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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Cognac

Cocktail of the Week: The Brandy and Soda

It’s revival week here at Master of Malt. Not only are we reviving a classic pre-dinner aperitif but we’re making it with an old brand of Cognac that has just…

It’s revival week here at Master of Malt. Not only are we reviving a classic pre-dinner aperitif but we’re making it with an old brand of Cognac that has just been relaunched. 

Christmas is going to be a bit different this year but I’ve been musing on Christmases past when we used to have the whole family over for the big day. My brother and I would help my father make drinks. It was a complicated process because everyone seemed to have their own special drinks which had to be made the right way: my grandmother with her Whisky and Soda which had to be made with Famous Grouse; her husband, my grandfather, drank Brandy and Soda; then there was my aunt with her Tequila slammers. 

You can date my grandfather pretty accurately by his drink. The Brandy and Soda, or B&S as it was known, was the drink for the bright young things before the war. There’s a famous exchange between Jeeves and Bertie Wooster in PG Wodehouse’s The Inimitable Jeeves:

“I say, Jeeves,” I said.
“Sir?”
”Mix me a stiffish brandy and soda.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Stiffish, Jeeves. Not too much soda, but splash the brandy about a bit.”
“Very good, sir.”

Now, I’m not sure my grandfather was ever a bright young thing like Bertie Wooster, though he did once win a Charleston competition.

This burst of Yuletide nostalgia has been brought about by the arrival of a new brand of Cognac at MoM towers. It’s called Seignette VS and it’s from Sazerac, the company behind Peychaud’s Bitters, Buffalo Trace and, of course, Sazerac itself. Clive Carpenter, general manager of Domaine Sazerac de Segonzac, explained: “Any new product launch is an exciting moment and for us launching Seignette in the UK has an extra special meaning. We are bringing this historic brand back to the country where it was most in-demand in the 19th century.”

The Seignette family’s history in the region can be traced back to the 17th century. The brand itself was founded in 1804 by Arzac Seignette and, according to the bumf, “became one of the leading brands of the 19th century”. It’s not clear how much the revived brand has to do with the old version but it’s a nice marketing angle. Which is fine, because this is a brand that is designed to look gorgeous on the bar with it’s striking swan label and tall clear glass bottle As Clive Carpenter said: “This is a Cognac for those people who think Cognac isn’t for them.” Happily it tastes good too. As a VS, it has a minimum age of two years so there are lots of fruit young brandies in here. The taste is gently sweet and fruity with notes of peach, honey, orange and vanilla. 

Seignette VS, looking good on the bar

Cognac has been trying in recent years to reinvent itself as a fun spirit. To get away from the balloon glasses and red noses image of the past, rather as Scotch is desperately trying to escape from the tweed and stags image that was so successful in the past. But with Cognac, this reinvention is actually a return because, as we’ve banged on before on this blog, brandy is the original cocktail ingredients. Many of the great cocktails like the Sazerac would have originally been made with Cognac. In fact, the Sazerac is named after a now-defunct brand of Cognac.

So, when the bottle of Seignette arrived, I immediately began experimenting with it. The brand suggested it in a Swan’s Neck, a take on the Horse’s Neck, a drink with ginger ale, which was very nice. But the drink I kept on coming back to was the Brandy and Soda. The fruitiness of Seignette really suits a splash of soda water plus some orange bitters to further bring out the fruity notes. For that perfect Jeeves and Wooster taste, the soda water should be served out of a syphon. More refreshing than a Whisky & Soda, less sweet than a G&T, it’s the perfect aperitif. Perhaps my grandfather was right after all. 

50cl Seignette VS Cognac
2 dashes Angostura orange bitters
Soda water

In an ice-filled tumbler or Highball glass add the Cognac and bitters. Give it a stir, top up with soda, stir gently and garnish with a piece of orange. 

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The Nightcap: 4 December

Hurrah! The first Nightcap of the festive season is here and it’s full of Christmas cheer, interesting stories and boozy news. We’ll raise a glass to that. Those who welcome…

Hurrah! The first Nightcap of the festive season is here and it’s full of Christmas cheer, interesting stories and boozy news. We’ll raise a glass to that.

Those who welcome the “Christmas creep” that now begins before Halloween might disagree, but I think it’s fair to say that, for most of us, the true Christmas season has begun now that December has arrived. Nobby Holder has emerged from this den, the decorations are up all over the place and I can longer shame my mum for watching Christmas films (although I was definitely right to do so in early November). 

You might have noticed that we’ve got into the Christmas spirit on the MoM blog, mostly thanks to #WhiskySanta incredible Super Wishes, which this week featured two Scotch whiskies matured for more than 40 years, one from Tomintoul and another from Tamnavulin. We also opened up our Whisky Advent Calendar and enjoyed the spoils of what appeared behind windows #1, #2, #3 and #4.

Elsewhere, Adam learnt all about Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul’s new mezcal, what drinks trends to look out for this year, why the Octomore 11 Series is so tasty and which rums are not only tasty but available for less than £40. Henry, meanwhile, tasted some extraordinary Cognacs (one of them spent 110 years in cask!), Annie made the delicious and delicate White Negroni, Kristy investigated why Jura is so enchanting and Nate Brown returned to explain why his bar will remain shut this December

Oh, and we launched a competition that offers you the chance to win a VIP Trip to Bowmore and Laphroaig. Phew! Talk about blog-mageddon. Now, on to The Nightcap!

The Nightcap

The sale of this bottle has just made one man’s Christmas very festive indeed (image credit: Sotheby’s)

Macallan whisky bought for £80 sells for £57,500

I think it’s fair to say a lot of us have picked up a pretty pricey bottle of whisky with a special occasion in mind. But I imagine there won’t be many of us who look up the price of the whisky 37 years later and realise it’s worth tens of thousands of pounds. That’s exactly what happened to one lucky man, whose son bought him a bottle of The Macallan’s 50-year-old Anniversary Malt for his 50th birthday in 1983 for £80, with plans to drink it when he turned 80. But, after learning what it might be worth, the eventual seller instead contacted auctioneers Brightwells and ended up fetching a remarkable £57,500 for the bottle, according to the Scottish Daily Record. Most bottles of the expression, which was one of a 500-bottle release distilled in 1928, have been drunk so demand was high and the whisky attracted bids from Belgium, Germany, Scandinavia and Hong Kong as well as the UK. “This release has acquired mythic status as the best-tasting Macallan ever produced,” Paddy Shave of the auction house said (best name ever, by the way). “It’s described as the Holy Grail for malt whisky lovers, so we knew there would be worldwide interest.”

The Nightcap

Anyone got a spare 10k lying around?

Glenturret releases a 33-year-old whisky

Scotland’s oldest working distillery has made the most of 2020, relaunching its brand in the autumn and now unveiling a very swanky limited-edition single malt series in collaboration with glass experts Lalique. The first release is The Glenturret Provenance, which was bottled today and is now available on www.theglenturret.com for just £9,800. It’s a 33-year-old single malt whisky drawn from three casks filled in 1987 that was bottled in 320 French crystal decanters at a cask strength of 43.7% ABV without any additional colouring or chill-filtration. It is said to possess rich notes of ginger, brandy-soaked cherries and plump, juicy sultanas, followed by hints of cinnamon sticks, dates and soft whispers of oak and green apple.  2020 has been a challenging year for all but also a very exciting year for us. We recently introduced a fresh visual brand identity as well as six new expressions,  hand-crafted by our incredible team at the distillery in Crieff,” John Laurie, managing director at The  Glenturret, said of the launch. “Adding The Glenturret  Provenance is an important milestone for us – this is a whisky to be savoured slowly, which fits in perfectly with our distillation process as we still do everything here by hand. The Glenturret Provenance is all about reflecting on time, memories of places and people have gone before”.

