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  • The Good & Great Cognac Houses - A Hardy

    Perhaps we best know of Hardy Cognacs for their very old pre-phylloxera cognacs such as the famous 1805, but the firm has prospered in America with more generic cognacs and some special presentations bottles.

    The firm was started in 1863 by Anthony Hardy, a wines and spirits trader in London. He moved to the Charente region and changed his name to Antoine after high taxes in the UK forced him to close his UK business. He had bought land, vines and learnt to distil the wines, but in 1878 the phylloxera had destroyed much of his estate. Fortunately he had made many good cognacs and his cellars had bountiful stocks, which he was able to sell to the cognac negoçiants.

    Much of his market was in Russia and an alliance celebrating the trade between the countries was established.  Antoine’s son Valère joined the business around 1900 and between them tried to develop the Eastern European markets, a mission that was not entirely successful. Valère died early, but one of his five children, Armand, took over as president of the firm where he remained until he died in 1957. During the difficult war years Armand played a part in preserving the cognac stocks from the Germans, by buying and storing cognacs from the growers, and ageing them in his cellars.

    Armand had six children - the four boys, Philippe, Jacques, Francis and Jean-Antoine, all who joined the firm and helped to increase the sales to North and South America. When Armand died Jacques Hardy took over the role of president. He was a collector of old cognacs and built up a cellar of fine vintages which he stored in the cellars of Merinville, then owned by his old friend Jacques Boursard. Unfortunately the heavy stocks and economic difficulties in the 1990’s meant the firm was sold, but the name still continues. Jacques died in 2006 and his two daughters work for the new owners and maintain sales in America and Northern Europe.

    Brandyclassics have 3 exceptionally old cognacs from 1805 for sale, including an A. Hardy 1805 Grande Champagne. The scarcity of these rare vintage cognacs makes them extremely sought after by cognac connoisseurs and hence are not just "reassuringly expensive", but very expensive...


  • The making of a cognac barrel

    Perhaps the question which comes up most regarding the creation of cognac is that of how it is made. Very little consideration is ever given to the ageing process or indeed the actual barrels used for this most critical part of the process. Indeed the cognac production journey from vineyard to barrel is less than six months. But once the eau de vie is placed in the barrel, fifty years may elapse before a golden cognac comes out ready to drink. Thus the construction and preparation of the barrel is critically important.

    The cognac barrels are made of oak from the Limousin or Tronçais forests. The wood from the trees is cut into stave lengths and split into rough stave shaped blocks, before being placed in piles to weather for five to seven years. After ageing the staves are shaped by planing and placed together - they're held by steel hoops of varying sizes to suit the barrel. The other end of the barrel is dampened and heated over a fire so that the wood becomes more pliable. A steel hauser is placed round the barrel and it is slowly drawn in, then held in place by more steel hoops. At this stage the barrel is toasted to burn off tannins harmful to the cognac maturation. Grooves are cut round the edges so that the top and bottom can be dropped in and held in place with wedges.

  • The Brandy Bottle: Hermitage 1975 Grande Champagne

    Our Hermitage 1975 Grande Champagne was awarded the Masters Medal in the prestigious 2010 Cognac Masters Competition held in London, beating every other vintage cognac. But not just with a Gold Medal but with the highest accolade of all, The Masters Medal.

    So why is this wonderful cognac so good? It was produced on a small12 hectolitre narrow headed still, designed to minimise rectification by allowing all the fruit flavours in the wine to condense when it returns to a liquid. What makes this a great cognac is the ageing and strength - small oak barrels with a medium toasting, kept in damp cellars with a final strength of 47%.

    The combination of great distillation and ageing has created a rich and complex cognac with flavour that is enhanced by its strength. Our score 10/10

    Brandyclassics exclusive range of Hemitage cognacs won multiple awards at the Cognac Masters Competition in 2010. You can only buy Hermitage cognacs from Brandyclassics, either via our online store or by calling us on +44 (0)1225 863988


     

  • Did You Know? The Cognac Label

    Reading a cognac label is relatively easy - reading what is not on the label is a little harder! There are labels that will try and give the illusion that what is in the bottle is better than it is. Since the delimitisation of the region and the creation of cru’s, many have tried to provide an image of Grandeur on their labels.

    There are six cognac cru’s. They are from the top, Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bon Bois and Bois Ordinaire. Very little cognac from Bois Ordinaire is supplied under producer labels. A further term can also be legally deployed called Fine Champagne, meaning that at least 50% of the cognac in the bottle must come from Grande Champagne and the rest from Petite Champagne.

