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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Cognac

Cocktail of the Week: the Sazerac

Today, we’re making a cocktail with its heart in old Louisiana. Like an Old Fashioned but with a French twist, it’s the drink of New Orleans. It is, of course,…

Today, we’re making a cocktail with its heart in old Louisiana. Like an Old Fashioned but with a French twist, it’s the drink of New Orleans. It is, of course, the Sazerac!

New Orleans, with its blend of French, Spanish, British, African, and Native American cultures, is a rich place for drinks. It’s the home of the Hurricane, and the city’s old town gives its name to the Vieux Carré. But against such stiff competition, it’s the Sazerac that is the definitive New Orleans cocktail. So much so that in 2008 the Louisiana Legislature proclaimed it as the city’s official cocktail. 

Who invented the Sazerac?

It was probably invented in 1838 by Antoine Peychaud, a Louisiana apothecary and inventor of the eponymous bitters. The Sazerac was named after a now defunct brand of Cognac: Sazerac de Forge et Fils. The Sazerac was originally made just with brandy but when the vineyards of Europe were destroyed by phylloxera (the vine-eating louse that came originally from America) in the late nineteenth century, bourbon or rye whiskeys were used instead. 

Now it gets a bit confusing because there is now a highly-regarded make of rye whiskey named after the famous cocktail. The Sazerac Company also owns Buffalo Trace bourbon, Southern Comfort and Peychaud’s bitters so they have the Cajun cocktail game sewn up. 

To further confuse matters, the Sazerac company launched its own brand of Cognac in 2020 called Seignette VS. And to make things even more complicated, it has now revived the Sazerac de Forge Cognac brand. So the Sazerac brand will be returning to its French roots. 

New Orleans

It’s like a French Old Fashioned

The Sazerac cocktail is part of the Old Fashioned family. A mixture of alcohol, usually brandy or whiskey, sweetened with sugar, seasoned with bitters and chilled, these would have originally just been known as ‘cocktails’. That’s before the great vermouth revolution when all kinds of new-fashioned drinks like the Martini and Manhattan usurped the name cocktail.

Eric Felten, in his great How’s Your Drink, writes: “It may not be the World’s Strongest Drink, but the Sazerac with its spicy-sweet contradictions, is a cocktail according to the original specifications. Taste one, and you’ll realise why the concept caught on.” According to him, the best Sazerac in the world is made at the Library Lounge of the Ritz Carlton in New Orleans.

Aniseed haters avoid

The Sazerac’s uniqueness lies in the addition of aniseed in the form of absinthe to the simple Old Fashioned recipe, and that it is stirred down and strained rather than served on the rocks. Beware, it’s not a drink for those who don’t like aniseed. So all you aniseed haters out there, avoid. Instead of absinthe, you could use pastis or Herbsaint, a New Orleans aniseed liqueur which it won’t surprise you to learn is also owned by Sazerac. Almost nobody will know the difference. But whatever you do, you must use Peychaud’s bitters or it isn’t a Sazerac. 

Finally, do you use Cognac as in the original recipe or rye as they do at the Library Lounge? Well, I’m going for both, using Seignette VS Cognac and the magnificent Oxford Rye cos it’s what I have in the house. And it’s magnificent. You could keep it on brand by using Sazerac Straight Rye, and save yourself some money.

Whichever you use, the spice of the rye does something magical with the fruit from a vibrant young Cognac. Add a dash of aniseed and some Peychaud’s bitters, and suddenly you’re in the French quarter of New Orleans with the sound of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band floating on the breeze. 

Homemade New Orleans Sazerac Cocktail with Bitters and Rye

How to make a Sazerac

30ml Seignette VS Cognac
30ml Oxford Rye Whiskey Batch 4 or Sazerac Straight Rye
Teaspoon of sugar
Tablespoon of absinthe or Ricard Pastis
Dash of Peychaud’s bitters
Dash of Angostura bitters

Coat a tumbler with the absinthe and shake it out. Then in a shaker stir together the brandy, whiskey, bitters and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Add ice and stir vigorously for about 30 seconds. Strain into the absinthe coated glass and serve with a twist of lemon.

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New Arrival of the Week: Delamain Pale and Dry XO

One of the world’s classic bottlings, Delamain Pale and Dry XO, has been reformulated. But there’s no need to panic, the Cognac house hasn’t lowered the ABV, quite the opposite…

One of the world’s classic bottlings, Delamain Pale and Dry XO, has been reformulated. But there’s no need to panic, the Cognac house hasn’t lowered the ABV, quite the opposite in fact. We give the new version a little try.

If you’re a regular on our website, you’ll notice a theme of some of the reviews from our customers: so and so bottling isn’t as good since they lowered the ABV, began chill filtering, added colour and/ or sweetener, or all four. Gin drinkers of an earlier generation still remember that black day in 1992 when Gordon’s lowered there’s to 37.5% ABV. Though it seems to not have had much effect on Gordon’s sales.

New formula

Still, it’s nice when things move the other way. Like with Delamain Pale and Dry XO. It celebrated its 100th-anniversary last year and to celebrate, the house fine-tuned the blend a little. As before it only contains fruit from premier cru vineyards within Grand Champagne but now contains more from the aptly-named Bellevigne, where Delamain has recently begun cultivating fruit again. At the moment, however, Delamain, like many Cognac houses, works on a negociant model, buying in and ageing eau-de-vie.

