Devin Kennedy on the Modern Cognac Cocktail

The Rémy Martin Equal Parts competition winner on updating the Metropole cocktail, the best meal he ever had, his weirdest drink request and more.

Rémy Martin challenged bartenders across the country to reimagine the Cognac cocktail in the Equal Parts National Cocktail Competition. Drawing on their skills, creativity and sense of storytelling, America’s top bar talent submitted recipes inspired by Rémy’s storied history, terroir and unique flavor profile. Devin Kennedy took first place in the national finals in September.

For Devin Kennedy, sometimes less is more. “It’s not just about putting stuff in a cocktail just to put stuff in,” explains the Pouring Ribbons bartender, who describes his drink-making style as “very simple.”

To that end, his Metropolis cocktail is a straightforward riff on a timeless classic: The Metropole, a Cognac-based Manhattan variation named for New York’s historic hotel of the same name, which closed in 1912.

His streamlined approach has been honed over the course of his career. The Washington D.C. native first moved to New York in 2013 to attend film school, taking on a restaurant job to help offset his expenses. (“Basically, you’re funding your own film, and it comes out of pocket,” he recalls.) In the end, he decided not to pursue film school after all. “I said, ‘I just want to do this,’” he remembers of the allure of hospitality. “I liked the unusual hours, the learning about the world through food and beverage culture; I liked hosting and serving people.”

At first, he leaned into the wine side of the business, earning his sommelier certification in 2015. While he enjoyed the romance of wine, he was far less enamored of the pressure to upsell more expensive bottles. So he took what he had learned about various spirits and liqueurs from his somm classes, and transitioned into bartending, first stepping behind the bar at Midtown restaurant Indian Accent. “I never had a wine job after that,” recalls Kennedy. Stints at Grand Army Bar and Union Square Cafe followed. In 2018, he was part of the opening team for Korean steakhouse Cote. One year (and one Michelin star) later, Kennedy joined Pouring Ribbons.

In brief, he distills what he’s learned over the years into a simple mantra: “Know what’s on your backbar and how to use it.”

This rule is played out in his Metropolis. Constructed in the austere style of a Manhattan, the drink starts with 2 ounces of Rémy Martin 1738 Cognac, which adds “confectionary and fruit notes,” says Kennedy. He then splits the vermouth component between Carpano Antica and cream sherry, which “plays as a sweetener but adds acidity and nuttiness as well.” In addition, the vanilla-forward Carpano and the sherry echo the flavors of the Rémy Martin Cognac. A teaspoon of pear brandy rounds it out—“like salt and pepper”—while a rich demerara sugar syrup adds a slightly weighty texture, a trick he picked up from Pouring Ribbons proprietor Joaquín Simó.

No garnish, no house-made tinctures or infusions—just a twist of lemon peel over the top acts as an aromatic finishing touch. “It can be made pretty much anywhere; it’s not made with proprietary things,” explains Kennedy. In other words, it’s a study in considered simplicity.

Q&A

Current occupation: Bartender and partner in Tiki & Slow Jams.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Landscape photographer for a travel website or magazine.

What’s your favorite Cognac cocktail? Sazerac.

Tell us about your drink. Metropolis was a loose play on the Metropole cocktail. I would put this in the Manhattan family. All the ingredients echo the notes in the Rémy Martin 1738, which creates a nice wave of flavor on the palate.

Best thing you ever drank: Bollinger Grande Année 1990. Birth year wine. Shit was butter.

Worst thing you ever drank: Apple cider vinegar shots. It’s awful … but I love it at the same time.

If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be? Kamasi Washington, Harmony Of Difference. It’s perfect.

What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had? I was in an a cappella group in high school for a year.  I couldn’t sing well, but I could hit all the baritone notes. It was actually pretty fun.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago? Save that after-work drinking money over the years for some new adventures.

Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted: Making a mango lassi in an iSi canister. First couple versions were not great.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making? Huge movie person. Concerts, art exhibits and anime.

Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten: Spicy Old-Fashioned.

Your favorite bar, and why: Pouring Ribbons is my favorite bar. I wouldn’t want to work at any other bar in NYC. I can confidently say that. Delicious things to eat and drink, diverse staff, great music, chill atmosphere. If I were to pick a bar not my own, Lost Lake for the exact same reasons.

Best meal you’ve ever had: Dinner in the cellars of Lustau in Jerez. It was unreal. I kept asking myself, “How the hell did I end up here?”

What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar? Usually something stirred. Sazeracs or Vieux Carré.

Wine bar? Anything from Rioja or from the Rhône Valley.

In a dive bar? Reposado rocks or tequila soda.

The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever: Reserve cocktails.

The last text message you sent: “Worddddd.”