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The history of Cognac – The Dutch, French, Irish and British

From around 1600 many Irish traders and settlers became interested in the brandy business. These were settlers and the potential to condense wines by boiling them had a number of attractions, not least their greatly improved longevity, ease of handling and of course, their greater strength. This last benefit was a useful motivator and anaesthetic in times of war, and barrels of brandy which were in plentiful supply during the wars were kept on ships for this very purpose.

During the next century The Dutch, who had been distilling their own gins and selling them in France, imported the wines from the Charente producers and distilled them. They were referred to as brandywijns, the quantities and strengths being expressed in Dutch. The Velt, at just over 7 litres, was a basic measurement of quantity and sold in barriques. The spirit was expressed in relation to standard Dutch gin (prevue de Hollande) at about 49% alcohol. London gin was about 58% and cognac around 60%

By 1700 traders had established themselves and the more superior brandies from around the town of Cognac, and notable names such as Richard Hennessey, Martell and James Delamain were later joined by Saul, a friend and confidant of Hennessey, Lallamand of Lallamand Martell, Jacques Roux and Philippe Augier (said to be the oldest house in Cognac). All of these names were traders, who employed “correspondents” to get orders for their brandies, which were then shipped back to Ireland and England.

These brandies were purchased from the farmers and growers from the regions around Cognac and Bordeaux, who harvested grapes as a crop which they fermented and distilled on their estates.