Another thing that has changed is that the blend is now done earlier so the component parts have longer to marry and crucially it is now bottled at a higher ABV, 42%, with no colouring or syrup added. Previously, at 40% ABV, a little caramel was added for consistency and syrup sometimes added depending on the batch. According to cellar master Dominique Touteau, who celebrated 40 years with the firm last year, this higher alcohol brings out the natural sweetness. 

Delamain_Cellar 002

Cognacs at Delamain are so valuable they have to be kept behind bars

The Irish connection

Delamain has a long history: it dates back to 1759 when James Delamain went into the Cognac business with his father-in-law Jean-Isaac Ranson. Like many Cognac dynasties, there’s an Irish or British connection, the Delamain family were French protestants who had been living in Ireland since the 17th century.

In 2017, the firm was bought by Bollinger, something Rebecca Montgomery, brand education and strategic partnerships manager, described as “perfect marriage”, but it is still run by a direct descendant of James Delamain: Charles Braastad. Now that the firm has begun working vines again, for the first time since 1910, the team is looking to own some too so that eventually it will have complete control of the entire process, though good vineyards in Grand Champagne don’t come on the market very often.

Fine cognacs

The firm doesn’t produce anything below XO level. Minimum six years old but in the case of Delamain, much older. At the pinnacle of the range is the amazing Pléiade collection which includes a bottling that is over 50 years old. These are very special brandies to savour.

But Pale and Dry XO is Delamain’s flagship bottling. It has long been a British favourite. The emphasis is very much on the fruit rather than the oak. It’s a Cognac for lovers of white Burgundy or Champagne, which is perhaps why it is so popular among the wine trade. Its delicate subtle nature means that it really should be drunk neat but you could use it in a particularly decadent brandy and soda. No Christmas drinks cabinet should be without a bottle.

Delamain Pale and Dry XO (50cl) is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

Delamain Pale and Dry XO

Tasting note for Delamain Pale and Dry XO

Nose: Very fruity with fresh peaches and orange blossom, with hints of vanilla, leather and dried apricots.

Palate: A distinct wine-like taste. Peppery with stone fruit and a hint of menthol. Light body but not a light flavour.

Finish: Long and tangy with orange peel and vanilla. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Sidecar

This week we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of one of the world’s great cocktails. A simple combination of Remy Martin Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, it is, of course, the…

This week we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of one of the world’s great cocktails. A simple combination of Remy Martin Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, it is, of course, the Sidecar!

Cas Oh in his Co Specs cocktail book calls the Sidecar “the pre-eminent Cognac cocktail.” And who are we to argue with a Fortnum and Mason drink writing award winner? What I love about his book is it’s not only a great guide to making drinks, it tells you how cocktail writers from the past make theirs, before giving his definitive take on things. It’s 100 cocktail books in one, and so it’s quickly proving my starting point when I’m researching a drink, like the Sidecar.

The history of the Sidecar

The Sidecar is thought to have been invented in 1921 so celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. It first appeared in print in 1922, mentioned in both Robert Vermiere’s Cocktails: How to Mix Them and the ABC of Mixing Cocktails by Harry MacLehone of Harry’s Bar in Paris Fame. Both attribute it to Pat McGarry at Buck’s Club in London who also created the Buck’s Fizz. Incidentally, Buck’s was the model for Drones, Bertie Wooster’s riotous club in the P.G. Wodehouse’s novels. Along with the Brandy & Soda, the Sidecar seems to me to be about the most Woosterish cocktail out there. 

I’d always assumed the name came from a motorbike’s sidecar but according to Dale Degroff it comes from bartender slang for any leftovers from making a cocktail which might be served in a shot glass alongside the drink – a sidecar. Degroff, a legendary New York bartender, is also known as the King of Cocktails so that’s someone else we’re not going to argue with. 

Part of the Sour family

The Sidecar is essentially a Brandy Sour that gets its sweetening element from triple sec orange liqueur which has to be the most misnamed liquor as it’s not dry (sec) at all, it’s very sweet.  You could make it with Grand Marnier, which is made with Cognac, for that double Cognac hit. But we’re keeping things classic with Cointreau.

As with many of the simplest cocktails, there’s much disagreement as to the correct proportions to use. Some early recipes call for equal parts brandy, lemon juice, and Cointreau which is going to give you a very sweet n’ sour experience. Harry Craddock in The Savoy Cocktail Book calls for a 3:1:1 ratio, which is the one Oh plumps for. Whereas David Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks goes for 8:2:1, the same as a Daiquiri. I’m using a 3:2:1 ratio but crucially, I’m not frosting the glass with sugar so even with the extra Cointreau it’s not going to be too sweet. 

Then it’s just a question of which Cognac to use. Obviously, you’re not going to use your finest vintage Grand Champagne but you do want quality as it’s the principal ingredient. I’m a big fan of the Remy Martin 1738 Accord Royal – a rich, smooth, and full-bodied Cognac that really over-delivers for its sub £50 price tag. It’s a great all-rounder, complex enough to sip on its own and beefy enough to mix with lemon juice and Cointreau without getting lost.

Right, let’s get shaking!

Remy Martin Sidecar

How to make a Sidecar

30ml of Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal*
20ml of Cointreau
10ml of fresh lemon juice

Add all the ingredients to a shaker filled with ice. Give it a good shake, then strain into a coupe glass and garnish with an orange peel for a rich flavour or lemon peel for freshness.

*At the time of writing your bottle of Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal comes with a free 5cl bottle of Cointreau, while stocks last. 

