Chan seems to like collecting titles as much as he likes collecting
cognac. He has about 14,000 miniature bottles - about 90 per cent
of which are cognac, with the rest armagnac and single malt whisky
- and 1,020 larger ones he's accumulated since 1985. He's also
the founder and chairman of the Hong Kong Miniature Liquor Club
and a consultant to auctioneer Bonham's. He has been called the
"king of cognac" by a hobbyist magazine and, as an exporter
of glass (juvenile) eels, "the golden bridge of friendship"
by the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il.
that's a different story," says Chan, who added the apostrophe
and "s" at the end of his first name at the request
of a former girlfriend.
he was awarded a gold certificate as an educator in cognac by
Le Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac, the first Chinese
person to achieve the distinction. As there is one other lower-ranked
certified Chinese cognac educator, that leaves Chinese people
somewhat under-represented - especially considering that Chan
believes some 85 per cent of the drink ends up on the mainland.
cognac association invited Chan to take an exam to demonstrate
his knowledge of the spirit and all aspects of its production.
After passing that, he spent four days in Cognac, France, for
intensive instruction and then had to take a further test and
give a presentation.
says that in the past the cognac producers were "stupid"
because, during cognac's heyday from the 1960s to the '80s, they
were making so much money out of Asia that they didn't bother
to nurture a culture that appreciated the spirit properly. Chinese
people liked it, both to give as a gift and because of its high
alcohol content. When the style of cognac ageing changed in the
'80s, interest waned and it lost market share to whisky.
cognac association has asked Chan to spend the next two years
creating a culture to help people understand how the drink is
made and how it should be consumed. He also wants to change cognac's
image as "an old-school drink, something only old people
interest in cognac was initially more the result of a desire to
collect anything. When his first collection of antique camera
equipment was stolen, he considered coins or stamps, but thought
it would be too hard to find special items to build a unique collection.
Cognac struck him as a potential investment.
job buying young eels in Europe and North America to farm and
sell in Asia took him to France for a month every year and his
appreciation of cognac as a drink rather than a collectible grew
from there. He prefers cognacs made before the '70s because, he
says, "the quality is totally different".
term VSOP signifies that a cognac has been aged for at least five
years. A contemporary cognac will have received that, but distillers
in the past were more generous. Chan has a bottle of Otard VSOP
from 1960 that is blended from 30-year-old spirits.
the late 19th century, a tiny insect, phylloxera, devastated the
European wine industry, and vines had to be uprooted and replaced
with American ones. Chan says the result produced differences
in the cognac, which is distilled from grape wines.
collection contains some bottles from before 1875. The oldest
is from 1809, when Napoleon was leading France in wars against
Austria, Prussia and Britain. He also has a bottle from 1848,
a year of revolutions in Europe, and 1870, when France was embroiled
in another war - with Prussia and Germany.
also has a bottle of "space" cognac, one of a limited
edition of specially designed bottles some of which went into
space with European astronauts. His most expensive bottle is a
Louis XIII miniature, one of only three made and worth US$10,000,