The Nightcap

The range is a first for Aberlour and features some of its oldest ever bottled whisky

Chivas Brothers unveils rare aged collection 

Fancy getting your hands on three exceptionally rare limited-edition collections of Scotch whisky comprised of over 600 bottles available across the three distilleries from the Chivas Brothers single malt portfolio? Then you’re in luck. The whisky giants unveiled The Glenlivet Cellar Collection, The Aberlour Cellar Collection and The Scapa Single Cask this week, featuring some of the oldest whiskies released from these great distilleries and for the first time ever, they will be available for UK-based customers to order direct from the distillery from the comfort of their own homes. The Glenlivet Cellar Collection comprises of a 30-year-old, a 33-year-old, a 38-year-old and a 40-year-old, The Aberlour Cellar Collection, a 39-year-old and a 44 year old, while The Scapa Single Cask Vintage Editions consists of a 29-year-old, 41-year-old and 42 year old, its ever oldest release. “It has been an incredibly challenging year and we recognise it hasn’t been easy for Scotch enthusiasts to travel to our distilleries in Speyside and Orkney. We’re so pleased that we’re now able to give Scotch whisky fans the opportunity to order some of the most exceptionally rare aged malts from our portfolio straight to their door,” says Miriam Eceolaza, marketing director for Malts at Chivas Brothers. “The exclusivity of these expressions is unlike anything we have ever released before, and we hope our fans relish the opportunity to taste real history with these delicious collections.”

The Nightcap

Spirit Guide is a tale of founding an English whisky distillery. There are no spooky ghosts

Cotswolds distillery founder writes book

Is there no end to the man’s talents? Not content with setting up a distillery that produces superb gin, single malt whisky, Amari and now a rum, but The Cotswolds Distillery founder Daniel Szor has now written a book. It’s a hard-boiled crime novel set in the murky Belgrade underworld…. Not really! Called Spirit Guide: In search of an authentic life, it’s Szor’s own story. He is the son of Polish immigrants to America who made a packet in finance before moving to the peace and tranquillity of the Cotswolds. It was there that the idea came to him to start a distillery. Szor’s passion was whisky and the idea came to him to make single malt in England. Not such an unusual thing now but back in 2014, this was considered a bit peculiar. He enlisted the help of the late Jim Swan and results have been, it has to be said, extremely impressive. Szor commented: “I am delighted to have written my first book and to share my journey with readers. I really hope this book will provide some inspiration during these unprecedented times and if I have one message it would be ‘following one’s heart is never the wrong direction’’”. Wise words, though we would recommend making a packet in finance before following your heart.

The Nightcap

Having enjoyed a tour of this place before, we can confirm the accolades are well deserved

Jameson Distillery Bow St. named world’s leading distillery tour again!

I hope the shelves were fitted securely at Irish Distillers because it must have a tonne of awards to display, especially now that it has completed a treble at the World Travel Awards (WTA)! For the third year in a row, its Jameson Distillery Bow St. attraction has been named the World’s Leading Distillery Tour at the 27th Grand Final Ceremony, which took place virtually, but was still able to acknowledge, reward and celebrate excellence in global travel and tourism. Having already scooped the prize for Europe’s Leading Distillery Tour earlier this month, Jameson Distillery Bow St. had to beat off stiff competition from the likes of Macallan, Hennessy, Jack Daniels and Jose Cuervo. “To win three years in a row is incredible and, given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the disruption that the travel and tourism industries have faced globally, this acknowledgement is particularly special this year,” says Greg Hughes, managing director, Jameson Brand Homes at Irish Distillers. “The award honours and recognises our commitment to excellence at the spiritual home of Jameson and is an acknowledgement of the incredible work of our team at Bow St., who provide every visitor with an unforgettable and unique experience – in-person, and now, virtually.” Congratulations, guys!

The Nightcap

Fair play to Couture, it is a much better use of money than wine and dining a load of freeloading journalists…

Pernod Ricard donates Christmas lunch money to charity

It’s one of the highlights of a drink writers year, the annual Pernod Ricard Christmas lunch. It’s a time when the great, the good, and those who blagged a ticket at the last minute of the booze world meet to feast, gossip and sample lots of delicious drinks from Pernod Ricard’s extensive portfolio. For obvious reasons, it’s not happening this year so, according to a statement signed by Chivas CEO Jean-Christophe Coutures, CEO of Chivas UK David Haworth and CEO of Pernod Ricard Travel Retail Mohit Lal: “We have relocated funds normally set aside for this event and combined with support for a number of organisations that will help those in need this Christmas and beyond.” These charities include The Drinks Trust, Mind, Crisis and many others. The company will also be supplying 18,000 litres of hand sanitiser to help the on-trade as well as donating to local food banks on Speyside. What an excellent initiative. 

The Nightcap

So often the outsider, Gabriel has finally been accepted into the inner-circle!

And finally…. ‘Renegade’ Alexandre Gabriel is new Cognac vice president

Is it a case of poacher turned gamekeeper as it was announced today that Alexandre Gabriel is the new vice-president of the BNIC (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac) alongside Christophe Véral, the new president? It’s a move that nobody expected. Well, we didn’t anyway, having met Gabriel and heard his views on the Cognac establishment. Gabriel, the owner of Maison Ferrand, has previously been described as a ‘renegade’ for his vociferous querying of Cognac rules on what kinds of casks are allowed to be used for ageing. He even released a non-AOC brandy called Renegade no. 2 that was not allowed to be classed as Cognac because it was aged in chestnut barrels. The election took place on the 24 November and included 14 other members of the industry joining the standing committee.  Véral, a grower distiller in the region since 1994, described his job as: “part of the century-old history of Cognac, in the service of a strong, united, responsible sector.” Gabriel commented: “After 31 years in Cognac, I am humbled by the privilege of adding our small contribution to the great destiny of cognac as vice president of the BNIC.” We are keen to see what changes having someone with Gabriel’s unconventional views will have on this extremely conservative industry. 2021 is going to be an interesting year for Cognac!

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Master of Malt tastes… very old Hermitage Cognac

Just landed at MoM towers, some extraordinary Cognacs including one that spent 110 years in cask! We thought an article might be in order to tell you all about them….

Just landed at MoM towers, some extraordinary Cognacs including one that spent 110 years in cask! We thought an article might be in order to tell you all about them.

Before we start, let’s get one thing out of the way, these Cognacs range from the expensive to the very very expensive but, we’d argue, none of them is absurdly priced. We’re talking about spirits that have spent decades, in one case 110 years, in cask. These are rare rare bottles of extraordinary quality that people have invested a lot of time in. Compare them with the auction prices of old Macallans, Bowmores or Springbanks, and suddenly they don’t seem so expensive after all. 

David Baker talking about his favourite subject… Taylor Swift. No, sorry, Cognac!

All of the Cognacs below are from the Grande Champagne region. They come courtesy of David Baker who we’ve written about on this blog before. From his years of experience, unrivalled contacts and palate, Baker is able to sniff out rare casks of Cognac lurking in the cellars of growers and small producers in the region, and bottles them under the Hermitage label. His enthusiasm for these products is infectious and we have to say that these are some of the most extraordinary spirits ever featured on Master of Malt, and I personally feel very lucky that he gave me some to try.

Take the 1885 featured below, Baker spoke for a good 20 minutes about its virtues. It spent 100 years in cask, and had, according to Baker “lost its excitement, the richness had dissipated.” It was put into glass bonbons for a good few years until someone had the bright idea of recasking it. So, it spent another 10-12 years, Baker isn’t certain exactly how long, in a new but not too new cask. This rejuvenated it and became, as Bake put it, “beyond the quality of anything we have come across before.” 

