Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Le Cognac De Napoleon

The historian in me loves a good back story. I recently was looking at the bottles that we have on our back bar at The Bleecker Street Bar (56 Bleecker Street 212-334-0244) and a line of text on the bottle of Courvoisier caught my eye. Four words under the "Courvoisier" name stood out to me: Le Cognac De Napoleon. At first I thought that well that's a bold statement to make by a distiller. That this particular brand of Cognac was the favorite one of Napoleon Bonaparte was something that took a bit of chutzpah to say. Whether hyperbole or not, it peaked my interested. To start I decided to look into it a bit by going directly to the source.

The Courvoisier heritage section of their website describes its connection with Napoleon in the following manner:
With the fires of the French Revolution still smouldering, and a country in recovery from the greatest and bloodiest political upheaval in its history, France’s first Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, took the Imperial throne. In this uncertain climate, Emmanuel Courvoisier, our founder, and Louis Gallois, the mayor of Bercy, decided to open a wine and spirit company on the outskirts of Paris, just north of the river Seine. Bercy was the perfect location for their business. It was close to the river for easy transport, already had a thriving wine trade and sat just outside the thick Paris city walls, so they didn’t have to pay taxes.

Louis Gallois and Emmanuel Courvoisier’s reputation grew quickly amongst brandy connoisseurs, so much so that their warehouses in Bercy were honored with a visit from the Emperor himself, Napoleon Bonaparte. Perhaps inspired by what he tasted, he started giving a ration of cognac to troops in his artillery companies to lift their morale during the ongoing Napoleonic Wars, saying, “while you are on the march, have issued to your forces, as much as may be possible, wine in the evening and cognac in the morning.”

After his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon was exiled to the remote island of St Helena, in the wild Atlantic Ocean, halfway between Africa and South America. Legend has it that he chose several casks of cognac as his one granted item of luxury, a treat much appreciated by the English officers on board HMS Northumberland during their 67-day voyage. They named it ‘The Brandy of Napoleon’.
For more information to the transport of Napoleon onboard the HMS Northumberland (sans Cognac reference), click on the following link: NAPOLEON AND SAINT HELENA, 1815-1816 by Morriss Roger, lecturer in Maritme History at the Centre For Maritime History, University of Exeter (UK)  from the Napoleon.org website.

And that seems to be about all I could find concerning Napoleon and Courvoisier. I haven't been able to find anything to prove or disprove this story. I guess I need to do some more snooping around. Until I find out more information, I leave you with a series of ads by Courvoisier that ranges from the 1960's to the 1980's highlighting the connection between Napoleon and Courvoisier.

Bon Potable et Au Revoir,
Sisco Vanilla aka Francois Vanille