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  • Many Different Types of Brandies

    We all know that every cognac is a brandy but not every brandy is a cognac, well most of us do, but what different brandies are there out there and what are they like?

    Different BrandiesWell, cognac is the finest of them all and the best known.  It must be made in line with all sorts of regulations to ensure that quality is maintained and that it is properly distilled and aged. The other well-known French brandies are armagnac and calvados.  Armagnac is distilled on a continuous still as a single distillation and tends to be quite fruity in flavour.  Calvados on the other hand is made from a cider and can have quite a pear drop flavour as it is necessary to add pears for greater acidity to help the distillation.  However, there are other French brandies too.  One is from Alsace which is traditionally made from their Gurwüztraminer grapes and of course there is Marc made in the burgundy region usually from the heavy lees which probably include the skins, pips and any other leftovers.  A little less known is Champagne Marc. This is distilled from the champagne grapes which are pressed whole and distilled. It is quite fruity and distilled at a low rate of about 52 degrees.  It is quite normal to add sugar which of course can make it quite sweet. Other French Brandies come from the Cote-du-Rhône, Provence and Jura where there is a long tradition.

    Next best known is Spanish brandy. This is made in the solera fashion which is a top-up system of ageing. Producers can take up to 20% off the bottom of the barrel and replace it with new eau de vie on the top. Spanish brandies are also aged in casks that have contained other drinks, usually sherry. They are said to be the oldest brandies in the world using traditions passed on by the Arabs.

    The Italian brandies are relatively tightly controlled, and only specific wines can be used. They are distilled at quite low alcohol ranges to preserve the fruitiness of the brandy.  Italian brandies are not to be confused with Grappa, often referred to as the peasant’s drink. Grappa was traditionally taken with coffee and used for all sorts of medicinal purposes, even disinfectant.

    German brandies are made from grapes imported from either France or Germany, they often contain macerated fruits as well as caramel and sugar syrups. Probably the best known is Asbach.

    American brandies are generally thought of as a fall-back beverage from the millions of bottles of wines that are produced.  They are mainly made in Califonia from the generic grapes of the region and can include all sorts of additives including caramel, sugar syrup and prune juice.  Consequently, they are similar in flavour to the Spanish style brandies.

    In Latin America there are a range of brandies including Pisco, a pure brandy made from the indigenous grapes of the region. Pisco takes its name from ‘pisku’ which in Quechua, the language of the Incas, means flying bird.  This is a good description for this light and volatile spirit.

    Other brandy producing nations are Australia, South Africa and Greece (where Metaxa is produced).  Also, Israel who is the only producer of Kosher brandy.

  • Chabot Armagnac Limited Edition Single Cask 1998

    Chabot 1998Wow, that is an impressive name for an armagnac, but what does it actually mean?  The Chabot vintage, 1998 is the year the grapes used to make the armagnac were harvested.  By regulation, distillation of these grapes would have been completed by the following March (1999) when it became Compte (Aged) 0.  Therefore, on 1 April 2000 it became Aged 1 and so in 2018, this armagnac was Aged 19 years.  An interesting fact as it was released this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong Airport.  Vintage armagnacs will be aged in a number of casks (each usually holding 250 – 350 litres).  This Limited Edition of 210 bottles has been drawn from just one of the 1998 casks so the contents of each bottle will be identical.  Armagnac from the other casks of the same vintage will be similar but not necessarily identical.  Having taken 30 litres out of one cask, the remaining armagnac may continue to age in its wood for release as a more mature 1998 vintage at a later date.  A complicated explanation but it is always worth knowing what you are buying.  Indeed, some very good armagnacs were made in 1998, all of which are single estate, if not single cask.

