The dark, quadrangular Cointreau bottle is one that most people across the globe recognise and admire, having seen or tasted it in the most exclusive bars and, in all probability, their own homes. The brand is backed by a celebrated past; a history that Alfred Cointreau, sixth generation pacesetter of the Cointreau family, vehemently wants to preserve. The 28-year-old Heritage Manager of the brand has a devoted and unpretentious disposition that he imbibed from his grandparents, Pierre and Elisabeth Cointreau. On his recent trip to India, he welcomed me to pick his brain and, yes, it was an evening to remember.
You’ve grown up with such a wonderfully rich heritage. What was your childhood like?
I was born and raised in Angers, France, surrounded by the most loving family. Angers is also the birthplace of Cointreau — we still have our distillery there. Throughout my growing years, my parents, cousins, brother, sister and I were all very connected with Cointreau, through my grandparents. I went to school in Paris, and my first job was actually at a newspaper. I realised there, however, that the passion was lacking in what I was doing…but I found it when I decided to go into the family business.
Your first introduction to Cointreau?
I don’t have a strong memory of it since I was so young, but we have a longstanding tradition that when a baby in the family is baptised, the grandfather gives him a baby bottle with a dash of Cointreau in it. This was my very first taste of Cointreau – when I was six months old!
After that, the memory I have is of me as a five-year-old, visiting the distillery for the first time. I remember the fragrance growing more vibrant as I approached. But once you enter the pot-still room, it’s a different world. All I remember is the explosion of flavours, colours and light.
What inspired your love for mixology?
I drew great inspiration from my grandparents. My grandfather taught me about the business and also about the history of the brand and the underlying emotions. My grandmother is 93 today; she’s still as energetic and hilarious as she always has been, and continues to fuel my passion for cocktails. She was the one who helped me understand how to mix, how to manipulate flavours or textures and how to use bartending tools. Even now, whenever I visit her, we are always mixing together and experimenting non-stop. We have a nice garden at home, so we go there and pick up seasonal ingredients, to try new and different things.
Is there any advice that has stuck with you?
There is one thing that I continue to think about even today. Everyone in the family was brought up with the understanding that, yes, we have a name which is greatly popular and known all over the world and our heritage is something we should be very proud of…but it is also something that should keep us humble. Cointreau comes from humble beginnings, so I try, to this day, to uphold that quality and not be arrogant or egotistical.
Was there a defining moment that led to you joining the family business?
I think so. I did, of course, notice that my grandfather was getting older every time I saw him. So one day, while at a family lunch, I looked around and realised that after he was gone, there would be no one from the family who would take care of what he and those before him had worked hard for. I thought it would be a pity for the Cointreau legacy to stop at the fourth generation of the family, so I decided that I wanted to be the one to carry it forward.
Doesn’t that put a lot of pressure on you?
I see how that could be stressful, but no, I don’t feel it. Before I officially started, many people said, ‘Everyone is expecting so much from you’, but I knew what I wanted to do. I started from scratch; spending a whole year at the distillery and working in all departments, to understand Cointreau and also meet the people behind its creation. They were all very pleased to see the next generation interested in the business. They shared so much with me, and all the weight on my shoulders melted away.
If Cointreau were a woman, what do you think she would be like?
I love this question and the fact that Verve is a women’s magazine, because Cointreau was originally created for women! In the 19th century, women had a limited place in society…no jobs, no right to vote. And at that time, only men drank alcohol; heavy spirits like whiskey and cognac, at 40 degrees. Edouard Cointreau – my great-great-grandfather – wanted to be the first to create an alcoholic beverage at 40 degrees, for women. So, Cointreau would most definitely be a woman and, today, she would be trendy, active, very social, professional…perhaps a working mother. Actually, now that I think about it, Laetitia Casta – a very famous French actress – would probably be a perfect fit.
What’s your opinion on the Indian mixology scene? If you had to create a signature ‘India’ cocktail, what would you use?
What I find very interesting and impressive in India is the confluence of flavours and ingredients from China, Japan and even America and Australia, all treated with an Indian twist. The Indian personality and culture is very strong in a very good way, and classic things are adapted here with a distinctive touch…which is a key quality to have in mixology.
If I were to make an India-centric cocktail, I would give it a touch of spice, but also use fresh ingredients like coriander – and, of course, Cointreau!
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