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cognac bottles

  • 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.

  • Bottle Sizes

    Bottle SizesThere is often confusion over cognac bottle sizes. In fairness, there are many different shapes available today which generally hold recognized and approved quantities. But this hasn’t always been the case.  Until the middle of the last century spirit measurements were in imperial quantities and measured in fluid ounces. This was largely because most suppliers were from Britain and even the big cognac houses, such as Hennessy and Martell, had British controlling interest.

    In the mid-twentieth century though, it all changed to metric so that the UK could align itself with the rest of Europe.  The 70cl bottle was born and became the accepted size except in America, where the wine bottle quantity of 75cl was adopted. If this wasn’t confusing enough, a magnum of cognac became the same as a magnum of wine (150cl).  So, although a magnum of wine is twice the size of a wine bottle, this does not apply for spirits.    Further variations occur when cognac houses use handmade bottles (which vary very slightly in size) for special presentations.  These should all contain 70cl but, in order to keep fill levels consistent, some lucky customers may actually receive 1 or 2cl more.

    If climatic conditions change, fill levels become another variant.  Cognac, like other spirits, expands and contracts according to temperature.  Alcohol and bottle quantities are initially measured at 20 degrees Celsius, but on a hot day, the level in a full bottle may appear higher than one that has been stored in a cool place.

    In France, the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), the controlling body of cognac, allows the following sizes: 10cl, 20cl, 35cl, 50cl, 70cl, 75cl (America only), 100cl and 150cl. However, some much older bottles that we have seen contain half pints, pints, imperial quarts, imperial half gallons, imperial three-quarter gallons and 25 quarts (storage jars).  So, if you want to size up a bottle, it’s probably best to check the quantity, you can usually find it in the bottom corner of the front label!

  • Chapters of Ampersand Et No 1

    Cognac bottle Chapters of Ampersand Et No 1

    There is always someone in the  cognac industry  trying to come up with a really eye-catching design and the Chapters of Ampersand Et No 1 is certainly that.  Made from Swedish crystal the bottle was designed by Goran Warff of Kosta Boda.  Renowned throughout the world for his crystal art creations, he was joined on the project by Folke Andersson, the brains behind Gronstedts Cognac.  Tiffon Cognac’s Maitre de Chai, Richard Braastad, was the creator of the contents - a blend of some Grande Champagne vintages (presumably not Tiffon’s own as they are based in Fins Bois) with some 1870 pre-Phylloxera.   Only 300 bottles have been produced and each carries a price tag of £5950.  There is no doubt that its ‘chilli pepper’ appearance would make quite a talking point but so to, we reckon, would be the difficulty of pouring it!

    At Hermitage Cognacs we use the traditional 'Exception' bottle, or a carafe, to give a professional appearance and 'pourability'!  Take a look at our range here.