  • Calvados - Apple Brandy - The Forgotten Treasure?

    calvados is apple brandy Calvados really is the finest example of apple brandy so it is a mystery that it isn’t more popular.  Traditionally rustic, being based on the common old farmyard apple rather than the noble grape, perhaps it is too old fashioned for the influential trendsetters?  And what about geography?  Normandy is poorer and more rural than the elitist areas of Champagne and Cognac. The region staged countless wars and its fields are the final resting place of thousands of young men.  But the trend is gradually changing.  New calvados embassies are opening across the world. Indeed, official figures show that in 2017, 57% of the 6m bottles of calvados sold were exported.  Its popularity as a cocktail ingredient has certainly helped.  One of London’s most stylish and up-and-coming bars, Coupette, puts calvados cocktails at the very heart of its menu.  What is a surprise though is that mixologists are using not just calvados from the top cru, Pays D’Auge, but aged and more expensive vintages too. Calvados is a delicious, versatile and refreshing spirit. It goes well with food, tastes good neat, and can be the base for sophisticated cocktails.

  • The Charente Scene - Autumn 2018

    Charente 2018Following the magnificent export results for 2017 -2018, the BNIC agreed a rather high rate of harvest for the production of cognac this year at 14.64 hectolitres of alcohol pure per hectare of vineyard.  In essence, this means that cognac producers in the Charente have been allowed to produce more cognac this year than is usual.    The dry summer that followed the spring hailstorms was a godsend and the harvest has been fantastic.  So good in fact the farmers are finding that they do not have sufficient wine tanks to hold all the eau de vie!   Not only that, the quality of the wine is extremely high; it has a low alcohol content, perfect for making cognac.  So, despite a shaky start to the season, it looks like 2018 will be a bumper year in the Cognac region.  

  • Massougnes 1805 - 'One Of The Rarest And Highest Value Single Cognac Sales In History'

    1805 Cognac Massougnes fetches over £200,000 through London fine wine merchant Hedonism Wines

    Massougnes 1805Hermitage Cognacs have provided one of the most expensive bottles of cognac ever sold in the UK, which has just been sold by London Fine Wine merchant, Hedonism Wines, for over £200,000.  The imperial three-quarter gallon bottle of Cognac Massougnes was acquired by Hermitage Cognacs some 20 years ago from Marie-Antoinette des Allées, Comtesse de la Bourdelière, whose family owns the former Cognac producing estate.

    Hermitage Managing Director David Baker takes up the story:

    “In over 30 years of buying and selling cognac, this 1805 is one of the oldest and rarest I have ever come across.  Massougnes produced historically famous cognacs pre-Phylloxera (the louse which devastated most of France’s vineyards in the 1860s), and we have dated their records back to at least 1730, making them the oldest known growers and sellers of brandies.

    “At its peak the property covered 346 hectares, and Marie-Antoinette, who is the last remaining descendant of this famous family has written a charming note about the ‘life’ of this extraordinary cognac, which was created in the same year as the Battle of Trafalgar.”

    Marie-Antoinette des Allées is a direct descendant of Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine and their children, King Richard of England and King John.

    Hermitage is focused on selling only the very best Grande Champagne cognac. Hermitage Cognacs have since 1987 established a peerless reputation as suppliers of the very finest cognacs from old family houses where traditions and skills date back over hundreds of years. It is thanks to Hermitage’s unique relationships, forged over decades, that they have access to the best examples, each one uniquely different, with examples such as this dating back to the end of the 19th Century and beyond.

    This is the second such bottling from Massougnes which Hermitage have been able to source; another bottle sold for a similar sum in 2016. The identity of the purchaser has not been disclosed.

  • Hermitage Cognacs New Office Manager - John Walley

    office managerWe are very pleased to introduce our new Office Manager, John Walley.  After a full Army career and a spell working in the Far East, he has chosen to settle in Wiltshire and join our team.  A keen sportsman, John is already enjoying the wonderful golf courses and premiership rugby this area has to offer.  Pictured on his introductory tour of the Charente, John is inspecting this summer’s fantastic grape harvest, before meeting many of our French friends and colleagues.

