Archive for Spirits

London’s First Wheat Whisky Made in a Transatlantic Partnership


History was made on October 6, 2016 when Sonoma County Distilling Company of California, USA partnered with the UK’s East London Liquor Company to make London’s first ever wheat whisky.

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“Working with Sonoma County Distilling was the perfect opportunity to do our very own wheat.  We were able to get help and advice from Adam Spiegel, who’s had lots of experience developing his own wheat whisky, while still making the resulting whisky unique to us,” said East London Liquor Company’s Whisky Distiller Andy Mooney about the transatlantic collaboration.

The Whiskey Wash

The Whiskey Wash

The mash bill was made by Mooney in partnership with Sonoma County’s Distiller, Adam Spiegel and incorporates  60% wheat grown in the UK, 5% corn and 35% Pale Ale Barley.

Speaking a little about the mash bill,  Spiegel, stated his rationale for the addition of Pale Ale Barley to the mix.  “While we’re sort of tasting chocolate notes on the back end of it right now…[Pale Ale Barley] will give it a real vibrant flavor.  Wheat is a soft grain and plays off the environment in which it lives, so adding a distinctive barley will give it a lot of extra attention and give it sort of a little kick.”

The wash tasted sweet and pleasantly grainy, maintaining a certain weightiness on the palate.  I tried to imagine how the wash would eventually develop into whisky form. The base was admittedly delicious, so logic would dictate that this would be a whisky worth pursuing. Unfortunately, for those curious to taste the end product now, there is three years of barrel aging ahead of its eventual release to the public.

“As two businesses, we’re both fairly young. I’ve been open for six years and they’ve been open for two, so we’re kind of getting our feet wet, and still figuring out what we like to do,” said Adam Spiegel.

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Sonoma County Distilling Company currently has on offer a Rye Whiskey, an in-house made Bourbon they call West of Kentucky Bourbon, and, of course a Wheat Whiskey.

“We’ve scaled ourselves up from a nano-distillery to a micro-distillery.  I hope in the future we will be considered the whiskey distillery of California,” said Spiegel about  Sonoma County.

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East London Liquor Company currently offers a variety of premium Gins, Vodka, a Rum and Whisky, not to mention this new Wheat Whisky collaboration.  They also boast a bar on their premises, for those interested in a trying a variety spirits from around the world.

“Since we opened in 2014, we have worked continuously to produce honestly-priced, innovative spirits for the UK and we are delighted to be bringing whisky production back to the historic distilling area of East London following the casking of our pioneering London Rye® in 2015,” said Mooney of East London Liquor Company.

Some New(er) Faces on the Spirits Front

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A New white aperitif, chenin Blanc based and made off of an old Cape recipe

Everyday new products appear on the market, some are hum-drum, some are just plain strange and others have the potential to revolutionize a category or at least, offer a welcome addition to what is currently on offer.  At the recent Imbibe tasting, there were definitely some interesting, fun, new,  or at least, relatively recent additions to the spirits market.

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First, was a Pastis from a small micro-distillery from Cornwall, called Southwestern Distillery.   The UK’s first Pastis and a double gold winner at the San Francisco World Spirits competition, this handcrafted spirit is made with freshly foraged gorse flowers and orange zest.  The end result is a viscous, unctuous spirit with notes of anise, citrus, fennel and licorice that seems to work at soothing jangled nerves and anything else that may need calming, such as an off-kilter digestion system.  Delicious with some water and ice.

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Nomad Whisky is a collaboration between master blender Richard Paterson of Whyte & Mackay and sherry producer Gonzalez Byass .  A blend of whiskies sourced from Scotland’s Highlands, Lowlands and Speyside, Nomad is aged for over five years in sherry butts before being shipped to Jerez for an extra year of aging in PX casks.  The warmth in the bodegas speeds the ageing process up, making this whisky taste more mature than its years and bringing some secondary dried fruit characteristics that only comes with age.   This blend really represents the best aspects of each of the represented Scottish regions and shows itself to be velvety, with tons of dried prunes, peach and apricot, spice, vanilla and orange, citrus notes.  Very velvety, almost sweet on the palate, this is a complex, spicy fruit bomb.

blended whisky

Boutique Whiskey Company has a number of interesting whisky’s on offer, many of which come from a single barrel.  Most of their range is compelling, but the one that caught my attention was the Blended Scotch Whisky, which is a comprised of a blend of, on average, 37 year old whiskies.   The nose is an unbelievable blend of butterscotch, vanilla, spice, pepper and floral notes.    On the palate, some caramel and tobacco.  Lots of layers of flavors and very well rounded.

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Drumshanbo Gunpowerder Irish Gin a fusion of east and west, made with locally foraged meadowsweet and vapor infused oriental lemon and lime, fresh grapefruit and gunpowder.   All the botanicals smell so fresh and citrusy with lovely floral notes.  It is smooth on the palate and the botanicals are well balanced.  This is delicious straight up.

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Sweden’s Gottlands Bittar is an amaro of about 38% ABV that is made up of 30 different herbs, many originated locally. A mix of herbs and sea flavors, many of the herbs included in Gotland Bittar have been used for millennia for their medicinal properties that are thought to aid in cardiovascular health and digestion. Gotland Bittar includes a distillate of beer aged one year in French oak barrels.  This is a unique Swedish drink that can be used as an aperitif or as part of a Negroni.

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Windspiel is a German gin made from potatoes.  It is very broad and creamy on the palate has some woody components mixed with citrus, floral and herbal notes.   The botanicals in this unique gin include cinnamon, ginger, juniper, lemon peel, coriander and lavender.

