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  • Hermitage Paradis 1880 Grande Champagne Cognac

    1880 Grande Champagne CognacOur latest nineteenth century cognac, Hermitage Paradis 1880 Grande Champagne Cognac, has arrived and what a stunner it is!

    The period from 1870 to 1900 saw cognac houses in France produce some of their finest spirits, a few of which are still available today. This was a period before the official recognition of crus, however, it was widely accepted that the area north of the River Né and south of the town of Cognac produced some of the finest cognacs. The region later became known as Grande Champagne, the premier cru of the six cognac regions in The Charente.

    Like so many of these old finds this exceptional cognac from 1880 has survived several generations, only to come to light after nearly 100 years of ageing in oak casks, slowly developing a unique and very special style and flavour. The cognac has reduced naturally, without the need for dilution or additives. One becomes aware of a deep rancio when bringing it to the nose and on the palate, there is an immediate richness and complexity. This has all the qualities of a seriously well aged cognac. Genuine history in a bottle and a pleasure to drink.

  • XO Brandy - What Does It Mean?

    XO BrandyXO brandy, XO cognac. XO armagnac. Why is the term XO used so often when few of us actually know what it means? Originally, XO stood for Extra Old. In terms of age, up until 2018, an XO cognac had to be at least 6 years old but this was also the required minimum age of Napoleon Cognac. So, after decades of promising change, the controlling body of cognac, the BNIC, agreed to make the minimum barrel age of an XO cognac 10 years old. This is important because cognacs do not mature once they have been taken from their oak casks and placed in glass. Armagnac also stepped into line and now age their XO brandies for a minimum of ten years.

    The problem with all this is that brandies, particularly cognacs, need to be in a barrel for much longer than ten years to reach optimum maturity, so an XO brandy is actually not very old. It should be noted that some of the smaller brandy houses keep their XO cognacs in the barrel for longer than the required minimum age in order to produce a more mellow, flavoursome product. More recently it has been recognised that a 10 year old cognac is not particularly old so another generic age statement has been introduced, it is called XXO. The minimum age for an XXO cognac (Extra Extra Old) is 14 years in an oak cask. Even this is not long enough for cognacs from the premier cru, Grande Champagne. They are the slowest of all brandies to mature and may take up to twice as long as cognacs from other crus, requiring 50 years or even more.

    The term XO is widely misunderstood and even at ten years old some brandies are only just drinkable. At Hermitage Cognacs, we do not sell generic XO brandies. We prefer to offer an age statement on each one to help customers understand how long their brandy has matured in the cask.

  • The Charente Scene - Summer 2020

    Summer 2020Around this time of the year (Summer 2020) we are anxiously looking at the weather to try and determine if we are going to have a good grape harvest in September. The vines are flowering well and every indication is that we will have a bumper harvest. But where are we going to store all the new cognacs when they are distilled? There is simply not enough room this year as coronavirus has dramatically reduced sales by the big houses. In an industry where America alone can take over a million cases a year, world sales so far in 2020 seem to have virtually halted, with a measly 1.5 – 2 million cases sold in the first quarter. According to one of our friends in Cognac, contract sales by the big houses have, over the years, spiralled up to around 90% of their output.  This has enabled the large companies to place contract orders with producers for young cognacs which they buy and store in their own cellars.  It now seems likely that some of the big names will have to renege on their contracts with the growers and producers due to lack of storage space. However, every cloud has a silver lining. The smaller, own brand producers and negoꞔiants are now having a field day.  They are shipping smaller quantities to their smaller customers and more specialised world outlets and demand is increasing.  The current reduction in demand for cognac seems to be only affecting the mass market.

  • On-Trade Reopening in the UK - July 2020

    On-Trade Image: Cafe & Konditorei Rothe

    With the On-Trade (hospitality industry) being allowed to re-open from 4 July, the problems that social distancing rules pose are being tackled in a variety of innovative ways.  To help restaurants maintain social distancing a contactless tableside ordering service has been developed by three British entrepreneurs.  ‘Creventa’ enables customers to view menus, order and pay at their tables with their phones.  The absence of printed menus and card machines helps to minimise cross-contamination.  Alan Lorrimer, founder of London venue The Piano Works and supporter of the UK Grand Outdoor Summer Café campaign, has called on the government to allow hospitality operators to use open spaces and squares outside their venues for food and drink service.  Around the world there have been many other unusual social distancing techniques pioneered.  These include wearing ‘swimming woggle hats’, dining under individual Perspex lamp shades and using mannequins and teddy bears to occupy particular seats! Unusual ways to enjoy your vintage brandies!

  • New Eaux de Vie, Grappas and Liqueurs

    grappasWe have expanded our range of Eaux de Vie, Grappas and Liqueurs just in time for the summer cocktail season.

    From Nusbaumer our new stock includes:

    An award-winning Poire William, with a fragrant, delicate pear flavour.

    Marc d’Alsace Gewurtztramier, a grape brandy resembling Italian Grappa.

    Peche de Vignes, made from vine peaches and ideal for making Bellinis.

    And from Jacopi Poli we have some new Grappa and Grape Brandy presentations – Amarosa Di Settembre Vespiaolo and Chiara di Moscato

  • Avallen Calvados - the most sustainable spirit possible?