     

     

  • The New Active-ist Consumer Is Here

    consumerWilliam Grant & Son’s latest Market Report has identified a change in customer behaviour.  The new ‘Active-ist Consumer’ is described as ‘purposeful, connected and empowered’.  According to the Report there is a new breed of digitally-sophisticated, socially-conscious, and sustainability-expectant people who use their collective consumer power to generate change at scale and with purpose and at an increasingly fast pace.  Digital sophistication allows consumers to source their own news, leading to demands for brand transparency and the desire for brands to engage with ethical issues.  Such behaviour was clearly visible following the airing of Planet Earth 2 in 2016 when social media was flooded with commentary on the horror of disposable plastic.  The sheer number of outraged viewers ensured the issue was recognised by the drinks industry amongst others.  As a direct consequence, we are now seeing widespread withdrawal of plastic drinking straws.  The Report also announced that people are spending more on drinking less.  Consumers are choosing their outings on the quality and range of food and drink on offer.  We have been familiar with this trend for some time as our premium brandies continue to increase in popularity.

  • Cognac Exports Continue To Rise

    cognac exportsFor the fourth consecutive year cognac exports are up, according to recent figures published by the BNIC.  Volume sales were up by 8.2% (205 million bottles were shipped) and this equated to an increase of 5.4% by value (€3.2bn).  The largest market continues to be the US where demand still increases annually.  Exceptional increases in demand have been seen in the Far East with China leading the way.  “These strong results confirm the lasting appetite of the Chinese for Cognac, even as the market is still stabilising,” noted the BNIC President.  Shipments to the UK remaining stable at 10.8 billion, despite the uncertainties of Brexit, were positive and we remain the fourth largest importer worldwide.  A delighted BNIC Vice-president concluded that “Cognac wine growers and traders are confident in their future prospects and continue today to fully invest in the development of the appellation, their sector and the quality of their products”.

  • Nick Faith 1933 - 2018

    Nick Faith VisitIt would be difficult for me to write another Technical Topic without mentioning Nick Faith who very sadly passed away on 26 September 2018. Nick was a friend whom I have known for more than 25 years. But he was more than that, He was a giant in the cognac industry.

    As a financial journalist Nick wrote regularly in the Financial Times and the Economist. He also wrote many books on drink.  His first, called The Winemasters, was published in 1978 and won the André Simon Award.   Another, and one of his finest was a rather grand full-sized book with many illustrations but actually, he was best known for his book simply called Cognac.  It was  first published in 2004 (the last edition was published in 2013) and is regarded by many as the Standard in the industry.  Here at Hermitage, we still use it occasionally for reference.  In 1996 he founded the International Spirits Challenge and in 2010 he was the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award given by the Bureau National Interprofessional de Cognac (BNIC), the ruling body of Cognac.  As a fellow traveller to the Cognac region, Nick loved to visit us here at Hermitage Cognacs and talk about the industry, tasting our cognacs and finishing up with lunch and a beer before I took him back to Chippenham to return on the train, another of his loves.

    Nick Faith will be sorely missed, not just as a great authority on cognacs but as an inspiration to the industry, he was one of the Cognac Greats.

  • This Really Is The Last Drop

    The Last DropHere at Brandyclassics we specialise in finding the very best cognacs available to sell under our own label, Hermitage.  We painstakingly search out those hidden gems, that have been ageing in cellars since the year they were made, for our customers to enjoy.  Sometimes only a barrel or two are available and when they are empty, the last drop of the vintage has gone.

    Four of these unique, vintage Hermitage cognacs have less than 10 bottles remaining so this is a fantastic opportunity to acquire an exceptionally rare, exquisite cognac from a bygone era.  These precious few bottles really are the last drops available of:

    Hermitage 1979 Grande Champagne Cognac

    Hermitage 1974 Grande Champagne Cognac

    Hermitage 1965 Petite Champagne Cognac

    Hermitage 1906 Grande Champagne Cognac

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