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Master of Malt Week exclusive: Hermitage Grand Champagne Cognac 1975

The Master of Malt Week train rolls on with another exclusive. Today, it’s a Grand Champagne Cognac 1975 bottled by Hermitage. We talk to the man behind, Mr Cognac himself,…

The Master of Malt Week train rolls on with another exclusive. Today, it’s a Grand Champagne Cognac 1975 bottled by Hermitage. We talk to the man behind, Mr Cognac himself, David Baker!

David Baker from Hermitage has one of the best jobs in booze sniffing out rare old Cognacs. With his unerring palate, not to mention unrivalled list of contacts throughout the region, he’s brought some astonishing brandies to Master of Malt customers over the years. Including one from 1885 which Baker described as “beyond perfect.”

Cognac-sniffer extraordinaire 

It was an even older bottle, an 1840 A.E Dor at a hotel in Monaco, that turned David Baker (above) on to the magic of Cognac. It sparked off a great love affair. In 1987 he set up his own business, Hermitage Cognacs, to showcase the finest, rarest and oldest brandies that the region has to offer. Normally, he divides his time between Bath and Segonzac but he hasn’t been over to France for some time because of Covid.

Baker mainly buys from Grande Champagne, considered the finest part of Cognac, as well as Petite Champagne and Borderies. He bottles brandies from individual producers and much of what he sells is vintage. “There’s a growing need for vintages,” he said. Now, I’ve been doing this for 30 years and what I’ve always tried to do is get to a situation whereby we can actually talk to people about individual Cognacs rather than Cognac as a whole.”

Finding these vintage Cognacs is not an easy business. Baker’s experience and reputation help him sniff out the rare barrels, and he’s reluctant to reveal his sources. He did tell me about one producer who usually only sells to Rémy Martin but keeps a little of the best stuff back for the family. Persuading a producer such as this to sell his rarest brandies is a little like asking someone to part with precious heirlooms. He knows that the family treasures will be in safe hands with Baker.

Hermitage 1975

Fewer than 50 bottles in existence

One such treasure is this 1975 Grand Champagne of which there are fewer than 50 bottles in existence and Master of Malt has the lot (apart from a couple Baker has kept back for himself.) He cannot be sure of the exact provenance. “This particular Cognac came from somebody who had bought Cognacs from other people. He bought it years and years ago. Kept it in its cellar, and he decided he would sell it to us. Came from a distillery, but he can’t remember where”, he explained. Or perhaps the owner just didn’t want to tell. 

But on tasting, Baker immediately knew it was something special. “When you  try a good Cognac like this you know instantly,” he said “It has a lovely softness and balance to it.” It’s balance more than anything that he’s after. He went on to describe the taste “cloves, turmeric, blackberry, Macadamia nuts, thyme and rosemary, even flavours like white truffle. It impressed me straight away.” Baker is convinced that it comes from the central or southern part of Grand Champagne, apparently the citrussy note is a giveaway.

It was bottled earlier this year  at 43% ABV by Hermitage in Segonzac with no filtering and nothing added. So what we have here is an extremely rare, nearly 50 year old spirit of astonishing quality and it comes in at under £400. Baker explained: “We try very hard to put them out at reasonable prices.” We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, vintage Cognac is ridiculously underpriced compared with single malt Scotch whisky. But don’t tell everyone, or the prices will start to go up. 

Hermitage 1975 Grand Champagne Cognac is only available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

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Fanny Fougerat: championing a different side of Cognac

Fanny Fougerat is on a mission to make your rethink everything you know about Cognac. So we caught up with the maverick producer to find out how she created a unique…

Fanny Fougerat is on a mission to make your rethink everything you know about Cognac. So we caught up with the maverick producer to find out how she created a unique brand, why Cognac needs to change its messaging, and how she makes her voice heard among the big houses.

Fanny Fougerat is not the first in her family to make Cognac. Four previous generations would distill and then sell their eau-de-vie to the big houses like Martell or Remy Martin that dominate the category and region. These brands simply don’t have enough vineyards to make enough wine to supply their demand. Out of the independent 4,300-or-so growers in Cognac, only 300 bottle their own Cognac, and it makes up less than 1% of the category’s global sales each year. 

Fougerat was the first to step out on her own and do something different. Something radically different. Her background may have given her a foot in the door, but as one of the few women leading a Cognac brand, she’s kicked it wide open by founding her own brand with an aim to make transparent, distinctive, and terroir-driven Cognac.

“I was traveling and what I saw of Cognac was not what I knew from being inside the industry. I saw it being presented as a very boring, old, and luxurious spirit just for a grandfather. It’s not that. It’s the best spirit in the world,” Fougerat explains. “We make amazing wine first and nobody speaks of it. Just about blending. We have terroir. We have cru. We have millesime. I wanted to redefine how things work”. 

Fanny Fougerat

Meet Fanny Fougerat

The Cognac Fougerat creates showcases the unique nature of each vineyard and harvest, how the temperature, the slopes, the soil, the climate, and all of those different factors come through in the wines and then in the Cognacs. She never blends her spirit. “It’s very important not to blend because otherwise I will be just doing the same thing as the rest of the industry,” Fougerat says. “What I wanted to show was how, when all of your parcels are all the same grape varietals (Ugni Blanc) but grown in different areas, you demonstrate how important every single stage is and how much your spirit is a product of the land and the wine you make”. 

She and her partner farm 30 HA of Ugni Blanc, primarily in Borderies but also in Fin Bois.  The former is the smallest cru in the region and the floral, elegant eaux-de-vie its grapes make is extremely well-regarded. The soil is primarily made up of clay and limestone complete with ideal drainage, sun exposure, and deep root development, making it is extremely well sought after. The Fins Bois soil is made up of silt, clay, and sand, which produces very fresh fruity eau-de-vie that has complexity at a young age. There’s also diversity in her vines: some are 90-years-old, some are three.

