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  • Are Craft Spirits or Beer Really 'Craft'?

    Artisan cognac productionAccording to Craft Spirits and Beer, ‘Craft’ is a term used to describe spirits and beers that are handmade in smaller batches, with superior ingredients by people who are passionate about quality. But as these products grow in popularity, is it possible for them to stay true to their roots?

    Here in the UK the big supermarkets have all upped their range of ‘Craft’ beers.  This has led to accusations that the breweries are selling out the independent shops that nurtured them. Market forces are clearly the cause.  However, one must question whether these ‘Craft’ beers can still be produced in ‘smaller batches’ when trying to meet demand from the multiples.

    Similarly, the increasing demand for ‘Craft’ gin has affected its production. It has become an open secret that many companies buy in their base liquid from big, third-party distillers.  Gin can then be produced more cheaply or in greater quantities. This may make economic sense but it is not the image that ‘Craft’ gin conjures up. Vintage cognac, on the other hand, will always be ‘Craft’. It is created in small quantities by passionate experts, cannot be hurried and the quantities cannot be upped at will.

  • Why are rose bushes planted in vineyards?

    On a recent trip to the Charente I took this picture of a rose bush at the end of a row of cognac vines. This placement of rose bushes has created considerable interest from our followers.   I therefore thought it would make an ideal Technical Topic.

    Originally, roses were planted in vineyards as an early warning system. Roses and grapevines typically have the same type of soil and sun requirements.  In addition, both are prone to the infestation of a fungus known as powdery mildew. If this fungus appeared on the roses, the vines were sprayed with sulphur to prevent the grapes from succumbing. Downy mildew is another fungus that attacks the green parts of the grape vine. If detected on a rose bush the grape vines were immediately sprayed with a solution of copper sulphate and lime. Another historic reason for the planting of roses dates to when they used horses to pull the plough. The rose's thorns were thought to deter the horse from hitting the post at the end of the row.

    Nowadays, there isn’t a horse and plough in sight.  Most vineyards use modern methods to monitor carefully the soil and health of the vines. Rose bushes are no longer required, so why are they still in evidence? Cynics will tell you that they attract tourists who enjoy seeing them in situ. Others will suggest they are purely aesthetic or that they provide food for bees and habitat for insects beneficial to the vineyard. Some believe that roses are tastier than grape vines to pests, so they draw these damaging insects away from the grapes.

    Whatever the reasons for planting roses in the vineyards today, you must admit that they add to the milieu and create a sense of nostalgia.  These are things of which the Cognaçaise are immensely proud.

  • An Historic 1957 Cognac Vintage

    1957 CognacThis 1957 Cognac has just arrived at our Hermitage Ville Ancienne stable.  It is another vintage cognac from the mid twentieth century.

    Hermitage 1957 Grande Champagne Cognac has a delightful initial aroma of ginger, sweet spices, linden and white truffle and exceptional flavours of roasted almonds, truffle, porcini and macadamia nuts. A long, balanced, grapefruit peel finish completes the enjoyment of this delicious nectar.

    The 1957 Cognac was distilled 60 years ago.  That same year the Soviet Union launched ‘Sputnik 1’ – the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth.  We also said goodbye to the much-loved Humphrey Bogart.

  • UK Alcohol Duty and its Enforcement

    Smuggling brandyDuring the 18th Century smuggling in Cornwall was a way of life.  It is said that at its peak, more than 500,000 gallons of French brandy was smuggled in per year.  This equates to more than two million bottles. Whole families were involved and the number of smugglers far outweighed the number of Excise men stationed along the coast to stop them. There was a strong incentive to continue since the cost of buying brandy legally, with Alcohol Duty paid, was five times greater than the cost of the contraband.  It was often the case that even the judiciary, doctors and priests were in on the act as they provided the funds.

    Cornwall coastlineMost of the brandy came from the ports of La Rochelle and Rochefort and illegal shipments arrived regularly at Falmouth coves such as Helford, Gweek, Porthallow and Godrevy.  The French were still reducing their wines for easier transportation to England, Ireland and Holland.  The quantity of brandy shipped to England did much to support the French brandy industry during the 18th Century.  However, by the early 1800s Customs had started to gain a level of control.  Some smugglers were apprehended but juries were often reluctant to convict as many had connections with the trade.  Even by the mid 19th Century, £millions were still being lost due to the Cornish smugglers evading tax.

    UK Duty stampAlcohol Duty is of course an important part of the British tax system and is calculated today at a cost of £28.74 per litre of pure spirit.  A 70cl bottle of brandy at 40% alcohol by volume (abv) therefore attracts a duty of £8.05.  Shipments of cognac to the UK currently stand at more than 12 million bottles per annum and the duty collected is around £100 million.

    It goes without saying that smuggling today is vastly reduced.  The sale of illegal spirits does much harm to our industry.  All shipments of spirits entering the country must be accompanied by documentation stating the quantity of pure spirit they contain.  Duty must be paid when the alcohol enters the country, unless it is to be stored in a bonded warehouse.  In this case, Duty is paid when the alcohol is taken out of the bond.  All UK companies dealing in wines and spirits must be registered with HM Customs.

  • Make Father's Day Special This Year

    Father's DayIt only comes around once a year so Father's Day is the perfect occasion to say “Thanks Dad” and spoil him with something really special. We have a vast range of the very best vintage brandies from which you can choose.  Each one shows how much you care.

    To make your choice a little easier we have selected three to offer at a reduced price during June 2017.  Each will be the perfect gift on Sunday 18th June so take a look now.