He went on to say, “the balance is beyond what I would call perfect. All you have is richness, there is nothing that attacks the mouth,” despite the 46% ABV, “shut your eyes and drift into a world of Cognac.” The taste is so layered and complex that Baker describes it as “double rancio”. Rancio being the complex flavours like walnut, pineapple and apricot produced over time in the interaction of cask, spirit and oxygen. “The only problem is there ain’t much left of it! When it’s gone, it’s gone”, Baker said. Though he told me that there’s an 1890 out there that may be just as good. Let’s hope he lets us try a little. 

Treasure

Here’s what has just arrived at Master of Malt. 

1990 Grande Champagne 41% ABV

This Cognac is still aging in cask. The particular shipment we’ve just got in was bottled this year, 2020. 

Nose: There’s fresh pineapple, peach and mango with notes of furniture polish and nail varnish remover. Lovers of high ester rums will love this.

Palate: It’s fresh and fruity, oranges and lemons, with a creamy texture. Very different to the nose. Then you get the patisserie notes of marzipan, butterscotch and chocolate.

Finish: Long and fruity with that almond note lingering. 

Overall: Crammed with fruit, this tastes really young and vibrant. 

1960 Grande Champagne 47% ABV

This is a 50 year old Cognac, bottled in 2010. It won the Cognac Trophy & Gold Outstanding Award at the IWSC 2020.

Nose: Deeply savoury, very woody with aromatic spice, menthol, camphor, plus apricots both fresh and dried, phenomenal complexity.

Palate: Tannic and woody but not too much, rather like a good claret. There’s plenty of fruit here too with dark chocolate, coffee and toffee..

Finish: Dark chocolate, orange peel, very long with bitter espresso coffee like you get in Naples .

Overall: Big brooding style, lots of cask influence but with gorgeous fruit.

1952 Grande Champagne 45.5% ABV

Baker isn’t sure how old this is. It spent between 50-60 years in cask before it was placed in glass bonbons. 

Nose: Red berries and dark cherries, with dark chocolate, black coffee and some orange peel.

Palate: Dark roast coffee, burnt toffee and even a little coal dust initially, quite a bit of tannin, but then the fruits come through, peach, roasted plum and citrus, and it becomes sweeter with time in the glass.

Finish: Dark chocolate, allspice and maraschino cherry.

Overall: Dark, powerful, and extremely complex, needs time to open up to reveal its charms. 

Hermitage Cognac

1920 Grande Champagne 43.5% ABV

Another slightly mysterious one, “the cellar master is no longer around,” Baker said. It spent at least 70 years in cask before being transferred to glass bonbons. 

Nose: Really pretty nose, lots of tropical fruit followed by tobacco, dark chocolate and aromatic spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. 

Palate:  Graceful and perfumed, floral, orange blossom, with a strong tangy wine-like note, very little tannin, just a little dark chocolate. 

Finish: Nutty, with almond and pastry notes. 

Overall: Gorgeous, graceful and fresh.

1885 Paradis Grande Champagne 46% ABV

Around 110-112 years. Spent 100 years in cask before being transferred to glass. It then spent 10-12 years in a newish cask before bottling. 

Nose: Intense, such depth of flavour. Initially it’s furniture polish followed by overripe pineapples, apricots, dark chocolate and tobacco. Rancio city! 

Palate: Wood tannin, Havana cigars, dark chocolate with peppery spicy notes, and then you get this huge woosh of fresh fruit, peaches and apricots, charging through. Incredible!

Finish: Falls away gently with walnuts, damp leaves and expensive cigars, and then just when you think it’s all over, in comes a second wave of oranges and cloves. Nutmeg, prune.roasted walnuts, 

Overall: Simply breath-taking, astonishing complexity but so fresh at the same time. 

See the full range of Hermitage Cognac here

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New Arrival of the Week: Ararat Nairi 20 Year Old

Today, we’re tasting one of the world’s great brandies and it’s not from Cognac. No, it’s not from Armagnac either. It’s not from France, or even from Europe. It’s from…

Today, we’re tasting one of the world’s great brandies and it’s not from Cognac. No, it’s not from Armagnac either. It’s not from France, or even from Europe. It’s from Armenia, a country with a proud distilling heritage. 

There’s a very special cask of brandy in the Ararat distillery in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. It’s called the ‘Peace Barrel’. It was distilled in 1994, and will only be opened when there is peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Looking at the news today, it doesn’t look like that’s going to be any time soon as the two countries are once again fighting over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. This is an ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan. The two countries went to war after becoming independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, and what followed was an uneasy ceasefire in 1994 with the province still technically part of Azerbaijan but ruled by a breakaway Armenian government.

The Ararat distillery sits high on a hill above the capital. It’s named after the mountain that towers over the city, apparently where Noah landed following the flood. Ararat is the symbol of Armenia but it’s now in neighbouring Turkey. Armenia has been unfortunate in its long history to be surrounded by three huge empires, the Russian, Ottoman and Persian, with bits of its historic homeland often in different countries. ‘Caught between the hammer and the anvil’, as the saying goes. Nevertheless, the Armenians have, despite their tragic history, managed to preserve their language with its own unique alphabet, their culture and their fierce sense of belonging. 

They are particularly proud of their brandy which dates back to 1877 when Nerses Tairyan introduced Cognac-style stills to Armenia. The most celebrated products, however, were produced in Yerevan by a Russian called Nikolay Shustov. One of his brandies won a gold medal, beating its French rivals, at the Paris Expo of 1900. The French were so impressed that they allowed Shustov to call his product ‘Cognac’. This was disallowed following World War II, but Armenian brandy is still known in the Russian-speaking world as konjak. In 1912, Shustov’s product got the official seal of approval from the czar. 

The magnificent Yerevan Brandy Company distillery designed by architect Hovhannes Margaryan

During Soviet times, Armenia was designated as the brandy producer to the USSR. The magnificent Ararat distillery was built in 1953, featuring a communist-neo-classical-meets-Armenian-monastic style dates back to this period. Whereas wine quality suffered greatly under communism, the reputation of Armenian brandy remained high. It functioned as the Johnnie Walker Black Label of the Eastern Bloc. A bottle to the right person could cut through yards of Soviet red tape. 

The economic turmoil following the fall of communism hit the industry hard. As Becky Sue Epstein writes in her book Brandy: “When the USSR disbanded distribution networks disappeared overnight and the market for Armenian brandy collapsed.” War with Azerbaijan can’t have helped. Nowadays, however, the industry is more stable. The two successor companies to Shustov’s are Noy, meaning Noah, and Ararat (aka The Yerevan Brandy Company) which since 1998 has been owned by Pernod Ricard. Once again Russia is the main market, Noy is the official supplier to the Kremlin. But Armenian brandy is big all over Eastern Europe and you see them in airport duty-free in Germany and Austria, sometimes in the most extraordinary packaging; bottles shaped like AK-47s or penises. You can’t imagine Hine doing that!

It’s a shame about the novelty bottles letting the side down because Ararat makes some excellent brandies. They are distilled from indigenous grapes, mainly grown in the Yerevan region but also all over the country. Armenia is something of a viticultural paradise with an array of native grape varieties and the dry mountainous air means it’s easy to grow them without pesticides and fungicides. Try a bottle of Armenian wine, if you ever see one. 

Ararat Nairi 20 Year Old in its extremely tasteful packaging

To make the konyak, the wine is double-distilled, aged in European oak. Ararat has its own on-site cooperage. It’s a huge concern, producing around 5.5 million bottles per year, that’s nearly the entire production of the Armagnac region. The master blender has a huge palette of brandies to make his blends from. They are generally sweetened, the Armenians tend to drink their brandies with dessert. The cheaper ones are very pleasant but once you get to 10 years and above, that is where the excitement starts.