A significant part of the story Fougerat tells about her brand is rooted in the quality of the wine because she believes that in Cognac everybody knows how to distill well but focuses too much on this stage. “If you don’t have good wine at first, you won’t have a good spirit. The vinification and also the distillation is made separately so we know what kind of terroir is making what kind of wine. When harvesting our grapes we’re very careful and ensure a good balance between acidity and maturity because after the vinification as we don’t add sulphur, so we have to ensure the acidity of the grapes is present to preserve it properly during the winter before distillation”.

Fanny Fougerat

Fanny Fougerat is all about showcasing what grows here

The fermentation process Fougerat uses takes five to six days, which she categorises as being swift enough to preserve the aromas of the liquid. The wine is then double-distilled in a Charentais Alembic heated with direct fire, not steam. Fougerat says her system is to keep only what is interesting and that she distills on the lees when appropriate. “For the Borderie wine, we distill without the lees because I try to show the minerality and the floral aspect. But for the Le Laurier d’Apollon or for the Petite Cigüe, these are sweeter and fruity so to add body we use lees,” she explains. 

There’s great care taken with regards to her wood programme as Fougerat is keen that the flavours the Limousin and Troncais casks bring don’t dominate the spirit. Aside from her XO expression, she doesn’t mature the rest of her Cognac for much longer than two years. There’s also no filtration or additional colouring or flavours. “There’s very little done to it, apart from letting it be as natural and as tasty as it is. Each barrel produces about 450 bottles and each one is unique unto themselves. That’s why every bottle we release is labelled with the barrel and bottle number”.  

Since the first bottling of a Cognac to be sold under the Fanny Fougerat brand name was launched in November of 2013, the brand has been slowly growing. Bartenders and sommeliers understand it – the challenge has been convincing consumers. “Once people try it, they really do fall in love with it,” Fougerat says. “But the message for the last however many decades has been that Cognac is what the bigger houses say it is. Nobody can really hear us because Hennessy sells 60 million cases per year. We’re trying to champion Cognac as a category, but also elevate and change how it’s perceived. When people taste something like Petite Cigüe for example, they’ll turn around and say ‘that’s not Cognac’. It’s a frustrating, but also very rewarding process of opening people’s eyes to what Cognac as a category can be. We’re getting there”. 

Fanny Fougerat

I highly recommend you explore this remarkable range

I certainly hope the message is received, because I love this brand. This is modern, innovative and truly craft Cognac that tells the story of how it’s made and is unlike a lot of Cognac I’ve tried. From the vibrant, fresh and fruity Petite Cigüe Cognac to the richer, spicy and refined Le Laurier d’Apollon and the foral, sweet and citrusy Iris Poivré XO, the range is a journey through different styles, flavours and approaches with each achieving its desired profile. This is a different side of Cognac I’m keen to see more of.

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Top ten bottles from independent distilleries

This week we’re celebrating the small fish, the mavericks, the start-ups and the long-established family businesses of the drinks industry. From single malt whisky to craft gin, here are our…

This week we’re celebrating the small fish, the mavericks, the start-ups and the long-established family businesses of the drinks industry. From single malt whisky to craft gin, here are our top ten bottles from independent distilleries.

It’s not easy being an indie in a drinks industry dominated by giants like Diageo, Pernod Ricard or Beam Suntory. These behemoths have marketing budgets bigger than some countries. How do you compete with that? Then there’s always the possibility that one of the big boys will make you an offer you can’t refuse. Pernod Ricard, in particular, seems to be constantly snapping up craft gin distilleries.

Yet, we’re glad that so many independent distillers are not only surviving but thriving. They are able to react more quickly than the giants, be more individual, or just do things as they’ve always done without having to worry about shareholders.

An independent could be a hungry start-up bursting with innovation, or a family business that’s been honing its craft for generations. Either way, you’re getting something a bit different when you go independent. So, we’ve rounded up some of our favourites from the world of whisky, gin, rum, Cognac and Tequila. Let’s raise a glass to the small fish of the drinks industry!

Top ten bottles from independent distilleries

edradour-10-year-old-whisky

Edradour 10 Year Old 

Edradour is one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries and at the heart of the range, this 10 year old Eastern Highlander is a highly distinctive single malt, a decidedly rum-like dram with a thick mouthfeel. The distillery’s methods of production remain virtually unchanged in the last 150 years, and we can see why. If it ain’t broke and all that. This single malt’s decade of ageing was spent in a combination of Oloroso sherry and bourbon casks. This is one sherry monster and we love it.

drumshanbo-single-pot-still-inaugural-release-whiskey

Drumshanbo Single Pot Still

The single malt still is Ireland’s great gift to the whiskey world. Until recently, if you wanted some of that creamy magic, there was only one game in town, Irish Distillers. Now though, independent distillers are beginning to release spirits like this splendid one from Drumshanbo. The mash bill is a mixture of malted and unmalted barley with 5% Barra oats. It’s triple distilled before being matured in a combination of Kentucky bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks, making for a glorious balance of cream and spice.

