True Craft

30 August, 2017

With its small-scale production and insistence on traditional methods, armagnac can lay claim to truly being the original ‘craft’ spirit. Shay Waterworth visited 11 producers in gascony to find out how history is meeting modernity

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THE EDITOR OF Drinks International, Christian Davis, is soon to be crowned a Musketeer of Armagnac by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac for his services to the spirit. This traditional relationship between the Musketeers and Armagnac is one of long-standing tradition, but times change and so do consumers. Which is why we now see a much younger audience beginning to emerge. You guessed it – the millennials.

Before diving into what’s new and exciting for armagnac, it’s important to admire the traditions and traits of France’s oldest spirit. The word ‘craft’ may be being bandied around left, right and centre on bottles from gin to ginger beer, but armagnac takes this term to the next level.

ARMA-WHAT?

For those not versed in the traditional production of armagnac, it is a result of distilling wine in a column still, or alembic, and ageing in oak barrels. The spirit is then either blended or left as a vintage – armagnac uniquely uses only grapes from one year in production.

Armagnac, unlike rum, is one of the most officiated spirits in the world. According to the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac, producers must not use oak from outside Europe in the ageing process, they can only use 10 grape varieties, of which Folle Blanc, Bacao, Ugni Blanc and Colombard are most popular, and the spirit must be produced in the Armagnac region. These more obvious criteria only scrape the surface of the regulations surrounding the spirit.

Armagnac has everything needed to appeal to a global audience – history, a wide taste profile, it’s generally cheaper than single malt whiskies and has unique characteristics, such as its vintages. So why isn’t it on every supermarket shelf across the world?

Despite most armagnac producers residing in picturesque châteaux with armies of vines galloping over the surrounding hills, armagnac remains in the financial shadow of cognac. If you were to ask the average Joe what armagnac is, they would likely reply: “It’s a bit like cognac.”

According to Drinks International’s Millionaires’ Club, cognac brand Hennessy grew 10% in 2016 and, after selling 6.5m 9-litre cases that year, it’s widely understood that the brand owns more than half the entire cognac category.

SMALL-SCALE PRODUCTION

When people think of craft they tend to imagine the small-scale production of a spirit, probably in a garden shed or basement. Armagnac has very few large-scale producers – in fact, not one appeared in the Millionaires’ Club for 2017. This is just one reason the French spirit deserves praise for its true craftsmanship and traditions.

The attention to detail by some producers is often staggering. For example, at Château du Tariquet the water used for dilution is distilled in exactly the same conditions as the armagnac to avoid any weakening of flavour.





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