The 10 year old Dvin bottling created by master blender Markar Sedrakyan in the 1930s was apparently enjoyed by Churchill at Yalta in 1945. It’s still made, coming in at 50% ABV, it’s aromatic and fiery with lots of dark chocolate, cedar and wood tannin. It reminds me of a particular full Armagnac. Even better is the 20 year old Nairi expression, which I drank a lot of during late-night chats with Armenian winemaker Zorik Gharibian from Zorah when I visited the country back in 2017.

For my money, Armenia vies with South Africa as the home of the best non-French brandies. They are true luxury products, no wonder the Russians like them so much, and should be much better known over here. And who knows, one day, perhaps, that special barrel will be opened and we can raise a glass to peace.

Ararat Nairi 20 Year Old tasting note:

Colour: Dark copper colour.

Nose: Rich flavours, dark chocolate, tobacco, fresh apricot and some dried fruit.

Palate: Gorgeous fruit here, fresh apricots again with a grassy floral freshness. Some toffee sweetness. 

Finish: Sweet vanilla mingles with aromatic tobacco notes. 

Ararat Nairi 20 year old is now available from Master of Malt.

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Master of Malt tastes… Delamain Pléiade Cognac

Earlier this year we were invited to a swanky London club to try a very special new range of Cognacs from Delamain. Now, at last, they have arrived at MoM…

Earlier this year we were invited to a swanky London club to try a very special new range of Cognacs from Delamain. Now, at last, they have arrived at MoM HQ. What took you so long?

Delamain is aiming at the enthusiast rather than the plutocrat with a new range of Cognacs called Pléiade. Admittedly with prices going up to £1000, these will be quite well-heeled enthusiasts. The packaging with information about age, ABV, the village where the grapes were grown, cask size, and distillation type, is more nerdy than blingy. These are Cognacs for single malt or wine lovers according to Rebecca Montgomery, who works on the export and marketing side of the business and was our host at a launch dinner at the Carlton Club in London.

The new range comes in three levels, (each linked to an accompanying video):

Révélation: Cognacs of 20 to 30 years
Plénitude: very old mature Cognacs of 30 to 50 years
Apogée: extremely old, exceptional Cognacs 50+ years

Cognacs so valuable they have to be kept behind bars

These will be single cask or demijohn and, mainly, single vintage releases. All have been matured in a special cellar above a crypt. This lets in the sun so the temperature is not constant. Cellar master Dominique Touteau only uses old casks so there’s no bitter tannins from the wood. Some of the range will be bottled at cask strength while others are diluted. Montgomery described dilution as an “art in itself” where watered down Cognac at 15% ABV is slowly added to the cask. All of them are bottled with no boize or colouring. Anyone who knows Pale & Dry will recognise the style in these Cognacs, they are light, fruity and joyful. Montgomery described them as perfect for the “sophisticated” British market. Flattery will get you everywhere.

Pale and Dry XO, Delamain’s flagship bottling, has long been a British favourite, particularly among the wine trade. It celebrates its 100th anniversary this year and to celebrate, the house has 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. 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 Dominique Touteau, this higher alcohol brings out the natural sweetness. It’s a double celebration this year because  Touteau celebrates 40 years with the firm.

The vineyard at Bellevigne

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 described as “perfect marriage”, but it is still run by a direct descendant of James Delamain: Charles Braastad. Now, that it has begun working vines again, for the first time since 1910, the company 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.

The company only produces Cognacs at XO level and above, and only from Grand Champagne. Though blends (link here to full range) will remain at the heart of the business but these new releases explore the quality and variety of the terroir in Grand Champagne. Prices range from around £150 up to £1000 a bottle. So, they are not cheap but if you think what Macallan, for example, would charge for a 50 year old single cask bottling, neither are they outrageously expensive. Quality Cognac is currently undervalued, it won’t be for long.

Here are the first three releases which have just landed at MoM:

Collection Révélation Malavile

Cask number: 709-01
Village: Malaville
Age: not a vintage release, it is described as very old
45% ABV

Nose: Very grapey, fruity and floral, orange blossom, a little apricot and Brazil nut. It’s a bit like nosing an old Muscat de Rivesaltes

Palate: Gentle, soft and very fruity, floral, creamy texture with some pepper and toffee. Just a little oakiness.

Finish: Very long with oak and rancio notes. 

Collection Plénitude Mainxe 1980

Cask number: 212-01
Village: Mainxe
Age: 40 years
Vintage: 1980
44% ABV

Nose: Wow! this is like stepping into a vintage Bentley (something we do a lot of here at MoM), or expensive furniture shop: old leather, walnut, and furniture polish. Then there’s autumn leaves and rancio notes.

Palate: so mellow and soft, with baking spice, creamy toffee, and fruitcake.

Finish: salted caramel ice cream. Utterly gorgeous. This was my favourite. 

Collection Apogée Verrieres 1965 

Dame-Jeanne number: 339-01
Village: Verrieres
Age: 50 years old, distilled in 1965.
42% ABV

Nose: menthol, tobacco, dried apricot, orange marmalade and dark chocolate. So rich and powerful.

Palate: Chocolate and fresh apricot with just a little tannic bitterness coming, huge hit of aromatic tobacco. Very savoury.

Finish: walnuts and more tobacco, bring on the Havanas! 

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Our favourite specialist bars for specific spirits

Whether you have a certain spirit that you know you love above all others, or you want to jump in at the deep end of flavour discovery of a new…

Whether you have a certain spirit that you know you love above all others, or you want to jump in at the deep end of flavour discovery of a new tipple, we’ve rounded up a few awesome specialist bars that are pros in specific spirits!

They say variety is the spice of life, but on the flipside, there’s also the conundrum of being the jack of all trades and master of none. Well, these bars are each the master of one chosen spirit. In the words of Wham!, if you’re gonna do it, do it right.

When it’s safe to go back out to all the wonderful places the world has to offer, make sure you have this list to hand to guide you through the glorious world of spirits!

specialist bars

Hacha

What? Agave spirits
Where? London

Tequila and mezcal line the back bar of Hacha over in East London, which is also home to the legendary Mirror Margarita. Trust me, forget about any misgivings you’ve had about Tequila in the past, it’s like no other Margarita you’ve tried before. There’s a selection of 25 spirits behind the bar, and while you may have been expecting that number to be higher, when a bottle is finished a new one takes its place. Now you’ll never get bored of the same old choices! What’s pretty cool about this place is that owner Deano Moncrieffe (who was previously a Diageo Tequila ambassador) pairs different nibbles with the ever-changing selection of agave spirits. Some come with Monster Munch, others come with Toblerone. It’s all-round awesome. 

specialist bars

Smugglers Cove

What? Rum
Where? San Francisco

Opened in 2009, Smugglers Cove is everything you’d expect from a bar that specialises in rum. The three-story tiki bar boasts the largest rum selection in the country (over 550 behind the bar at one time), and it’s a place that really embraces part of rum’s identity with waterfalls, lots of nautical paraphernalia and an entirely wooden interior. Meanwhile, the cocktail list takes into account the centuries of history behind the spirit. You’ll find both classic and more contemporary serves, and one that has made quite the name for itself is the Smuggler’s Rum Barrel, a punch made with 15 different rums and 20 different juices!