Wilderness Trail Bourbon

Wilderness Trail Single Barrel Bourbon

Many small American whiskey brands buy in spirits from larger distillers. Wilderness Trail, however, did things the hard way when the founders Shane Baker and Pat Heist (great name) built their own distillery at Danville, Kentucky in 2013. This Single Barrel release is made from a mash bill of 64% corn, 24% wheat and 12% malted barley, aged in toasted and charred barrels. It’s also bottled in bond, meaning that, as laid out in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, it must be aged between five and six years and bottled under the supervision of the U.S. Government at 100 proof, or 50% ABV in British English.

Hayman's London Dry Gin & Tonic

Hayman’s London Dry Gin

The Hayman family are descended from James Burrough, the founder of Beefeater Gin. They have been distilling for five generations but it’s only in recent years that the family name has appeared on bottles. These days, their gin is produced in Balham in South London (following the Hayman’s base of operations moving from Essex in 2018), only four miles from where the company was founded by Burroughs. This classic London Dry Gin is produced to a family recipe which is over 150 years old but the company also makes innovative products like the fiendishly clever Small Gin.

Masons-Gin

Masons Dry Yorkshire Gin

Mason’s is back from the brink. In April 2019, the distillery burnt to the ground in a freak fire. It was utterly destroyed. But founders Catherine and Carl Mason did not give up. They had their gin made at another distillery before rebuilding and reopening in 2020 (read more about the story here). Their distinctive London Dry Gin uses Harrogate spring water along with juniper, a proportion of which is from their own bushes, and a combination of secret botanicals including citrus, fennel and cardamom. Produced in small batches, each bottle has hand written batch and bottle numbers.

Botanivore Gin

St. George Botanivore Gin 

As you might be able to tell from our visit in 2019, we’re pretty keen on everything from California distilling pioneers St. George. The team makes whiskey, vodka, various types of gin, liqueurs, eaux-de-vie and more. But we can only pick one thing so we’ve gone for the Botanivore Gin. It’s made with 19 different botanicals, including angelica root, bay laurel, coriander, Seville orange peel, star anise and juniper berries, among others. It’s like a greenhouse in a bottle.  This would make a superb Martini with just a splash of vermouth and a green olive.

O Reizinho Rum

O Reizinho 3 Year Old (That Boutique-y Rum Company) 

This has proved a hit with customers and staff alike. It’s a rum from the Portuguese island of Madeira, located off the coast of West Africa, made by O Reizinho and bottled by our very own That Boutique-y Rum Company. The distillery uses fresh sugar cane rather than molasses so expect lots of vegetal funkiness with green banana, olive and red chilli, tamed somewhat by three years in oak barrels bringing toffee, vanilla and peanuts to the party. And what a party it is! This is now the second batch; only 1936 50cl bottles were filled at 52.6% ABV. 

Scratch Patience Rum

Scratch Patience Rum

British rum, distilled in Hertfordshire by one man spirits maverick Doug Miller. Read more about him here. A great deal of patience has gone into this one. The rum is double distilled, spending time in whisky casks between distillations, before further maturation in ex-bourbon and new oak casks. Finally, the matured rums are blended for perfect balance and bottled in small batches. Wonderful stuff, expect flavours of toffee and butter fudge, tropical hints of banana with rich, oaky vanilla, combined with dried fruits and soft wood spice prickle. It just goes to show that patience does pay off!

Frapin 1270

Frapin 1270 Cognac 

Whereas most Cognac is made from bought-in grapes, wine or eau-de-vie, Frapin only uses fruit from the family’s estates in the Grand Champagne region. They ferment and distill everything themselves too. After distillation, 1270 was matured for six months in new oak barrels and then moved to older casks for extended ageing. The name is something of a tribute to the long history of Frapin. A refined and fruity Cognac that was created by Frapin to work as an aperitif, served over ice, or as a base for cocktails. 

Tequila Fortaleza

Fortaleza Tequila Reposado 

The brand Fortaleza was launched comparatively recently, back in 2005, but Guillermo Sauza’s family have been making Tequila for five generations. Apparently his ancestor, Don Cenobio, was the first person to export “mezcal de tequila” to the United States, shorten the name to simply ‘Tequila’, use steam to cook the agave rather than an earthen pit, and specify blue agave as the best to use. Quite a legacy! This reposado bottling spends a short time in ex-bourbon barrels where it takes on popcorn, caramel and wood spice to go alongside those fruity, herbal agave flavours. 

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Top ten Cognacs for Father’s Day

Cognac makes a wonderful present for awkward fathers. So to help you narrow down the choice, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite bottles, from easy mixers to serious after…

Cognac makes a wonderful present for awkward fathers. So to help you narrow down the choice, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite bottles, from easy mixers to serious after dinner sippers. Here are ten Cognacs for Father’s Day.

Lovers of malt whisky or aged rum should really be exploring the Cognac region. If old sherried single malts like Glenfarclas or Macallan float your boat, then you’ll love long-aged vintage or XO Cognac. If Spanish-style rums are more your thing, then you’ll love some fruity VSOPs. Love cocktails? Well, you’ll need a good VS to make a Sazerac, Horse’s Neck etc.

You don’t need to spend the earth, there’s a Cognac for everyone but if you do want to splash out, there are vintage Cognacs available that make Scotch whisky prices look distinctly silly.

Cognac is usually a blended spirit. Giant merchants houses like Hennessy or Remy Martin buy in spirits and age and blend them. Producers are allowed to sweeten and add boise (oak essence). There are also smaller producers who produce Cognacs from their own vineyards as well as companies that specialise in bottling rare casks of mature Cognac. Most Cognac will come with a designation like VS, VSOP or XO (see below) but there are some rare vintage brandies available. 

