In an industry too often defined by fluffy prose and unrealistic portrayals, it’s refreshing to witness an effortless collaboration between an astonishing individual and a sophisticated brand. Premium cognac liqueur maker Grand Marnier has struck a partnership with UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) champion Cain Velaszuez to promote the release of Titanium, Grand Marnier’s first brown spirit available in the U.S., and I had the rare privilege of meeting with both Velasquez and GM’s brand team to learn more about MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) style training and sample the bold new liquor.
A casual mention of Grand Marnier conjures up a vision of the signature citrus liquor as part of a sweet cocktail, served in a small delicate glass gently resting on a monogrammed napkin at a dimly-lit luxury hotel bar. The words “dash” or “sprinkle” may or may not have been used in the drink recipe. So one might ask, why would such a brand enlist two-time heavyweight title-holder Cain Velasquez to represent the brand’s new bottle? The answer: An innovative cognac demands an uncompromising champion.
For an athlete untrained in the art of MMA, stepping into the ring with a heavyweight champ is a little like skydiving – very little stands between oneself and imminent danger. Fortunately for me, the brief training session and interview I had with Velasquez revealed a man who was concise, driven, and remarkably soft-spoken for all his reputed ferocity inside the octagon. As we spoke in between fundamental exercises, Velasquez’ personal approach to the requirements of professional fighting stand testament to both his success in the UFC and his suitability as Grand Marnier’s partner.
As any athlete can attest, the right diet sets the baseline for performance. However, there are as many different schools of thought on optimal diet as there are training regimens, and it would seem that the fitness community at large has been obsessed with a holy-grail-esque search for the “best” diet, which when found, would clearly bestow its adopters with immortality, superhuman strength, intoxicating attractiveness, and limitless intelligence. In stark contrast to our culture’s obsession with the perfection, it was encouraging to hear Cain discuss the subjectivity of diet, and the importance of eating what makes you feel good versus look good. “It’s not about certain diets and looking a certain way, it’s about how I feel when I train” he states matter-of-factly, leaning up against the cage. “Generally what I eat is clean food – good protein, chicken, fish, or steak. Also vegetables and carbs before training.” Of course, Cain’s profession plays a big factor into this ethos, but also begs the question: when it comes to diet, what if looking good and feeling good aren’t always the same thing? Which would you choose? The fact remains – equilibrium levels of muscle and fat can vary greatly between individuals. What works for one may not work for another, so it’s important to play to your strengths, listen to your body, and most importantly, be concerned with what really matters: performance.
In a physically demanding sport like MMA, it sounds almost cliché to say that mental toughness is equally as important as physical strength. In the midst of a vicious fight, and indeed during any physical challenge, the mind picks up the slack when the body gives way. The intangible will and motivation are key to success in fitness and even more valuable because, how exactly do you “work out” your motivation? That was my question for Cain Velasquez as we concluded. His advice? Stay goal-focused. “People are mentally just different – some people can take the pressure, some people can’t. I just focus on the fight with winning in mind.” On the surface, it sounds oversimplified in an “easier-said-than-done” type of way, but for the individual struggling to solidify his/her fitness regimen, asking the questions “Why am I exercising?” “What do I stand to gain?” and even “What happens if I don’t?” keeps the ultimate objective in mind without wallowing in the details.
“Le Pièce de résistance”
Velasquez’s valuable insight into the mindset of a successful fighter gave me some poignant ideas to ponder as I considered the other side of Grand Marnier’s unique partnership: the cognac itself. Of course, there was a tasting featuring some well-constructed signature cocktails designed to showcase Titanium’s versatility in a club setting. Served by statuesque waitresses slipped into shimmering silver dresses and adorned with crystal pendant tiaras, the libations were sweet, pleasantly tangy, and played well with the spice notes of the cognac. But I had a different plan in mind – I needed to get straight to the point and sip it neat with nothing standing between the liquor and unimpaired judgment. So I did what any self-respecting millennial would do: I took home a bottle.
When it comes to premium dark liquor, the truest test is cracking a bottle with the guys to see how it stands up against witty conversation and vitriol. In this case, Titanium faired quite well, straddling the line between familiarity and antithesis. If you drink whisky neat, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that Titanium has a clean, smooth front end with a bold, flavorful, intense finish. If you don’t like straight dark liquor, don’t worry about it. Just make a cocktail. The nose is sweet -almost too sweet – but any concerns about a fruity pseudo-cognac quickly evaporate after the first sip.
But here’s the best part – it grows on you. Sure, you can taste the spice, citrus, and enjoy the bite with the first few sips. But once the palate has given up trying to compare Titanium’s taste to something it’s encountered before, a true appreciation for the unique blend and lack of overpowering sweetness takes over. This is where Titanium’s whopping zero sugar content is evident – it’s much lighter than traditional cognac. There’s no thick heaviness that characterizes Grand Marnier’s flagship bottle, and that lends Titanium an overall taste-consistency combo that will be relatable to whisky drinkers.
What we have here is a departure from the norm that goes just far enough to make the drinker question exactly what they were drinking. This is the cognac for people that don’t always drink cognac: it’s not too heavy, not too sweet, sips easy but bites just hard enough. It goes just as well in a mixed drink as it does straight, and combines flavor with vigor. If Grand Marnier set out to create a product that would be more applicable to the active, intense nightlife of a younger audience, than they were successful. Will it be enough to convince a die-hard whisky drinker to switch to cognac? Debatable. But if you’re on the look out for an exciting new taste that isn’t sweet like your grandmother’s cognac and just forceful enough to demand your attention, than Titanium is definitely worth a shot.