In Depth

Cheers to the past, present and future of Cointreau

Alfred, the French family's sixth-generation scion, discusses drinking culture and the enduring appeal of the famous triple sec

Each culture and each country has a different attitude to drinking. The French still educate their children from a young age to drink wine with their meals, while the US is much more about cocktails. But each generation has its different attitudes, too, and management of a company like Cointreau has to be responsive to those – all the more so when the product is largely unchanging. After all, it's the same liquid in the same bottle.

Of course, Cointreau is an international brand. We make 30 million bottles a year. But next to other spirits brands we're small, certainly in terms of distribution and the number of people working at the distillery. That helps in a market that is now seeing a boom in small brewers and craft distilleries, with more people interested in the local and special.

Fortunately you can adapt Cointreau in different ways. For some it's the craft that appeals, for others it's the Frenchness, or its place in modern gastronomy. That's the great thing about Cointreau: you can use it in your cooking, have one before you cook as an aperitif, savour it as a digestif after dinner and then follow up with a cocktail.

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Actually, people – and young people especially – are drinking less now, but choosing quality over quantity. They don't want low-quality booze or to be completely drunk at the end of the evening. They're more interested in the experience of the drink, and in remembering it. Having a drink now is about more than the drink itself – it's the history, how it's presented, the chat with the bartender. People really want to know more about everything they buy now – if they're buying a washing machine, for example, they want to know about its performance, the company that makes it and so on.

Thankfully, when you have Cointreau in your blood, like I do, you have a certain resistance to alcohol. But since I'm offered drinks a lot I tend to just sip, and not finish them all, which bartenders understand. When I started at the company, I learnt that the best thing to do is drink one glass of water for every glass of anything you drink with alcohol in it. It works, though I still get maybe a couple of hangovers a year. I find a good cocktail helps with that.

I learnt the recipe for Cointreau from my grandfather when I was 11. He said it was time I knew. I was expecting some big revelation. He told me what the ingredients were, which were as one might expect, and then said, "What did you imagine – that we put flour in it?" It was a bit disappointing. But the lesson was that this, as with any drink that lasts, is all about the art of distilling. That's what makes any spirit different. It's what gives it longevity.

ALFRED COINTREAU is the sixth generation of the family behind the famed French triple sec Cointreau, which recently celebrated its 140th anniversary. He joined the company – part of the Remy Cointreau group since 1990 ­– five years ago and tours the world as its head of heritage; cointreau.com

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