The Brandy Report (6/12): French brandy

02 March, 2015

He says cognac was down 6%, French brandy 5% and non-French brandy up 4% in the 12 months ending mid-November, according to Nielsen. Barker reports brandy “doesn’t have a role in the UK on-trade”, which is “90% cognac” and almost entirely made up of “three or four brands”. But he sees innovations such as St Rémy with French Honey as a route into the on-trade. For more on flavoured brandy, see page 23.  

St Rémy – as Three Barrels and Bardinet – does not offer VS level. This is no accident. For these French brandies, margin is slightly lower and without the ‘category brand’ (eg cognac or armagnac) it makes sense to skip straight to the quality descriptor of VSOP.

Punching above their weight is what these brandies do. If cognac or armagnac offer VS for more than £20, the likes of St Rémy, Bardinet and Three Barrels must offer VSOP for under £20. Until the conversation changes from price to quality and innovation, this will always be their lot. Diversification offers these French brandies a chance to flower. As cognac is tied up in its own regulations, French brandies are free to produce innovative styles. Scotch whisky-style cask finishes and exclusive limited editions could hold the key to the premium market – and on cue is the new Bardinet XO Limited Edition Grand Cru Wine Cask Finish. 

Currently travel retail has been targeted (see page 24), but to create a meaningful movement the best place is the on-trade. Lulu White’s Long says there is currently a “false image” that non-cognac and armagnac brandies are of lower quality among the trade but says he can also see a “movement towards using lesser-known French products”. 

If France’s other brandies from the likes of Bardinet down to smaller artisanal regional spirits are to grow,
they might look to French bartenders as their champions. “If we don’t, who will?” says Le Syndicat’s Doh. “I hope Le Syndicat will be a window on our French heritage.”

The Brandy Report comes in 12 parts. Folllow the links here Category introduction by Hamish Smith (1/12), Brandy in the Philipinnes by Hamish Smith (2/12)Cognac by Nicholas Faith (3/12)Premium brandies by Richard Woodard (4/12)Armagnac by Ian Buxton (5/12)French brandy by Hamish Smith (6/12)Spanish brandies by Dominic Roskrow (7/8)

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