport nappies anymore – not much has changed. Growing up together it would be impossible to disentangle their stories, though their paths have separated them by several thousand kilometres, they are brothers with all the beauty this brings.
Ali was visiting Cognac when this batch was made – and was there to assist with the botanical blending (yes, he knows the secret ingredients!), it is only too fitting to name this batch after him and one of his most endearing characteristics – his immeasurable ability to faff about!
Batch No x – Dainty Mo’s
In honour of a certain Miss Carolyn Jones, who also happens to be the Lady on the Homepage, sipping a cocktail in her garden! You can read her story in our blog section – a friend of Ian’s for several years, she is also an unofficial member of the Audemus team, providing bed, board and endless support to both Miko and Ian whenever they are in London. She has had many aliases throughout her career as an actress, but became ‘Mo’ from the day she met Ian, who is terrible at remembering names and mistakenly thought she was called Maureen! She is, of course, dainty!
Batch No XI –
Batch No XII – Grey Beard’s Grin
Grey Beard is a discreet maestro of the chemical arts, and accompanied the young future distiller in understanding the technical basis for his work. He pinched at the veil of mystery that surrounded distillation – and although the fruits of early experiments were far from palatable, they were a great foundation of knowledge.
Grey Beard’s genius showed itself from when he was just an ankle-biter, he was known to have pushed experiments to the very edge; from diverting stinking gases throughout the house to almost blowing off his limbs playing with chemical explosives. His curiosity is infectious, though if only his intellect were too!
Batch No XIII – Bertie Mordecai
Named by Ian, and an homage to the one and only Miko, aka Bertie Mordecai, with all the Pink Pepper Love in the world. Dedicating a batch to the creator of everything that flows from the Audemus lab was long overdue! Miko’s story has already been told on these pages, but where does that pseudonym come from? It dates back to their swashbuckling says, when he and Ian (aka Boblem Lopes) would fence through the streets of Cognac and beyond. One cannot swashbuckle without an appropriate pseudonym!
Batch No XIV – Ma Fleur
If one is to be defined by what one does in life, Cambria is the rainbow – with passions stretching from fly fishing to cotton candy – passing through tequila, jazz, painting and even further. She is a self-defined ‘Happy Dabbler’ mixing and dancing freely in what the world has to offer.
The artist’s muse; Ma Fleur is the brightness and smile of optimism and energy – counterbalancing all things dark and heavy in this world. The fortress as well as the fellow fortress holder for when things around crumble. Her support and love for this product and its producer is palpable, and thus, this batch is for her.
Batch No XV – Pipian Time
Nicknames are something of a theme chez Audemus, and this is a special one! The life of a brand rep can be amazing – meeting countless people and visiting some amazing places. And it’s so much more enjoyable when that time can be shared with a fellow rep!
So Ian counts himself lucky to have met the marvellous Pip Johnson, (the ‘Pip’ of ‘Pipian’). At first they shared the Pink Pepper Love with some of London’s finest bars and restaurants, and when Pip moved on to promote other spirit brands she and Ian continued to do ‘the rounds’ together when they could. The phrase ‘Pipian Time’ was born, and a wonderful friendship quickly bloomed.
Often referred to as ‘the better half’ of Pipian, Pip has an unrivalled skill at winning new clients, a sharp sense of humour and style, and without her impeccable sense of direction, Ian would be continually lost on the streets of London.
Long live Pipian Time!
How better to begin our new blog than with a tribute to a lady without whom we wouldn’t have anything to blog about! Dainty Mo, the stunning young lady who appears on the home page of our new improved website.
I’m incredibly lucky to have had Dainty Mo in my life for a very, very long time. And over the past couple of years she’s become an integral part of the Audemus Family, sacrificing the spare room in her humble Victorian home so that both Miko and I could have a London base from which to spread the #pinkpepperlove.
There simply is no better abode, no warmer welcome and no greater friend than Dainty Mo.
But just who is The Lady on the Homepage?
Born in a galaxy far, far away, Mo (aka Carolyn Jones) has led a long and healthy career as an actress. A rare breed who can cite Lawrence Oliver and Paul Raymond amongst her many employers, she will wryly tell you tales of her performances – from London’s West End to provincial playhouses, from the silver screen to your TV sets.
The topic of Dainty Mo’s age is strictly forbidden, but we do know that she trained at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, where the Academy’s principal sent her to meet the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the same time that The Beatles did the same!
She found herself working in many productions at The National Theatre with its founding actors. She has toured the world with dance troupes, revealed all on stage in ‘Oh Calcutta’, and been the nurse to Romeo’s Juliet on stage in the deserts of Jordan.
Carolyn somehow found time to become a household name in the 1970’s, when she played Sharon Metcalfe, the garage boss at an infamous Midland Motel – “Crossroads”. Whilst there she experienced the crazy side of fandom; following a rather provocative episode aired she was chased through the streets of Birmingham by a group of furious, umbrella-weilding ladies who seemed completely unable to split fact from fiction!
Never far from work, she recently been enraging huge swathes of the nation as Ursula in The Archers, a character who’s love for her son may be clouding her outlook somewhat!
But for Miko and I, her greatest role is as Dainty Mo in the little known tale, The Landlady of Brentford.