(Smugglers Cove isn’t currently open because of COVID, but be sure to take a trip over there when it’s safe!)

specialist bars

Bobby Gin 

What? Gin
Where? Barcelona

Well, the clue is in the name here, and you’ll find Gin Club in the home of the Gin Tonica, Spain! Specifically, Barcelona. At Bobby Gin you’ll find those classic fishbowl glasses, with almost countless numbers of gins, tonics and garnishes to play with. With a sign on the wall stating ‘the perfect Gin & Tonic doesn’t exist’ (well, it actually says ‘el gintonic perfecto no existe’, but I thought I’d save you the trouble of translating), though you  may as well start here to try and find it!

specialist bars

Black Rock 

What? Whisky
Where? London

Now, choosing just one whisky bar was a near impossible mission. But, finally, Black Rock emerged as a winner, boasting both London and Bristol locations! Aside from the truly jaw-dropping selection of whiskies you’re faced with (over 250), the London site even has the city’s first whisky hotel, along with a blending room where you can take home your very own creation. It’s a brilliant place for people who want to explore the spirit more as well as seasoned drinkers, because each bottle is clearly labelled with one of five flavour profiles and its price. If you’re really stuck, the clever chaps behind the bar will certainly be able to help you out. Whisky for all!

specialist bars

Le Syndicat Paris 

What? Cognac
Where? Paris

Le Syndicat only stocks French spirits, so it’s not technically a Cognac bar per se, though you will be greeted with a lot of brandies among a scattering of absinthe and eau de vie. You’ll find DJs on the weekend playing mainly hip-hop (with half of the artists played probably sporting their own Cognac brand), French food and French twists on classic cocktails. If you don’t just want to try out the cocktails, you can treat your taste buds to a Cognac tasting, too!

specialist bars

Spirits Bar Sunface Tokyo

What? For when you’re feeling lucky
Where? Tokyo

Here’s a fun one. Over in Shinjuku, Spirits Bar Sunface doesn’t actually have a drinks menu. They serve brilliant cocktails, make no mistake, but instead of you choosing a drink (how normal that would be), you have a chat with the folks behind the bar and then your drink will be made to suit you. We’ve heard that it sports quite an extensive collection of Tequila, though its back bar spans quite a range of spirits! The place itself is just as unique, with its centrepiece a fabulous tree trunk which serves as the bar. It’s a bit like a tarot card reading, but with cocktails. Let us know what you get!

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Rémy Martin trials climate change-ready grapes

The house of Rémy Martin has long been dedicated to sustainable agriculture, having pioneered green practices in Cognac for well over a decade, and a huge part of its commitment…

The house of Rémy Martin has long been dedicated to sustainable agriculture, having pioneered green practices in Cognac for well over a decade, and a huge part of its commitment involves tackling the threat posed by climate change. Here, cellar master Baptiste Loiseau explains how robust new grape varieties are being trialled across the estate – and what this might mean for the future of the Charente…

“Climate change is already here,” says Loiseau. “It started, let’s say, more than 20 years ago, but we really faced this change during the 2003 vintage. It was a really difficult vintage in the region of Cognac.” An intensely hot summer caused the grapes to grow “in an erratic way that was really new for all the growers of the region,” he explains, “and it was really at that time that we understood that we needed to be focusing on and adapting to climate change.”

The first decision Rémy Martin made was to harvest earlier, in an effort to preserve the freshness and acidity of its grapes. “We are facing quite the same characteristic this year,” says Loiseau. “We had a really hot spring and the ripeness of the grapes is arriving much more rapidly.” This year’s harvest could take place at the beginning of September, potentially even the end of August. By contrast, it typically takes place during the third week of September.

Baptiste Loiseau in the vineyard

An earlier harvest is a temporary solution – an elastoplast – over a far bigger issue, something Rémy Martin was quick to recognise. The best way to preserve the future of the Cognac appellation, Loiseau says, is by experimenting with new grape varieties for the next generation of winegrowers. “We are making some trials on two new cultivars that maybe in the next decades, maybe in 40 or 50 years, will replace the classical cultivar that we are using, called Ugni Blanc.”

The first is an older grape variety called Monbadon which, though native to the Charente, is now mainly found in California. In decades gone by, it didn’t quite fit the bill for Cognac-making in terms of ripeness and aromas, says Loiseau, “but because of climate change, it’s now much more suitable and adapted to the region”. In 2015, the house took an approximately 1.5 hectare plot on its estate and divided it into two, designating 0.8 hectares for Monbadon – equivalent to around 3,000 vines – and the rest for Ugni Blanc. Rémy Martin made its first harvest three years later in September 2018.

For three to four weeks prior, the team conducted analysis and taste testing. Every Monday, the team would go to the field to taste and analyse the grapes, looking at acidity – which needs to be high, since Rémy does not use sulphur – nitrogen levels, and the health of the vine, says Loiseau. “It’s really a combination between the senses, the taste, the shape of the grapes and their weight also, because it’s a question of quantity and a question of quality,” he explains.

Flowering, a crucial time in the development of healthy grapes

When it’s time to pick the grapes, the field is harvested the same day. “We will preserve one press for the Monbadon and one press for the Ugni Blanc, to compare the two cultivars,” says Loiseau. “We do the winemaking and the distillation the same way. The only difference is based on the cultivar itself.” The team analyses both wines and eaux de vies and tastes them both blind, before ageing them in the cellar. 

“We need between five to 10 years of cask ageing to [assess] the evolution of the aromas of Monbadon in comparison to the classical Ugni Blanc,” says Loiseau. And then, given how remarkably each vintage can be, the experiment needs to be conducted over multiple harvests to provide a true picture. “So in fact, we will not have the answer to our questions before 2030,” he says. 

Naturally, Monbadon isn’t the only cultivar under trial at Rémy Martin. There’s another alternative for the future of the appellation, currently under wraps. “We have another plot that is not corresponding to a variety that is known now in the region,” says Loiseau. “It’s a code with a figure, a letter, and a figure – I’m not going to disclose it, because it’s quite secret right now. We have a high expectation on this one. And just besides, we have another four rows of vineyards that are planted with two other secret codes.”

Cover crops between vines

Little is known about the second cultivar, other than it has “this characteristic corresponding to climate change,” says Loiseau. “It’s also a cultivar that is much more resistant, less sensitive, to diseases,” requiring less fertilisation. This helps Rémy fulfil the former – “that is to say, to have less impact because of practises on the environment,” he says.

Despite the decision to keep the cultivar under wraps for now, Loiseau says the research – conducted in partnership with the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) and the French National Institute for Agronomic Research – is for the benefit of the appellation. “When we decide to go in a direction, we have to be sure that it’s the right one and not only for ourselves, but for the next generation to come,” he says.

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New Arrival of the Week: Frapin Millésime 26 Year Old 1992

Today we talk to cellar master at Frapin, Patrice Piveteau, about what it takes for a Cognac to be singled out for the vintage treatment, and taste the very special…

Today we talk to cellar master at Frapin, Patrice Piveteau, about what it takes for a Cognac to be singled out for the vintage treatment, and taste the very special 26 year old 1992 release.

It can be something of a culture clash when British journalists talk to French drink producers. Journalists asking increasingly specific empirical questions, will often make Gallic producers become more abstract. Our recent Zoom chat with Patrice Piveteau, cellar master at Frapin, conducted for the launch of a 26 year old vintage Cognac from 1992, is a good example. Everyone wanted to know what makes a vintage good enough to be bottled separately, is it a specific quality of the grapes? But Piveteau refused to be drawn. Yes, you need ripe grapes with plenty of acidity but he does not know for sure until they have been fermented and distilled. “I decide to make a vintage not from the grape, I have an idea during harvest, I have an idea after vinification but the real decision is after distillation. It’s not during the harvest,” he said. 

To ensure that his spirits have the necessary structure for long ageing, he distills with the lees from yeast and with some of the pulp. “We are really artisan,” he said “there is no computer to tell you where to cut. From picking grapes to bottling, the main decision is only through the tasting.” Frapin produces vintages in most years. Even in years that are generally thought of as difficult like the frost-affected 1991, he found parcels of vines that made exceptional spirit: “1991 is not a good year on paper, but Frapin is on a slope, and part of the slope had no damage. It’s not a good year in general, but it is possible to find a vat from a year with a special characteristic,” he said. As the man said, it’s all in the tasting.

