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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Father's Day 2020 - Sunday 21st June

    Father's Day 2020It's going to be a very different Father's Day 2020.  A long pub lunch or trip to his favourite restaurant maybe off the cards but you can always recreate some wonderful memories at home with a gift to savour. A local takeaway or home cooked roast is always a winner and how about something special to enjoy afterwards?  Our multi-award winning range of Hermitage Cognacs are all individual with fabulous flavours and can be enjoyed day after day.  To make this year's Father's Day particularly special we have reduced the price of three of our most popular Gold Medal winning Hermitage Cognacs and there is still FREE delivery in the UK for orders over £100.  Enjoy!

  • The Charente Scene - Spring 2020

    SpringOver the years we have built many relationships with suppliers and friends in the Charente and particularly in Grande Champagne. Although it is some months since we have been able to travel to France, we still talk frequently to them by phone and they, like ourselves, are having to cope with the difficulties that the coronavirus has created this Spring. Cognac producers and bottlers are having to prove that they are producing to get paid as the French authorities are worried about the cost to the country. Talking to one organisation, their concern is the receipt of orders as much of their business comes from the Far East. However, they are delighted to have received their first orders from Taiwan and Japan. Delivering orders is another challenge as European distribution organisations are finding that crossing borders takes longer than usual. All the big houses are continuing to bottle and ship cognac, except Hennessy. Their employees have gone on strike for safer working conditions. The industry has so far lost sales of over a million cases which of course has affected the side industries such as barrel producers and bottle suppliers.  And if these problems were not enough, many producers woke up at the beginning of March to a covering of snow!  The air force base in Cognac has also been helping during the crisis; 2000 extra staff have been taken on to ship food in and in some cases, cognac out. So, if things get desperate, we can always ask for direct supplies from Cognac to be parachuted in!!!

  • Coronavirus Impact On Trade

    CoronavirusThere cannot be a soul who has not been affected by the current coronavirus pandemic but the On Trade has been hit particularly hard. With pubs and restaurants closed worldwide their future is uncertain. A bitter blow, especially as the ONS recently reported that the number of pubs and bars operating in the UK rose last year for the first time in a decade. Here in the UK staff have been furloughed and emergency legislation has given all commercial properties a 3 month rent reprieve. In other attempts to keep the industry afloat, the WTSA called for the collection of alcohol duty to be suspended for 6 months and denounced the timing of the Scottish government’s move to introduce a bottle deposit return scheme. UK duty did not get suspended, but the government did add off-licences to the list of businesses deemed “essential” during the lockdown.  One trader in Maryland is trying to keep service going by using its pet boxer dog to deliver orders to the public in the carpark.  This follows the WHO advice that pets cannot carry the virus. We have certainly seen some ingenious ways to keep businesses running recently. We are all grateful to the many spirits producers who have turned their skills and equipment to making alcoholic hand sanitisers.  Who knows how long the demand for it will go on!?

  • Hand Sanitisers Made From Alcohol

    hand sanitisers The basic ingredient is, of course, alcohol.  For hand sanitisers to work against viruses, such as the Coronavirus, the alcohol content must be at least 60%.  Ethanol alcohol (also called ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol, drinking alcohol, or simply alcohol), mixed with aloe vera gel are the basic ingredients but some hand gels also contain scented oils to make them more pleasant to use.  Commercially, iso propyl alcohol (IPA), which is almost identical to ethanol alcohol, is used since it can be purchased at much higher strengths.

    Ethanol is produced by distillation.  The legal alcohol range in the second distillation of cognac is between 67 – 72.4 degrees so at this stage it is suitable for making hand sanitisers.  That said, the quantity of aloe vera which can be added is not as great as sanitisers made with IPA.  Hermitage Cognacs often come at natural strength and many of them have an alcoholic strength considerably higher than the minimum (40%) used by many commercial cognac houses.

    As is the case with all hand sanitisers at the moment, they should never be used as a replacement for washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

  • FREE DELIVERY on all UK Orders over £100

    free deliveryWe are open for business as usual so you can send a special gift or birthday present to a loved one you cannot visit or treat yourself during this particularly difficult time at home. We have wonderful French cognac, armagnac and calvados for every year of birth from 1928 to 2002 and we are taking all the recommended hygiene precautions when handling bottles and packaging.  If you have any questions please call the office number (01225 863988) as usual.

    To make your life a little bit easier we are giving FREE DELIVERY on all UK orders over £100 including VAT, until restrictions are lifted.  Please be aware that although we are able to process orders within 1 working day, Parcelforce are not able to guarantee their normal delivery times at present as they are prioritising delivery of essential medical and food items to the most vulnerable. Our deliveries to America may also be delayed, by up to 10 days, due to a shortage of flights.

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