    Modern Cognacs are highly blended and due to shortages have to come from wherever they can be purchased, so it is not that common to see their origin depicted on the label. Naturally enough, producers like to advertise the origin of their cognacs, especially if they come from the Champagnes. What a shame it is that some of these very expensive cognacs that come from the big houses in fancy bottles can’t display their cru’s! Legal information includes the name of the supplier, the volume in the bottle, the alcoholic volume, Made in France and the European “e”. Age statements are not a legal requirement, which here at Brandyclassics we consider a great pity!

    Brandyclassics sell a wide range of exceptional cognacs from the superior crus. Please visit our ecommerce store where you can buy online some truly exceptional cognacs, armagnacs, calvadoseseaux de vie, plus our exclusive range of Hermitage cognacs.

  • Prices of Rare Pre-Phylloxera Cognacs are at all Time Records

    Hennessy are in the news again. This time its for all the wrong reasons. It appears that somebody has been making off with some of their massively expensive Ellipse cognacs and selling them back onto the market. One has to ask who is the bigger crook. The cognac priced at 7565€ is a blend of seven different eau de vie, some of which must come from other than the champagnes, plus there is no age statement on the bottle! We have to hope that there is some of the increasingly costly pre-phylloxera blended in to justify the price.

    Indeed, early pre-phylloxera cognacs have increased in value considerably over recent years, with prices in the last four years going up by more than 200%. Whilst bottles are still available from around 1800, they are becoming increasingly more difficult to find and the indication is that prices will go up even faster in the future. Currently, a bottle of 1856 has a trade price similar to the Hennessy Elipse and it comes from the region now known as Grande Champagne, I think I know which I would prefer!

    Brandyclassics have a number of very rare Pre-phylloxera cognacs for sale, from famous houses such as Hardy, Massouges,  Eschenaeur & Co, Moyet and Jules Robin.

     

  • The Good & Great Cognac Houses - Otard

    Otard is one of Cognacs most famous names, thanks partly to it’s ownership of the 16th century Château de Cognac, which deservedly is the town's most famous historic monument, as well as being ideal for the maturing brandy.

    The firm was founded in 1795 by Jean Dupuy, a local grower and Jean-Antoine Otard de la Grange, a local land owner who had to be rescued by his tenants from the Revolutionary Terror. He was the descendant of a leading Scottish family devoted to the failing fortunes of the House of Stuart, whom they followed into exile in France. Otard and Dupuy flourished sufficiently to buy the château and become one of Cognac's 'Big Three' in the early 19th century (M Otard's town house is now the town hall).

    In the early 20th century the family “became more interested in public and social life than in Business” according to M de Ramefort, whose family bought the firm in 1930. His predecessors had relied too heavily on the Latin American market, and when their competitors began to sell their brandies in bottles under their own names, they declared “we are not grocers”. The firm has never owned any vineyards or stills: however, it’s VSOP Baron Otard helped its reputation in the 1970’s with its distinctive black bottle. In 1975 they bought Exshaw, a well know firm which was founded in 1805 but had dwindled into insignificance by 1945 and whose main markets were in the UK.

    Otard was bought in 1986 by Bass, the British Brewing Company after a period in which the Rameforts shared control with St Raphael (the aperitif company controlled by Martini which bought back the company in 1989). Since then Otard has acted as the spearhead of the group's various cognac interests, which also include Exshaw and Chateau de la Grange - a cognac which is sold mainly in the Asian markets and Far East. The current cognac range now contains considerable levels of sugar syrup to help hide their youthfulness.

     

  • Creating a New Cognac

    Here at Brandyclassics we have often spoken lovingly about the benefits of long ageing. It is a pre-requisite of very fine cognac and there is certainly no substitute that will enhance the flavour.

    So how is it possible to create a new cognac, given that it needs so long to age in the barrel? We have discussed in these articles previously the need to find stocks produced from the right grapes, distilled in the right shaped and size stills, then aged for a long period in the right barrels. But this is only the start of the process to find the ideal cognac for our customers. It is also where our work begins!

    Having identified suitable cognac producers we need to optimise the qualities - this is usually not possible with commercially distilled cognacs that have a high level of neutrality, thus our need for the smaller distillers whose families have centuries of experience. There are many factors that can change the flavour of a cognac. We may recommend changing the barrel size or where it is stored, which will affect the rate the spirit comes out of the barrel. We have been known to change the old barrels for new for a short period, or even recommend the use of wood chips to give more exposure to the wood. But probably identifying the right strength to sell the cognac at is the biggest factor and this is a process that can take years to perfect before you, the cognac lover, taste it.