Patrice Piveteau in the vineyard

According to Piveteau: “We have a window between harvest and March to decide, then we call the authorities and they come and put a seal on it [cask of vintage wine].” This is to ensure against fraud so that only casks with the official seal can be sold as vintage. Such releases are rare in Cognac, “vintages tend to either be luxury releases from big brands or from small producers”, Piveteau said. “Frapin is small in Cognac but big for an independent grower in Grand Champagne.” It only uses grapes from its own vineyards. The 240 hectare property has been in the family for 22 generations, and is currently run by Jean‐Pierre Cointreau whose grandmother was a Frapin.

It’s a compact domaine entirely within the Grand Champagne region with a consistent chalky top soil with clay subsoil throughout, planted with Ugni Blanc (there is also a little experimental Folignan, a Folle Blanche/ Ugni Blanc cross planted 12 years ago so it is too early to speak about the quality). Vintage expressions, however, come only from the vineyard around Château Fontpinot. When asked why Piveteau replied: “I think the answer is in the question. . . . It’s the specificity of the terroir.” Thrillingly French! 

Piveteau then explained a bit about the aging process. For the vintages, he uses 350 litre Limousin oak casks. Larger casks impart less wood flavour. The spirit spends only six months in new oak to pick up the tannins (and colour) needed for long ageing before transferring to 5-15 year old casks for one year before moving to old casks which have no oak flavour. 

Château Fontpinot

Frapin has two types of cellar, dry and humid. Interestingly, vintage Cognacs are only ever taken from the dry cellar. This ageing gives: “more evaporation, more concentration, you lose more water than alcohol,” Piveteau said. Apparently dry cellars are unique to Frapin. Again, he refused to be drawn on what the specific differences in flavour are between dry and humid cellars. “Humid cellars are smoother and more round,” he said, “but it is possible to find the same flavours in dry cellars. In dry cellars things mature more slowly. We don’t sell Cognac from dry cellars at less than 20 years. All the vintages come from the dry cellar, every time I prefer when I have to make the choice. But humid is also possible. . . .” he added just to complicate things. When deciding whether to bottle a Cognac as a vintage, he’s not just looking for quality but difference: “During ageing if a vintage is the same as the rest of range then I put it in a blend,” he said. 

“What is interesting is not what I say, it’s the result in the glass,” Piveteau explained. And what is in the glass is very good indeed: the 1992 is rich but it’s also fresh and fruity, the flavour changing in the glass over the course of the day. Piveteau described it as: “like a firework, bof!” He went on to say: “It’s fine, fruity and elegant. You can find the rancio but it’s not heavy, that’s a real characteristic of Frapin. It’s a Cognac with purity, it’s not too woody. I’m really keen on complexity.” Sometimes you have to stop asking why, and just let the quality of the Cognac speak for itself.

Tasting notes from The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: So fruity and fresh, fresh apricots not dried, strawberry, floral, dark chocolate and toffee, plus aromatic notes of tobacco and orange peel.

Palate: Super zingy: citrus, grassy, peppery, lots of eau de vie character, with that strawberry fruity note coming through. In the background some toffee lurking.

Finish: Very very long, lingering toffee, tobacco and citrus peel. 

Frapin Millésime 26 Year Old 1992 Grand Champagne Cognac is now available from Master of Malt.

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Citadelle: Cognac’s renegade gin

We cast our MoM-branded spotlight on Citadelle Gin, an expression created at a Cognac house, that predates the craft gin boom. Its founder Alexandre Gabriel explains why he created a…

We cast our MoM-branded spotlight on Citadelle Gin, an expression created at a Cognac house, that predates the craft gin boom. Its founder Alexandre Gabriel explains why he created a gin in the first place, the 18th-century recipe he based it on and his patented brand of gin distillation.

Given that he runs his own Cognac, rum and gin brands, you might think it’s hard to pin down Alexandre Gabriel. But, in my experience, the restless innovator is always happy to make time to chat about booze. Before I ask a question, he informs me he’s just spent the morning planting juniper trees at the Bonbonnet Estate and that he hopes the juniper and lemon supply for Citadelle Gin will be totally self-sustainable within five years. He’s been planting juniper berries since September 2017, inspired by the fact that the south west of France was known for its juniper berries during medieval times. He then explains that as someone one grew up on a farm he’s attached to the idea of growing what he needs, organically, of course. He already grows his own grapes for his Cognac.

In the midst of this discussion, Gabriel moves onto the topic of expansion, explaining that his other hobby is architecture. “We are expanding the distillery at the old estate at Bonbonnet. We do everything ourselves. The stonemasons are the guys who fill the barrels at Maison Ferrand. We’re putting nine pot stills in, old Cognac stills that I found that date back to the 1950s and ’60s and we are refurbishing them as we speak. Right now we are using our Cognac stills off-season to distil Citadelle,” he explains. I still haven’t actually asked a question at this point. “We are going to be able to use an economical system for our cooling water. Instead of using an inverter to cool it down and waste energy, we’re going to use warmer water and install long pipes so that we reuse that water in our greenhouse to grow the lemons that we need for Citadelle. More juniper berries, more stills, more experiments”. 

We’re ten minutes in and I already know this is going to be a productive interview. But you don’t expect any less from Gabriel, as you’ll know if you’ve read our previous features on Pierre Ferrand and Plantation Rum. Today, however, the focus is on Citadelle Gin. In my opinion, it’s his most intriguing brand. Why? Because it’s a premium French gin brand that was released back in the ’90s. It’s hard to put into context now given gin’s boom in the last decade how crazy you would have sounded pitching this idea. Gabriel remembers the feeling well. “It was like a moon landing! There was nobody on the gin planet. In 1996 I thought the world was waiting for an artisanal delicious gin. It was not!”

Citadelle Gin

Drinks maverick Alexandre Gabriel and his locally-grown juniper berries

In the early days of Citadelle, Gabriel recalls a group of students proposing to do a business case on the brand. Naturally, Gabriel accepted, hoping their acumen would provide some insight. Their analysis? “There is no way this can work,” Gabriel says, laughing at his own expense. “This kept happening. I remember our importer in America looking at me like I must have gone mad. A French gin?! This decision was made purely out of passion and it was almost disastrous to our business. I have made many mistakes and I hope I am going to make less,” he says. “It looked like Citadelle wouldn’t work because it was out of time and it was financially painful. But, in the end, the two wrongs became a right. Now there is a new gin every week, right!?”

Citadelle Gin didn’t thrive so much as survive in the early days, slowly building a reputation and fan base for its fresh, clean and delightfully mixable profile. Gabriel is particularly grateful to the influence of Ferran Adrià of El Bulli fame. “In about 1997/98 Adrià was on TV. He said that Gin and Tonic is a gastronomic act and a beautiful aperitif and that you should use a great gin. He whipped out a bottle of Citadelle. We were like ‘wow’. That made a difference,” Gabriel recalls. “This guy is the one that put the Spanish Gin and Tonic, which conquered the world, on the map. He really did, I was there and I saw it, and he never took credit for it but he really did. Then in the US, the New York Times wrote a beautiful piece in 1999 called something like ‘Citadelle storms the gate’. It was half a page and that was a big push for New York. Every bit counted for us”. 