    Avallen CalvadosLaunched  last year, Avallen Calvados has been hitting the headlines as a ‘product with a purpose’.  Created by Healthy Hospo founder Tim Etherington-Judge and wine and spirits specialist Stephanie Jordan, they set out to make the most sustainable spirit possible and so chose calvados. Avallen means ‘apple tree’ in Old Cornish and is made without the addition of sugar, caramel or boisé.  It is packaged in a lightweight bottle with a label that sends the message ‘Bee-ing positive has never tasted this delicious’.  Its packaging won a Master medal and €0.50 from each bottle sold will be donated to organisations dedicated to restoring and protecting bees. Aged for only two years it is a pretty young spirit, but the sustainability message will surely resonate with many in the current climate.

  • Complex Aromas in Aged Cognac

    AromasThe American Chemical Society has identified a few compounds, not previously known, which contribute to an aged cognac’s complex aromas. Using cognacs ranging from about 10 – 50 years old, a combination of gas chromatography/olfactometry and mass spectrometry separated, smelled and identified their various components. Of the many found, several terpenoids (which give wine its floral notes) were identified for the first time. A sensory panel then looked at how, when mixed, these cognac compounds contributed to ageing aromas eg they found that whisky lactone and β-damascenone enhanced the sensation of a mix of terpenes found in aged distillates but not in younger ones.  The report suggests that these findings could help producers develop cognacs with better flavours, although it only refers to blended cognacs.  So, our single cask Hermitage Cognacs will continue to receive their wonderful aromas and flavours from the oak. 

  • US Tariffs on Wine and Spirits

    US TariffsSix months ago, the US imposed hefty tariffs on the import of some European wines, whiskies and liqueurs following a long running dispute over EU import tariffs and subsidies. Last December, the US government considered imposing similar US tariffs on other EU wines and spirits, including cognac, and raising tariffs by up to 100%. Fortunately for our industry, the situation remained unchanged but Scottish whisky and American whiskey have already suffered huge export losses. Spirits Europe and Discus (Distilled Spirits Council of the US) are now advocating free trade between the US and the EU as they are each other’s biggest spirits export destinations. The DG of Spirits Europe said “… amidst recent EU-US trade tensions, our sector has been turned into a hallmark example of the considerable, yet entirely avoidable economic risks and damage whenever free trade is interrupted by tariffs.”  As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it will have the opportunity to step away from these retaliatory tariffs but of course our much loved French brandies will still be affected.

  • US Controlled Brandies

    US Controlled BrandiesWe are used to seeing the ownership of French brandy houses moving to the Far East but recently, US controlled brandies are coming to the fore.  US drinks group Sazerac has released a cognac named after Bernard Sazerac de Forge who founded his cognac house in 1782. Called Sazerac de Forge & Fils ‘Finest Original’ it is based on the original cognac and made from grape varieties used in the early 19th century. ‘Folle Blanche’ and ‘Colombard’ were popular during the pre-Phylloxera period and blending cognacs made from them is said to be responsible for the character of the new expression. The opportunity to move into the world of cognac production presumably came after the drinks group acquired Domaine Breuil de Segonzac in 2016. Another French brandy house was purchased recently by a US company when the founder of whiskey brand WhistlePig, acquired armagnac producer Maison Ryst Dupeyron. With the popularity of armagnac increasing all the time and cognac production struggling to meet demand these are shrewd acquisitions by the Americans.

  • The Importance of Barrel Age on a Cognac Label

    Barrel AgeThe growth in generic cognac sales over the last quarter of a century has distracted from the single most important criteria in determining the quality of a cognac. The age, or to be precise, the barrel age of a cognac is the most important element of cognac quality, yet we so often fail to ask the age question. Currently there simply is not enough information on the bottle to make it interesting. Compare that to a single malt whisky where the label tells us its barrel age, who made it and even what barrel it was stored in. It is little wonder that single malts outsell cognacs by a factor of 10 : 1.

    Sure, there are other factors that affect cognac quality, the cru, shape and size of the still, the cut, variations in the actual distillation, the size and age of the barrels, the storage conditions . . . . . . the list goes on but the longer the cognac is allowed to sleep in the barrel, the better it is. The provenance is the one piece of information that tells us more about its quality than all the other cognac features put together.

    Of course, where the cognac was made and who made it is important. However, even cognac that has been made in the top cru by a family producer, will lose its identity once it has been sold to one of the big houses as they have to blend hundreds of different cognacs together to meet their customer demands. Fortunately, there are still family firms who sell their cognacs independently. These single estate producers are much more likely to provide cognacs that have aged for more than the minimum number of years and to have kept their best and oldest in the family cellars.

    Modern wine and spirit retailers have little knowledge of cognac. It is not their fault. They simply have not been told and there is no information on the bottle to encourage questions. Many retailers consider themselves as mainly wine retailers, yet if they were to learn about cognac and actively sell it, it would provide them with a much more interesting sale (there are so many different processes it goes through over a much longer ageing process than any other alcoholic beverage). Values and margins are higher, and the story is more involved and interesting than wine. After all, cognac starts as a wine.

    So, you may say “Where do we go from here?” Supermarket shelves are stocked with generic blends which do not sell and if you ask for a brandy in a hotel or bar you are offered a VS, VSOP or XO. Growers and producers must make their cognacs and labels more interesting by keeping some of their cognacs back from the big houses to sell independently with age statements.

    But perhaps the best idea is to draw up a long term plan and ask where producers want to be in the future; struggling to get a decent price from the big houses or offering what their forefathers would have liked, unique cognacs that have been properly aged and recognised for the unique flavours and styles that they have spent generations in perfecting. Not only will they get recognition for their cognacs, but they will get much more money for them as well. Cognacs are complex and have interesting flavours that have developed in their barrels over decades. This is why cognac is the King of all Spirits.

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