    Brandyclassics sell an exclusive range of Hermitage Cognacs. Hermitage Cognacs are the result of very specific distillation qualities and long, careful ageing in oak casks. They never include additives such as sugar or caramel, and are the very finest cognacs available in the world today. Ranging in price from around £30 to over £1000 per bottle, we have a cognac for every palate and pocket, a small selection of which are shown below.


     

  • Did You Know? The taxation levied on Brandy

    During last November, customs officials seized a record quantity of wines and spirits from smugglers attempting to sell them on the open market in the UK. In essence it is not difficult to see why - some people will attempt to bring spirits into the UK without paying duty or taxes, since the duty rates have been steadily increasing over the last few years. And these increases are on top of what were already the third highest duty rates in Europe, with only Finland and Ireland paying more.

    The current rate of duty on spirits which we have to pay is £23.80 per litre of pure alcohol. Rates on wines are £225/100 litres and champagne £288.20/100 litres. If we equate this to the duty on a bottle of spirits at say 40% alcohol we have to add just over £6.66 a bottle - but the story doesn’t end there.

    VAT is charged on the combined value of both the brandy cost and the duty; in effect double taxing alcoholic drinks in the UK. A costing preview of one of our very lowest cost armagnacs (it is one of superb quality), reveals that depending on the exchange rates at the time, we buy it at slightly less than the duty, making a combined price of £12.80. VAT on top of that raises the price to £15.36 and after we add in the cost of getting it and bonding the cost increases to £16.98. Packaging adds another £1.20, providing a gross total of £18.18. Financial experts will also recognise that we have to cost in our overheads, which means our margin is probably slightly less than a pound when we sell it to our trade customers.

    Fortunately we sell a lot of brandies at rather more than £22.20 a bottle, but this exercise serves to indicate just how much of a bottle's value goes to HM coffers. Which leads us to ask the question, if duty rates were lower, would the Government collect more duty? UK rates are about 3 times that of many other EU countries...

  • Did You Know? Spanish Brandy Origins

    Spanish Brandy has a longer history than cognac; it is more varied and in some ways more intriguing. Most Spanish Brandy should be called Brandy de Jerez because they are distilled and sold by the firms that make sherry. Brandy making in Spain goes back to the early Middle Ages when the Moors occupied southern Spain and Jerez. As its full name “de la Fontera” suggests, it was on the frontier between Christendom and the then more civilised Moorish Kingdom of Granada.

    The Brandy making tradition disappeared until the arrival of the Dutch, in the late 17th century, came looking for brandy for their sailors as they had earlier in Cognac. The locals then developed what they called holandas, still the name used in Jerez for brandy, distilled to the same 70 per cent alcohol as cognac.

    The next impetus came when Cognac was invaded by the phylloxera vastatrix louse in the late 19th century. It was Brandy de Jerez that filled the gap for a couple of decades, until Jerez was also hit by the bug. Probably the largest boom was triggered by the demand from soldiers on both sides, during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. Spain's post war industrialisation then carried on the good work, by creating a demand from industrial workers looking for inner warmth and by better heeled customers wanting a civilised spirit. The drink was kept afloat until the 1980’s when duties soared and Spanish drinking habits changed.

     

     

  • Did You Know? Campanian (Champagne)

    The geology of the cognac producing region is the single most important factor in the success of the famous drink. The spirits success rests solidly on chalk - a very special sort of chalk known as Campanian chalk, named after the Latin original of the word. This became known as Champagne and exists under most of the Grande Champagne area.

    There are two other chalk varieties which are defined mainly by their porosity. Santonian, named after the general cognac region of Saintonge is found mainly to the south of Cognac. Cognacian chalk is found around the town of Cognac. The physical composition of the chalk is almost as important as the geological make-up. It should be friable and not too compacted, so that the vine roots can penetrate through to the underground streams.

    Perhaps a confusing factor is that the boundaries were decided by administrators not geologists, so they include the clay bed of the Charente river and the banks of the Né to the south. Perhaps the biggest problem the Cognacais have, is the use of the word champagne, which was stolen by the wine makers 500 miles north east and who use it for the name of their fizzy wine, which also grows on chalk slopes similar to those around Cognac...

    Brandyclassics's online store sells a wide selection of Grande Champagne cognacsPetite Champagne Cognacs and a exclusive selection of Fine Champagne Cognacs. Cognacs from these crus include some of the most famous cognac houses such as A.E. Dor, Hine, Prunier, Raymond RagnaudA Hardy, as well as our own Hermitage cognac range.


     

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