But before the days of trying to convince customers to give French gin a try, Gabriel had a much bigger stumbling block. He had to convince the authorities to give French gin a try. The Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) regulations stated that the brandy can only be distilled between November and March. After that stills must be locked up and put into hibernation for seven months. From the outside, that might seem perfect.  The region’s copper alembic stills and distillers have six months of the year free to distil something else and you don’t have to waste money creating a new distillery. But nothing’s ever that simple, as Gabriel found out quickly. Distilling gin in Cognac stills wasn’t simply frowned upon, it was outright banned. The Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) had never received a request for this to change and probably never thought anybody would ask. But Gabriel is not one to follow conventional wisdom or pay much heed to what he believed were antiquated laws.

Citadelle Gin

Citadelle Gin was ahead of its time and its creation was plagued with roadblocks

What followed was a struggle in which Gabriel lobbied to make his gin, arguing that there was historical precedent for this act. Extensive research uncovered that historically gin was produced in pot stills over a naked flame, which is exactly how Cognac pot stills were designed. “I don’t know about you but when I am pissed at something I work even harder! France is a very bureaucratic country. I was told there’s no rule that allows me to do this, but I was much younger and rebellious in nature and I said there’s no rule that says I cannot”, he said. Eventually, “after five long years, I finally received the AOC approval to distil gin in Cognac in 1995!” 

Gabriel’s keen interest in history also led him to an 18th-century French distillery that inspired the Citadelle name and influenced the profile of the gin he would eventually make. “I tried to absorb everything I could about gin. I’ve always been attached to the idea of revitalising artisanal spirits that are a part of French heritage. We know the ancestor of gin was inspired by the Dutch, but at the time the Netherlands was a huge area that included parts of France and Belgium. I hired interns, I still do this a lot, to go through all the archives in the main cities. One day they discovered in a church an archive with a whole documented history of every parchment about the first official genever distillery in France,” Gabriel says. “I still have all the copies. It was established in the citadel of Dunkirk in 1775 on Louis XVI’s authorisation to smuggle gin to the UK. The distillers, Carpeau and Stival, used 12 copper pot stills to distil their gin and multiple botanicals like exotic spices alongside juniper berries. It was actually transported in barrels too. We uncovered some of their recipes. It was an inspiration and I thought the name was cool. Luckily it was not patented anymore!”

While some inspiration for Citadelle Gin came from this historical booze, Gabriel already had a style in mind: a classic profile that was fresh, thirst-quenching and most importantly juniper-forward. Good thing he’s growing so many of his own. “I wanted Citadelle to be fully integrated with many other elements that give it a rich mouth-feel and a great complexity. The apex of the triangle would be the juniper berries, the second element being citrus, lemon with a little bit of orange in our case and then the third element is the warm wind of exoticism, in our case nutmeg, that true gins should have,” says Gabriel. “We’re lucky because the Cognac stills have a very low swan neck which extracts a lot of the essential oils of the botanicals and it gives you a viscosity effect that balances the freshness of the product and the citrus-feel. I knew I would get that luscious effect from the distillation methods, it’s very slow, that’s the only downside to it”.

Citadelle Gin

Citadelle Gin is created thanks to progressive infusion, a patented technique

Citadelle Gin is crafted using a unique technique called progressive infusion, which Gabriel describes as being a similar process to making tea, except you brew different elements at different times in the teapot. In the case of Citadelle Gin, the elements refer to the botanicals: French juniper berries, orris root, French violet root, Moroccan coriander, almonds, Spanish lemon peel, Mexican orange peel, angelica from North Germany, Indian cardamom, Indian nutmeg, cassia bark, Sri Lankan cinnamon, Mediterranean fennel, African grains of paradise, cubeb from Java, Chinese liquorice, cumin, French anise, and savory. “Each botanical is infused in neutral alcohol of French wheat for different lengths of proof and time, according to its aromatic function,” Gabriel explains. “While some require a strong degree of alcohol and a long infusion such as juniper berries, others infuse better in a weaker degree of alcohol, in a shorter time like star anise”. 

The infusion process lasts three to four days, during which the botanicals are added in successive steps while the degree of alcohol diminishes. “We lower the ABV with pure water, the same water that we use to bring down the ABV for Cognac, in which all the mineral elements have been eliminated through the reverse osmosis process. At the end, once the 19 botanicals have been infused, the ABV is about 30-35%. We set 20% of the infused spirit aside before sending it to the distillery and we infuse three extra botanicals, yuzu, cornflower and genepi from the Alps,” Gabriel says. “We then take the infused spirit to the distillery and we distil. Since the spirit has already been distilled at least three times, we only have to do one distillation. We do not keep the heads, we keep the heart and a large part of the seconds as well”. 

This atypical process of progressive infusion is actually a patented technique, something which Gabriel had never thought of doing until a figure within the government recommended it. “There’s a lot of pride in the French gastronomy and we were told our process should be recorded as a French method. Also, if we did it we could be involved in the French research and development programme,” he explains. “This afforded me the chance to hire a young guy from my village, Nicolas, who did a PhD thesis on the terroir of the Cognac. We’ve given this guy training and it’s been great to have him on my side since then. By the way, the patent is fully open, I’m not gathering any money from it. If you want to use it, it’s Patent No. 17 58092”.

Citadelle Gin

Citadelle Réserve was one of the first aged gins of the modern era

The process of creating gin clearly still excites Gabriel more than two decades later. The potential to explore an array of aromatics that were different from the ones I grew up with is very attractive. But also, look at the regulations on how Cognac is made. It’s 23 pages long. With gin, it’s more like a page or half a page, so the only real limit is your imagination which is very exciting when you come from the Cognac world. I am trained classically in Cognac so I am playing Bach, if you will, so when I make gin it’s like getting to play rock’n’roll or jazz instead. That freedom is wonderful,” Gabriel explains. “When we made Citadelle Réserve we aged it in acacia barrels, a style my grandfather taught me. But if I do that in Cognac… I’d be looking at five months! Yet, we know that classic Cognacs from the 1900s were aged in chestnut barrels thanks to English archives. It’s illegal now. Crazy right?”

He first released Citadelle Réserve back in 2008. Once again, this puts him ahead of the curve in the craft gin game, as there weren’t many aged gins around back then. But Gabriel is quick to clarify that it wasn’t his idea. Instead, it was inspired by another round of research into the history of gin. “I’m ashamed to say, it didn’t come to my mind until I was reading this old document from the archives about gin being shipped gin in barrels. It was really late at night and I immediately ran to our barrels and started pouring gin in a Cognac barrel,” he explains. “It was the first revival of the yellow gins that I know of. Some people followed suit, but it’s still very niche as a category”. 

Acacia wood was just a starting point for Gabriel’s cask experimentations. At Maison Ferrand, you’ll find barrels of wild cherry woods, chataignier (chestnut) and murier (mulberry), as well as French oak having contained Pineau de Charentes or Cognac. All have been used to make editions of Citadelle Réserve, and spirit from all these wood types have been blended in the egg. What egg? The huge wooden egg on site. No, seriously. It’s a patented wood receptacle in which aged Citadelle Gins are blended, making it the first and only gin in the world to use this method. “We call it ‘the ovum’. When I saw this egg I fell in love. It’s a slow and constant blending process designed to integrate the different wood essences,” Gabriel explains. “At 2.45 meters high and with the help of natural convection, the gin inside is in a state of perpetual motion, reducing oxygenation, and preserving the palette of aromas and evaporating volatile aromatic components”.

