Armagnac

14 August, 2012

Neil Mathieson of Eaux de Vie and chairman of judges at the International Spirits Challenge, concurs with Rackham about cocktails. “I do not see it with mixologists,” he says. “Armagnac has a lot of extract and I do not think it is ‘clean’ enough to mix with tropical flavours, even though orange is a traditional partner to brown spirits.”

Vintage approach

Mathieson sees armagnac as akin to a Burgundy domain rather than a cognac house. He is critical of the cognac houses which he feels do not do enough to promote the overall brandy sector, certainly in emerging markets.

“They carry on as if armagnac does not exist and take their own route,” says Mathieson. He doesn’t sell to China or Hong Kong and is concerned that, as Armagnac is populated with nothing but relatively small-scale producers, prices will rise if demand from the far east starts to ramp up. Cognac and scotch are primarily about blending on a massive scale, particularly with the major international brands, but armagnac is small and majors on vintages so the aged stock isn’t there for a large scale uplift.

Mike Sweetman, vice-chairman of the United Kingdom Bartenders’ Guild London tells DI: “I do agree to a certain point with James (Rackham) about it being a digestive to be enjoyed after a meal with a nice cigar.

“I am currently organising an armagnac cocktail competition for the members of the UKBG who went on the trip to Armagnac last year. We have come up with some interesting libations, using armagnacs from the houses that we visited.

“With regard to its presence on the back bar, there are a good many top hotels with a nice selection of armagnacs. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of bars which don’t carry any at all, which I think is really disappointing. I think I have a better selection on my private back bar at home than some bars that I visit.

“In my travels around bars, even some 3/4 star hotels, they neither carry it nor do their staff know what you are asking for. This I am sure is due to lack of education,” says Sweetman.

“The trip last year was both educational and inspiring. Getting first-hand knowledge on production, seeing how the grapes are grown, harvested and crushed. The best part: the tasting. This was so important, learning the history and understanding about how it is all made matured and bottled,” says Sweetman.

Chris Hiatt, the spirits buyer at Slope Cellars liquor store in Brooklyn New York, says: “I’m starting to want only to recommend armagnac to anyone who’s looking for a ‘brown’ spirit, simply because it’s really tasty stuff, and it’s amazing more people aren’t hip to it. It’s got a cool and unique regional style at a variety of price points and it usually wears it’s age well.

“I prefer to drink the stuff neat, but I suppose a more affordable version would be good in a Sidecar. I think Blanche de Armagnac is the spot to watch for the region’s increased participation in the cocktail craze,” says Hiatt.





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