The region just north of Bordeaux is divided into six parts: Grand Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fin Bois, Bon Bois, Bois Ordinaires. The first two are the most highly-regarded but you can find spirits of real character and style from all the sub-regions. About 90% of grapes grown are Ugni Blanc.

Right, that’s enough information. Without further ado, here are ten cognac for Father’s Day. If your old man doesn’t like one of these, is he even a booze enthusiast?

Here are our top ten Cognacs for Father’s Day

seignette-vs-cognac

Seignette VS

Fun, fruity and a little sweet, this is the perfect mixing Cognac. It’s a revival of an old brand recently relaunched by the Sazerac company. So yes Sazeracs are very much in order with this one, but it also makes a mean Brandy and Soda, and others. VS stands for Very Special and means that it has been aged for a minimum of two years but will contain older spirits. 

chateau-de-montifaud-vsop-petite-champagne-cognac

Château de Montifaud VSOP Petite Champagne

Château de Montifaud has been in the Vallet family for six generations. All their Cognacs come from the Petite Champagne region. The young eaux-de-vie spend a year in new oak before transferring to older casks to mature. This is much older than most VSOP brandies and it shows in its exceptional smoothness and length with lingering notes of apricots, pears and almonds. 

hine-rare-vsop

Hine Rare VSOP 

VSOP stands for Very Special Old Pale and has to be aged for a minimum of four years though Hine prides itself on ageing much longer. It only uses fruit from the Grande and Petite Champagne regions, including grapes from Hine’s own vineyards. This shows off the fruity elegant Hine house style to the max. When you buy a bottle before 20 June 2021 you will be entered into a competition to win a trip to visit Maison Hine! Full details here.

Leyrat vsop-premium-cognac

Leyrat VSOP Reserve

Cognac Leyrat comes from the Domaine de Chez Maillard estate and uses fruit from the Fine Bois region. The family really looks after their vines using no artificial fertilisers etc. and all the grapes are picked by hand. After ageing in French oak for a minimum of four years, there are no additions except water to bring it down to drinking strength. The result is a floral, fresh Cognac that really reflects its origins. 

jean-fillioux-tres-vieux-cognac

Jean Fillioux Très Vieux XO 

This is an XO but it’s much older than the minimum six years. This small house makes some of the most highly-regarded spirits in the region – the Très Vieux took a double gold medal at the San Francisco spirits competition in 2016. Expect orchard fruits with candied peels, spice and Madeira on the nose, with honey, marmalade and spicy oak on the palate. 

delamain-pale-and-dry-xo-cognac

Delamain Pale and Dry XO 

Using only grapes from the Grand Champagne region, Delamain Pale and Dry has long been a favourite, particularly among the British wine trade who appreciated its fragrant, wine-like style. Unusually, for Cognac, it’s bottled with no added sugar or boise, hence why it’s called ‘Pale and Dry’. If you think Cognac is meant to be big and heavy, then think again. This is terribly sophisticated stuff. 

frapin-15-year-old-cask-strength-cognac

Frapin 15 year old cask strength

Though Frapin probably wouldn’t say so, this is aimed at the whisky drinker with its easy-to-understand age statement and its even bottled at cask strength. It’s made only from grapes grown in Grand Champagne, and the resulting eaux-de-vies are aged in both humid and dry cellars, the former for elegance, the latter for bigger flavours. They are then blended together with no additions to create this beauty. 

hermitage-1990-grande-champagne-cognac

Hermitage 1990

Hermitage sniffs out rare parcels of Grand Champagne Cognac including some from the 19th century which are extraordinary experiences with prices to match. This is one of its more affordable offerings and it’s a belter. It’s still in cask so every batch is a little older and better. The nose is all tropical fruits with furniture polish, and then in the mouth there’s that fruit but also marzipan, butterscotch and chocolate. It’s also a bargain – think of what Macallan would charge for a 31 year old whisky. 

martell-cordon-bleu-cognac

Martell Cordon Bleu XO

A multi-award-winning classic from one of the big boys of Cognac. It was originally created by Edouard Martell in 1912. Apparently, the recipe hasn’t changed since then. It’s made up of over 150 eaux-de-vie with the majority coming from one of the lesser known Cognac regions: the Borderies. The result is a rich luxurious Cognac packed full of roasted nuts, chocolate and dried fruits. 

hennessy-xo-cognac

Hennessy XO 

Hennessy is the original XO. The designation meaning Extra Old was first bottled for family and friends by Maurice Hennessy in 1870 before later being used for commercial releases. An XO must be aged for a minimum of six years. Hennessy’s is blended from 100 eaux-de-vie from the Grande and Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois regions to create a rich and spicy Cognac that would be splendid with a cigar. 

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Win a VIP trip to the House of Hine Cognac

We’re running a very special competition this week for a chance to win a VIP trip to the House of Hine Cognac in France and taste with cellar master Eric…

We’re running a very special competition this week for a chance to win a VIP trip to the House of Hine Cognac in France and taste with cellar master Eric Forget. What a prize!

Maison Hine is situated in an actual house in Jarnac on the banks of the river Charente in the heart of the Cognac region. It’s a beautiful spot where it feels like time has stood still since Thomas Hine, who was originally from Devon, founded the house in the 18th century.

Since then, Hine has become one of the most respected names in Cognac, famous for its elegant spirits and in particular its vintage offerings. The Hine family used to live in the house by the river but it’s now used for entertaining very important friends of the firm. Lucky visitors can enjoy the pool, beautiful grounds, luxurious bedrooms and best of all a library of old Hine vintages stretching back decades.