Citadelle Gin

All hail ‘the ovum’

Gabriel’s desire to explore and test the limits of gin led to the creation of the limited edition Extreme Collection. The first was Citadelle No Mistake Old Tom Gin, made with caramelised Caribbean brown sugar that was aged in the barrel with its cask-aged Citadelle Réserve. Wild Blossom followed, a gin inspired by his mother’s love of herbal infusions that was distilled wild cherry blossom petals and aged in cherrywood casks for five months. “They keep me sane. Take ‘Saisons of the Witch’, which I made by roasting my juniper berries and distilled it with the other botanicals to create a slightly smoky, roasted pepper gin. We sell it only on the estate and we made a few hundred bottles, but I love it,” Gabriel says. “Right now I can tease that we’ve got a new aged gin expression on the way and, also some breaking news, we have a gin maturing in 100-litre vats made from juniper berry tree. All this crazy stuff that I’m having fun with is all part of that new frontier of gin! Then 2021 will be the 25th anniversary of the launching of Citadelle, so the 25th anniversary will come with some surprises as well”. 

The freedom of distilling gin does have its drawbacks for Gabriel, who’s very passionate about gin being a juniper-forward spirit in profile. “I disagree with people just adding the flavour of fruit into a gin. I am older now, I have learned to be respectful. I know the flavoured and coloured gins are growing extremely well, but that’s a direction that I’m not interested in. To me, it is to gin what the marshmallow-flavoured vodka was to that category. We have to be careful as producers because it can dirty the name of gin,” Gabriel reasons. “I’m a purist that way. I have been cautious of exploring and pushing boundaries, even though I am usually considered the guy who is always pushing things. But an approach that is motivated by purely commercial goals is a problem. We are confusing people. We have to be careful that gin isn’t looked at as a different category. The real definition is that gin is a spirit with the dominant flavour of juniper berries”.

Despite his reservations about the flavoured category, Gabriel remains optimistic that gin has got a very exciting future. “Gin has been around for a long time and has gone through a renaissance, a revival that I would never have expected in 1996. But there is still a great interest in gin that’s not going away too quickly. I know England and Spain were the precursor and have been crazy about it for a while but the French are just getting started,” Gabriel says. “People are really excited about gin because of the possibilities that the producer, and therefore the drinker, can explore. That’s the beauty of gin”.

Citadelle Gin

So how to use Citadelle Gin? Gabriel has a few thoughts: “I love a G&T and with Citadelle it’s incredible, but my little sin is actually a Gin Reserve with just a glassful of dry Curaçao,” he says. “Not the blue stuff, we make an original curacao made with real orange. I also love a gin martini with a great vermouth like Dolin and of course I love a French 75”. My advice would be to explore and experiment. It’s what Alexandre Gabriel would do. 

Citadelle Gin Tasting Note:

Nose: Bright, piney juniper is at the forefront, with warm citrus from orange and coriander in support alongside some green cardamom and fresh flowers. In the backdrop, there are deeper, spicy notes of nutmeg, cinnamon and grains of paradise, which are joined by a slight nutty quality and the sticky sweetness of liquorice. 

Palate: The juniper is front and centre once more, but it’s joined by spice from cracked black pepper, the floral sweetness of Parma Violets and a savoury, woody quality. It’s a rich and full-bodied palate that features orange peel, cumin, star anise and cardamom throughout. 

Finish: Dry and a little peppery at first, the finish then develops with plenty of aromatic baking spices, fennel, more liquorice and a sweet hint of angelica.

Overall: A complex, intriguing and well-integrated gin that does a particularly good job of balancing floral and spicy notes.

Citadelle gin is available from Master of Malt.

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Cocktail masterclass with Moët Hennessy

With the promise of warmer weekends ahead, now’s the time to pin down a selection of light, refreshing and unfussy al-fresco drinks. Here, American Bar at The Savoy’s bartender Jake…

With the promise of warmer weekends ahead, now’s the time to pin down a selection of light, refreshing and unfussy al-fresco drinks. Here, American Bar at The Savoy’s bartender Jake O’Brien Murphy and Belvedere vodka brand ambassador Mark Tracey share four simple and delicious Scotch whisky, Cognac and vodka-based cocktails…

Stock up on choc ices and fire up the BBQ – summer might look a little different this year, but it’s so close, we can almost taste it. Technically, we’ve already tasted it, having attended a virtual cocktail masterclass hosted by Moët Hennessy (the French company behind Ardbeg, Glenmorangie, Hennessy and Belvedere). 

Guided by Jake O’Brien Murphy, bartender at American Bar at The Savoy, and Mark Tracey, Belvedere brand ambassador, we re-created four quintessential summer serves designed to make the most out of everyday ingredients you might find in your kitchen. And now we’re sharing the recipes with you, because we’re nice like that. Before you slap that sunscreen on, though, a few words of advice. 

The American Bar at the Savoy

First of all, ready your workspace. Or to paraphrase nineties rapper Ice Cube, prep yourself before your wreck yourself. It only takes a few minutes to make syrups, lay out garnishes and squeeze lemons and limes, and it’ll make assembling your cocktail far easier. “I would always encourage using fresh produce, squeezed as close to making the drink as you can,” says Tracey.

Should your chosen cocktail require shaking – as several below do – don’t skimp on the ice. Fill the shaker as full as you possibly can. Aim to shake for between eight and 10 seconds, or until condensation forms on the outside of the shaker. “You just want to tie everything together and add a load of tiny little micro-bubbles into [the drink],” says O’Brien Murphy. “That’s the idea of shaking: We’re trying to get it cold, dilute it, and alter the texture.”

The same goes for your glassware, too. “If you pour the drink over one cube of ice, that cube of ice will lose its thermal integrity quicker than a big glass full of ice,” O’Brien Murphy continues. It might help to think of ice as an ingredient that makes your drink more consistent from start to finish. “The less ice, the more dilution,” says Tracey, “which means the drink is going to change, it’ll heat up and it’s not going to be as palatable.” 

Finally, use a fine strainer if you have one. Not only will it catch citrus remnants and pulp from other fruits (if you’re shaking with berries, for example) but it’ll also capture smaller shards of ice, potentially affecting the dilution, and nobody wants that. 

Well, we’ve done our bit. You’re free to get cracking on the cocktails below – but if you fancy watching the professionals do it first, Tracey and O’Brien Murphy are hosting this very masterclass live on Moët Hennessy’s Clos19 Instagram account this Wednesday, 20 May at 5pm.

Belvedere Almond Milk Punch

Tell me more… A light and silky take on the traditional milk punch.

Ingredients: 40ml Belvedere, 25ml fresh lemon juice, 15ml honey water*, 60ml almond milk, mint to garnish

Method: Shake all ingredients over ice and strain into ice filled highball glass. Garnish with sprigs of mint.

*Honey water: combine 3 parts honey and 1 part boiling water (3:1)

Ardbeg Shortie’s Dirty Daiquiri

Tell me more… A smoky twist on popular summertime classic, the Daiquiri.

Ingredients: 50ml Ardbeg Ten Year Old, 20ml apple juice, 20ml fresh lime juice, 10ml vanilla syrup*

Method: Shake all ingredients over ice before straining into a chilled coupe.

*Vanilla Syrup: combine 1 part caster sugar and 1 part boiling water (1:1). Stir until clear and then simply add a dash of vanilla essence or vanilla paste.  

Glenmorangie Ginger & Honey Highball

Tell me more… Fresh and light, combining the fruity notes of Glenmorangie with sweet citrus.

Ingredients: 50ml Glenmorangie Original, 15ml fresh lemon juice, 15ml honey water*, sparkling water to top, lemon wedge, slices of raw ginger

Method: Mix all ingredients together (excluding the sparkling water) and strain into an ice-filled Highball glass. Top with sparkling water. Garnish with a lemon wedge and thin ginger slices.

*Honey water: combine 3 parts honey and 1 part water (3:1)

Hennessy & Ginger

Tell me more… A perfectly-balanced sweet and spicy highball.

Ingredients: 50ml Hennessy VS, ginger ale, fresh lime to garnish

Method: Pour Hennessy VS into a tall glass. Add ice cubes, top with ginger ale and stir with a bar spoon. Garnish with fresh lime.

 

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