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  • 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

  • IWSC 2018 Gold Outstanding Medal Winners

    IWSC 2018Another fantastic result for the Hermitage stable as three of our newest additions are awarded prestigious medals at this year's International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC 2018).  GOLD OUTSTANDING Medals were received by our latest vintages:

     

    Hermitage 1948 Grande Champagne Cognac.  Judges comments: "On the palate this cognac is extremely rich and concentrated.  Perfectly balanced."

    Hermitage 1944 Grande Champagne Cognac.  Judges comments: "Absolutely superb!  Do not wait to drink this."

     

    All three of our winners are from the top cru as a GOLD Medal was also awarded to the Hermitage 30 Year Old Grande Champagne Cognac.  Judges comments: "Powerful yet elegant on the palate.  Very complex, very long finish."

  • The Role of Cellar Masters

    Probably only the big cognac houses have imported cellar masters.  Usually they are recruited from family firms whose skills and experience have, over the years, kept the industry in very good form.  Currently most cellar masters are male so, whilst explaining the role, I will use the pronoun ‘he’.

    Cellar masters

    In truth, the cellar master is a multi-skilled person whose understanding of the cognacs in his cellar starts with the fresh eau de vie. He needs to understand how it was made, including the quantities distilled, the distillation temperature and when the cut was made. This information will help him choose the correct barrels to use for both the initial storage and the long barrel ageing in his cellar. Most cognac houses have their own style of cognacs, normally recognisable by experts.  He will try to replicate that style throughout his cognacs.

     

    Modern cognacs are usually made for blending.  To do this they are poured out of their barrels into large wooden tanks which may hold as much 100,000 litres. Blending is a complex job and much emphasis is placed on the knowledge gained from the cellar’s historical background. Mixing cognacs requires a great deal of experience.  It does not follow that mixing two fine cognacs together will produce something of a similar quality. In some cases, especially when very high quality eaux de vie is used, the quality of the final blend is a total disaster.

     

    The cellar master’s role also includes an in-depth understanding of his barrels - their size, the oak used and what they have previously contained (the second stage of ageing is always in old barrels). He also needs to understand how much they were toasted and where he is going to keep them.  Many cellar masters move their barrels around the cellar to make full use of the humidity and to keep the cognac moving so it is exposed to every part of the barrel.

     

    Lastly, he tests the cognac by taking samples and checking the level of alcohol.  This is done by measuring the temperature and using an alcohol meter.  All official alcohol measurements are made at 20 degrees Celsius, so it is important to be able to calculate the actual strength at different temperatures. Small samples are taken to gauge the cognac’s maturity and balance at regular intervals as each barrel produces a cognac with a slightly different flavour and colour. The skill of bringing all these properties together takes many years to learn.  It is for this reason that the cognacs produced by family firms are often of a far higher quality than those from the big houses, which are highly blended.

  • Hermitage 1944 Grande Champagne Cognac

    1944 GC CognacWe are really excited about the latest Hermitage 1944 Cognac to make it onto our shelves.

     

    Distilled almost 75 years ago and aged for more than half a century, the Hermitage 1944 Grande Champagne Cognac is truly wonderful.  It has a rich complexity of aromas and flavours which last for ages on the palate and they are all wrapped up in a rich rancio .... what more could you wish for?

     

    This really is a little bit of cognac heaven.

  • Put A Cork In It!

    We tend to take the humble wine cork for granted but it is, in many cases, the critical factor in preserving our wines and spirits.  It protects them from the air outside their glass containers and preserves the qualities of the valuable nectars which are stored within. Many people will argue that synthetic or metal screw top closures are more effective and in the cheaper ranges, particularly of wines, they probably are.  Connoisseurs, however, still believe that natural cork has an important role to play.

    cork oak tree

    Cork is the bark of the Quercus suber or “cork oak” tree.  A medium-sized, evergreen oak that covers millions of hectares in Spain, Portugal and North Africa.  Unlike the frenzied yearly cycle of the wine industry, the evergreen oaks move like sloths, slowly expanding and growing the bark, known as orange bark. The cork oaks are first stripped of their bark 20 years after they are planted.  They are then shaved of their bark every 9 years after that for up to 200 years. The date of the last harvest is marked on each tree. The first layer is known as “virgin” cork and is used to make articles of home decoration and granulated cork for insulation. Only when the third layer is removed can it be used for making cork stoppers.

    corks

     

    On a cellular level, cork looks like a honeycomb of air pockets. These pockets make cork both watertight and fire resistant which is why it works so well to age wine.  Its molecular structure makes watertight seals easily but also lets tiny bits of air move in or out allowing the flavour and aroma to evolve and become more complex over time. This evolution can take many years but beware, whilst water molecules pass quite slowly through cork, spirit molecules are much smaller and pass through more quickly.  It is for this reason that many older cognacs always have a wax seal over the cork.  Natural ageing of cognacs must be in sealed containers as the gradual loss of alcohol can, over many decades, cause the spirit to degrade to such an extent that it can become completely undrinkable.

     

    The microcellular structure of cork enables it to retain its flexibility and elasticity so always remember to put the cork back in the bottle after use.  Also, never let the contents of your spirits bottle come into contact with the cork since this will degrade its structure more rapidly.

  • Armagnac XO Definition Changed

    Armagnac XOThe Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac (BNIA) has increased the minimum age requirement for Armagnac XO from 6 to 10 years, in line with a recent change to the cognac definition (see previous news story).  The regulatory body said that it hopes the changes will help to raise the “value of the appellation” and emphasise the “real differences” between its classifications.  The minimum age of an armagnac (and cognac) is now as follows:

    VS                                                                3+ years

    VSOP                                                          4+ years

    Napoleon                                                  6+ years

    XO                                                              10+ years

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