Win a VIP trip to the House of Hine Cognac

It is very much not open to the public. Hine doesn’t let just anyone visit and you can’t buy your way in. But we’re offering a chance for customers to become very important friends of the firm for two days. You’ll be able to revel in the old-world luxury of the house and enjoy a tasting of rare Cognacs with cellar master Eric Forget. We had the privilege of meeting and tasting with M. Forget in 2019. This is a trip of a lifetime for spirit lovers. We’re a bit jealous, it has to be said. 

House of Hine, Jarnac

The House of Hine on the river Charente

Your trip will include:

– Standard or economy flight travel for two people from any airport in the United Kingdom to Bordeaux;

-Accommodation in Jarnac for two nights for two people.

-A full in-depth tour of the house and historic cellars, a guided tour through the vineyards and at the distillery, the opportunity to taste a wide range of Hine cognacs and meet with Hine cellar master Eric Forget.

-Additional activities such as a barbecue around the pool, canoeing on the river Charente, or a visit to the town of Cognac (time of the year dependant, and subject to availability.)

How to enter:

So how do I become one of these extremely important friends of the firm? Well, it’s very easy. All you have to do is buy a bottle of delicious Hine Rare VSOP Cognac, and you will be automatically entered. That’s it! There are no forms to fill out, hoops to jump through or Krypton Factor-esque mental and physical tests. Phew!

MoM House of Hine Competition 2021 is open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 12:00:01 BST on 1 June to 23:59:59 BST on 20 June 2021. Winners chosen at random after close of competition. Prizes not transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash equivalent. Date and travel restrictions apply. Multiple entries are allowed. Postal route available. See full T&Cs for details.

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The divine truth about the angel’s share

From whisky to Cognac, the concept of the angel’s share, how much liquid a cask loses to evaporation, is one that is unique to every distillery. Millie Milliken takes a…

From whisky to Cognac, the concept of the angel’s share, how much liquid a cask loses to evaporation, is one that is unique to every distillery. Millie Milliken takes a closer look at this costly but vital part of the ageing process. 

It’s true: there are some alcoholic liquids that have nearly swung me in the direction of believing in divinity. And while none have quite got me willingly through the doors of a church on a Sunday (or any other day for that matter), there is one supernatural story that never fails to enchant me – that of the ‘angel’s share’.

A quick question on my sophisticated data collection software (Instagram stories) solicited many a fellow drinks lover telling me where they were the first time they learned about the term: “a trip to Lagavulin on Islay”; “Speyside at Chivas Regal getting the grand tour from the master, Ian Logan”; “Officially? At the Aber Falls distillery”.

Yet a quick poll of my non booze-dwelling friends found that nearly all of them had no idea what I was talking about. So, what is the angel’s share and why does it happen?

Duppy Share

It’s not just angels that love spirits

Give it wings

The angel’s share is the amount of liquid lost from a cask during the ageing process due to evaporation. As a spirit ages, water and alcohol evaporate through the wood’s pores, rising off the cask and are lost into the atmosphere. Or, should I say, to some rather lucky angels.

But it’s not just angels who appreciate ageing spirits. Anyone who has been inside an old distillery may have seen a black substance slick on the walls when they looked heavenwards. This is baudoinia compniacensis, a fungus that thrives on airborne alcohol and as such it is particularly happy in warehouses and distilleries housing spirits. And “in the Caribbean, spirits called ‘duppies’ swoop between the islands taking rum as they go,” said Jack Orr-Ewing, CEO of Caribbean rum brand, The Duppy Share.

Whoever it is enjoying the alcohol, Scotch whiskies on average lose 2% of a cask’s liquid per year. The duppies are even greedier, taking about 7% per year from Caribbean rums. Over time, this can amount to a shockingly high proportion of the distiller’s liquid. On average a VSOP Cognac will have lost over 10% over its life in cask, an XO will have lost 30% and after 50 years ageing, your now extremely expensive Cognac will have lost a staggering 70% of its original liquid (image in header is courtesy of Delamain Cognac).

The Nightcap

The higher up the stack you go, the hotter it gets, and the greater the angel’s share

Location, location, location

There are a multitude of factors that can affect how much the angels get. As well as the strength of the liquid when it enters the cask, climate and temperature are two important ones and depend on the distillery’s location. Casks stored in humid conditions will lose less water and more alcohol than those stored in non-humid ones.

When it comes to temperature, a barrel kept in cold conditions will age slower than one in the hot climes of somewhere like Kentucky. Indeed, some Kentucky whiskies can lose up to 10% of their liquid in the first year while in the Caribbean, rums can lose up to 7%. 

And then there’s the design of the warehouse which can affect ageing and the quality of the resulting liquid. “In Cognac you have a wide range of options,” says Clive Carpenter, general manager of Gérant Domaine Sazerac de Segonzac and creator for Seignette VS Cognac. “New-build warehouses are rather hot and dry because they are made of breezeblocks and are taller which means you’ll get a lot of water evaporation. That produces Cognacs which age faster but are harsher on the taste buds. Old-fashioned warehouses are made of stone, by the river on beaten earth, [so they’ve] got a very humid atmosphere. There you can lose a great deal of alcohol and not much water and if you overdo ageing in a damp warehouse, you get Cognacs that are over flabby.”

