Courvoisier Institute of Grand Cocktails
Review by: Faye Coulman
In a fantastical feast for the senses where things are seldom what they seem, Courvoisier have conjured up a wonderland of classic cocktails in the gloriously theatrical shape of the Courvoisier Institute of Grand Cocktails. Playing host to this mythical, 100-year-old association, Bloomsbury Square’s Heritage Rooms are, for one weekend only, awash with all the luxuriance and eccentricity for which the brand has long been legendary.
With each historic cocktail unveiled within an atmospheric backdrop that instantly summons up the era in which it was conceived, this multisensory mix of liquor, high drama and sumptuous settings makes for richly absorbing entertainment. Played out through a labyrinthine network of lavish, oak-panelled reception rooms, our alcohol-fuelled adventure begins in a mocked-up Victorian market where we’re offered a jam jar of Courvoisier-laced fruit punch.
A few zesty and deliciously warming mouthfuls later, we’re ushered into an adjoining room and greeted by an eccentric Eastern mystic through a heavily aromatic haze of incense. After being ceremoniously gifted with a vial of cognac and a sugar cube, the next stop on this Downton-Abbey-meets-Alice-In-Wonderland affair sees us interrupt a heated dispute between two haughty, dinner-jacketed drink connoisseurs. Having taken a little time out to explain the finer details of the distillation process, the gents eagerly resume their hilariously overblown bickering as an apologetic butler hastily escorts us from the room.
Complete with merry pianist and riddling host, luxuriant champagne cocktails are served in the derelict, cobweb-strewn ballroom that follows, with sugar cubes passing as a charmingly eccentric exchange for liquid refreshment. But by far the grandest of all the magical concoctions proffered here tonight is the Sazerac’s iconic flavours and old New Orleans charm. As close as a rainy weeknight in London gets to the electric vibrancy of the French Quarter, a jazz band jam in a corner of the bar while guests sip Sazeracs from laboratory measuring cylinders.
Celebrating this classic cocktail’s almost scientifically precise configuration of flavours, blindfolded test subjects are fed, sprayed and brushed with all manner of substances by a pair of rogue mad scientists in a bid to pinpoint each subject’s “Sazerac point.” Comprising a dreamlike, wondrously disorientating overload of drink, drama and decadence, there’s truly no telling where tonight’s giddy antics end and the heady influence of Courvoisier begins.