    Our selection comprises a delicate yet complex, rare, vintage cognac from 1979; a fruity, well-balanced armagnac distilled for 15 years and a rich, robust, dark 20 year old cognac perfect for drinking with coffee.

    We send our parcels out on a 24 hour service so you can order up until noon on Friday 16th June 2017.  Our special offers are only available while stocks last.  If one of them is the perfect gift for Dad this Father's Day, buy now to avoid disappointment.

  • Gold Medals for Hermitage Cognacs

    Gold Medal WinnerWe are delighted to announce that in the 2017 Cognac Masters our two single vintage cognacs both won Gold Medals.

    Hermitage 1967 Petite Champagne Cognac is complex with many charming qualities. Mature, yet youthful and light, it is a little bit of Hermitage bliss.

    Hermitage 1987 Grande Champagne Cognac is also wonderfully complex with flavours of wild fruits and roasted nuts, enhanced by its slightly higher strength of 47% abv.

    A limited number of each are on offer during the month of May 2017 so, if you want to try award-winning cognacs that are fabulously different, now’s your chance.  And if you've got a big birthday or anniversary coming up, they are ideal for 30th or 50th celebrations too.

  • The BNIC

    During the war years the Cognaçais were required to provide the Germans with large quantities of brandy. They cheated of course by shipping spirits made from root vegetables thus maintaining their stocks of real cognac. It was during this period that Maurice Hennessy and a well known grower, Pierre Verneuil, followed the example of the growers in the Champagne BNIC logoregion and created the wine and eaux-de-vie distribution bureau to preserve the cognac stock. When the war ended this organisation emerged as the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), cognac’s governing body.  Composed equally of growers and merchants, the BNIC acquired a great deal of de facto independence from the government in the formulation and supervision of the rules governingBNIC cognac crus cognac. The BNIC also took over the role, previously performed by Martell and Hennessy, of deciding the price of new brandies from various crus. The cognac region had been divided into crus in the 1930s as a natural consequence of the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system which had become law in 1905.

    The end of World War 2 also ushered in nearly 30 years of increasing prosperity. The BNIC greatly improved the relationship between growers and merchants and was lubricated by the ensuing prosperity. In 1948 the Station Viticole, a private laboratory set up to help growers and distillers after the Phylloxera outbreak, was taken over by the BNIC who were able to control all the stages involved in the production of cognac. This included the regulations required to manage the growing, wine making, distillation and ageing of cognac. More recently their powers have gone further with the control of market and sales information, both country by country and by product type, enabling them to manage government taxes and duties. In short, the BNIC now manages every stage of cognac production, from the vineyards to the end buyer.

  • The Charente Scene - Spring 2017

    The CharenteThe 31st of March in the Cognac region (also known as The Charente) is the last day in the year when cognacs may be distilled from the wines produced from the previous grape harvest. Most will have been distilled in the last part of 2016 but larger vineyards will have continued distilling through to this year. On the 1st of April, all the cognacs from the 2016 harvest will move from age ‘compte 00’ to ‘compte 0’. In one year’s time, they will become ‘compte 1’ and a year after that ‘compte 2’ etc.. The 2016 harvest was good and both quality and quantity are said to be above expectations - always music to our ears. However, most of it will be purchased by the big houses, probably in about a year’s time. Market demand for VS and VSOP is such that it will be blended along with thousands of others and probably sold around 2020.

  • The Place of Regulatory Bodies e.g. BNIC

    The Cesium Thought Leadership (CTL) panel met recently to discuss the role industry bodies play in shaping the drinks industry. They concluded that these bodies have 4 areas of influence: education, interdependency, unified thinking and lobbying. The regulatory body for cognac is BNIC logothe Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) whose mission is ‘to develop and promote cognac, representing the best interests of all cognac professionals including growers, merchants and members of other activities related to the cognac trade’. They control all stages of cognac production including the regulations required to manage the growing, wine making, distillation and ageing. Over the years their powers have increased and they now control market and sales information (both country by country and by product type) enabling them to manage government taxes and duties. In short, the BNIC manages every stage of cognac, from the vineyards to the end buyer and certainly covers the 4 areas of influence recognised by the CTL. This level of control definitely protects the industry from rogue trading but has also been criticised for stifling innovation. We wait to hear what the BNIC thinks about ‘Adding a Finish’ as suggested by Martell (see previously) – will others dare to follow?

    Read more about the BNIC on our Brandy Education page.

  • More Cognac Labelling Requirements - Calories and Nutrition?

    An EU Commission report has been welcomed by the drinks industry as, 2 years after MEPs voted for compulsory calorie labelling on alcoholic drinks, they have called upon the drinks trade to present a self-regulatory solution. Within 12 months calorie and nutritional information must be available to alcohol consumers - a ruling that came into effect for all other food and Cognac Labelling - Hermitage 1993beverages in 2011.  Will cognac labelling have to change?  Aware that label space is an issue, the WSTA is suggesting that hosting the information on-line rather than on-pack will be the most effective solution. It has offered alcohol calorie information on its website for the past 2 years. Nutritional information will perhaps be more of a challenge – should it include the ingredients that go into the production of the spirit or just the elements that can be identified in the bottle prior to sale? For small craft cognac producers, this will be an onerous task as each individual vintage or batch will have to be tested. For the big cognac houses, who produce masses of one blend, the task is relatively straight forward. However, they will no longer be able to hide from consumers the number and quantity of additives such as sugar syrup and caramel that are present.

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