Then there’s how the barrels are stored in the warehouse. Airflow is important and in larger warehouses, casks can be stored on racks meaning more air can circulate around then and there is more evaporation. At The Glenlivet in Speyside, according to the website: “we have a traditional (dunnage) warehouse, with a gravel floor and only a small number of casks. This helps us to hold on to liquid as best we can.” In contrast, if the casks are stacked in a Kentucky warehouse, the temperature of the top of the warehouse will be far hotter than at the bottom.

The Glenlivet

Inside a traditional dunnage warehouse at Glenlivet

Cask matters

Cask size and wood type can also affect angel’s share. Brand new oak will absorb more liquid quicker than second-fill casks while smaller casks with more liquid-to-wood contact will encourage more evaporation too. At The Glenlivet, “casks that hold fewer than 50 litres can show really remarkable losses, which also leads to a faster maturation.”

And when we’re talking casks, we’re also talking ‘devil’s cut’. This is the liquid lost to the cask (and not evaporation) depending on how porous the wood is. Jim Beam has even created a Devil’s Cut expression using its 90 proof bourbon and blending it with the absorbed spirit extracted from the barrel.

Angel, duppy or devil, losing a percentage of your liquid is a price every distiller of aged spirits has to pay. If they do exist, sounds like the bar will be well stocked in both heaven and hell.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Horse’s Neck

Today we’re going to the movies with a classic cocktail that features in Charlie Chaplin’s Caught in a Cabaret. The drink in question is the Horse’s Neck, a delightfully simple mixture…

Today we’re going to the movies with a classic cocktail that features in Charlie Chaplin’s Caught in a Cabaret. The drink in question is the Horse’s Neck, a delightfully simple mixture of brandy, ginger ale, and bitters, garnished with an all-important spiral of lemon.

We’ve just been sent a new book which has been keeping us amused for hours. It’s the new edition of Cocktail at the Movies by Will Francis and illustrated by Stacey Marsh. Highlights include from Cocktail, inevitably, probably the most ‘80s drinks ever made, the Turquoise Blue, from Casablanca, a French 75, and you can probably guess the cocktail that features in ‘80s Mel Gibson snorefest Tequila Sunrise.

Cocktails_of_the_Movies_engl_213838_300dpi
Charlie Chaplin with adorable dachshund

But we’re going  way back with our Cocktail of the Week, way back to 1914 and the release of a Charlie Chaplin picture called Caught in a Cabaret which features a classic concoction called the Horse’s Neck. Before we get into the cocktail, we’ll tell you about the film.

It features Charlie Chaplin, with adorable dachshund, trying to court a society girl called Mabel (that’s her in the header by Stacey Marsh) played by silent screen star Mabel Normand, who also wrote and directed the film. The problem is Mabel already has a boyfriend and Chaplin is just a lowly waiter pretending to be the prime minister of Greenland. As you do.

Mabel orders a refreshing drink

The drinks scene in question is described in the book:

“It’s such a scorching hot day that Charlie’s dachshund – who is, as he says, ‘built too near to the hot sidewalk’ – needs cooling off. An inevitable caper ensues as Charlie tries to hydrate the hound in a fresh spring by the road. He falls into a shrubbery, loses the dog and causes uproar when he pushes over the boy returning his furry friend. All the while society girl Mabel is preparing for her ‘coming-out party’ and in the hot midday sun she sensibly asks for a Horse’s Neck to be mixed for her before embarking on her afternoon stroll. As she enters the woods with her beau, it’s a stick-up! But an unlikely hero appears in the form of bumbling Charlie, who bravely saves Mabel and earns himself a ‘tête-à-tête’ at the young debutante’s chic chateau.”

You can see it from 5.49 thanks to the miracle of Youtube:

History of the Horse’s Neck

The Horse’s Neck has a long pedigree. It’s part of the Highball family of drinks: booze,  ice, something fizzy and in a tall glass. Originally though, it was made without alcohol except a dash of bitters and dates back to the 1890s. It gets its name from the long strand of lemon peel curling out of the glass that apparently looks a bit like a horse’s neck. 

Eventually, someone had the brilliant idea of adding a spirit to it thus making it 100 times better. The Horse’s Neck might have originated in America but was taken to heart by the Royal Navy in the 20th century where it displaced the Pink Gin as the drink of choice for officers. At naval functions known as Cockers P’s (cocktail parties), guests would be offered a choice of an HN or a G&T.  Ian Fleming describes it in the 1966 James Bond novel Octopussy as a drunkard’s drink. But don’t let that put you off.

Over the years, the Horse’s Neck has proved a popular cocktail in cinema cropping up in Fred Astraire film Top Hat, with Humphrey Bogart in A Lonely Place and rather less glamorously alongside George Formby in No Limit (1935).

Horse's Neck

A nice refreshing Horse’s Neck (Photo credit: Bitters by Brad Thomas Parsons, published by Ten Speed Press)

The perfect Cognac to use

It’s usually made with Cognac or bourbon, though there are gin versions out there. For this version I’m using Seignette VS from Sazerac, the company behind Peychaud’s Bitters, Buffalo Trace and, of course, Sazerac itself. It’s a great cocktail Cognac having lots of fruity flavour at a good price. Then all you need is some ginger ale, Fever Tree is nice, some bitters and maybe spend some time practising spiralising your spiralising. 

Anyway, without further ado…. 

Here’s how to make a Horse’s Neck

50ml Seignette VS Cognac
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Fever Tree ginger ale

Fill a Highball glass with ice and add a spiral of lemon zest. Add the Cognac, bitters and ginger ale, stir, top up with ginger ale, stir gently and serve.

Cocktails at the Movies by Will Francis and Stacey Marsh is published by Prestel £9.99.

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