 

Prohibition Pig, Home of Craft Beers, Comfort Food And Classic Cocktails

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I stumbled upon brew pub-restaurant Prohibition Pig on my last trek to the green mountains of Vermont.  From the moment I walked in, I knew I struck gold. A beer selection a mile deep, not to mention their own beer offerings, this local brew pub, influence by the deep South, features shrimp and grits, brisket, pulled pork and pork rinds among other Southern specialties.

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IMG_0843The bar was packed three deep and all the tables packed with people and laden comfort foods, pork-related or otherwise.

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A barbecue joint that serves classic cocktails, craft beers and offers an array of comfort foods, Prohibition Pig also brews its own beer in a building behind its restaurant.  Among the selection of beers are several draft offerings from Prohibition Pig’s own brewery, including their Multi-grain IPA and Vanilla Bean Porter.  They began brewing in 2013 and the reaction from locals and visitors has been overwhelmingly positive.

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The brewery is just behind the restaurant and also offers some food alongside its selection of draft beers, made from the kit shown below.

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I couldn’t help but notice that the bar was stocked with some of my favorite micro-distilled spirits.   The food passing by me courtesy of the milling wait staff convinced me that the 30 minute wait for a table was a no-brainer.   Luckily, I was able to secure a table quickly and could settle in to enjoy some of Prohibition Pig’s offerings.

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Below, a peek of their menu.

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Our table opted to start with some pork finds and to start with an Old Fashion.

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IMG_0826IMG_0826IMG_0826IMG_0826IMG_0826IMG_0827IMG_0849Now for a little fry action.  On offer are some duck fat fried french fries.

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Now our entrees, a pulled-pork sandwich and their jumbo Hot Dog:

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And lastly, the meal ended with Prohibition Pig’s Key Lime Pie.

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All in all, a great place for brunch, lunch or dinner.  Great beer, cocktails and Southern inspired food always hits the right spot.

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Elixrr Goes to ProWein

Highlights of ProWein 2016

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The crowds were thick with exhibitors and visitors excitedly bustling through the various pavilions.  All told, there were over 6,000 exhibitors from 59 different countries and over 55,000 visitors, half of which coming from outside Germany.  Although, the show was a few weeks ago, it has left a lasting impression–everyone who is anyone in the wine and spirit world was there…and then some!  With several huge halls to wade through, one could walk miles and miles each day trying to get to the many exhibitors and to partake in as many of events as possible.

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A recap of some highlights:

At the largest wine and spirits show in the world, one expects to see the best wine and spirits, but how about glassware?  And are all glasses and containers alike? I learned that the glass used for a particular wine, beer or spirit can have a profound effect on the taste and ultimate appreciation of the beverage for consumers.

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Stops at top glass manufacturers like Zwiesel Kristall, Riedel, Spiegelau to name a few confirmed that great glassware isn’t just about being beautiful, but functional as well.  At Spiegelau, I was treated to a beer tasting using a variety of their beer glasses compared to the standard beer glass and was stunned at how the beer’s taste changed when it was in the correct Spiegelau glass.

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Spiegelau Beer Glasses

Spiegelau beer glasses are made specific to accentuate the flavors and aromas of a variety of beers.  There is a glass for wheat beers, IPAs and another for stout, for example.

The conventional beer glass made the beer taste hoppy and simple with the nose muted to the point that very little of the aroma’s nuances were picked up on the nose.  On the other hand, Spiegelau‘s beer glasses accentuated the flavors of citrus and spice, the aroma was suddenly fragrant and alive with honey spice notes of the wheat beer I tasted.

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A Variety of Spiegelau Beer Glasses

At Riedel, I was able to participate in a Champagne tasting using four different Riedel glasses. As a lover of bubbles, I was shocked to learn that my go-to Champagne glasses, the traditional flute shaped glass that seems so tall and elegant actually mutes the flavor and aroma of Champagne.

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Riedel Champagne Tasting

ProWein and Wales 132ProWein and Wales 132(Pictured Above) The two glasses on the right opened up the flavors and nuances of the Champagne the best.  The larger glass on the right opened up the Champagne the best, but also caused the bubbles to dissipate faster while the glass right of it seemed to make the most out of the champagne without losing its lively sparkle.ProWein and Wales 099

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One of the Featured Wines at Zwiesel

At Zwiesel Kristall, I was able to experience their glasses with wine made by some of Germany’s top women winemakers.  Hosted by Andrea Wirsching of Weingut Hans Wirsching, the glasses were a treat to drink from.  It was fun to mingle with the other ladies of wine, too.

Back in Hall 12, the wonderful spirits of Schladerer were shown to advantage.  Several unique cocktails were on offer for attendees to try.

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Schladerer Mixologist Hard at Work

Schladerer Mixologist Hard at Work

ProWein and Wales 143They all looked great, but I limited myself to trying the Huckleberry Finn and Himbeer Smash.

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Back at Hall 14, I checked out a vodka producer using mostly grapes.  The vodka was very clean, and seemed to take on some of the characteristics of the grapes used.  Especially delicious with dried meat. I admit that it was the packaging that originally caught my attention, but what is in the bottle is equally as good.

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Made Mostly with Grapes from the Kaiserstuhl

 

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Bodega Lustau is always a sight for sore eyes.  The Amontillado was a beautiful amber color with hazelnut and walnut aromas and on the palate almond flavors dominated.  The Palo Cortado was also showing beautifully, some notes of orange marmalade and pecans.  Seeing Bodega Lustau was a reminder of how great premium Sherry can be, not to mention its versatility in pairing with food. Below is an example of food paired with Lustau Sherry at their bodega.

The tasting at Lustau and everything from Fino to the most luscious PX

The tasting at Lustau and everything from Fino to the most luscious PX

 

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Off to Hall 10, I was lucky enough to snag Dirk van der Niepoort for a little tasting.  As always, his ports and wine don’t disappoint.

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The 1997 Colheita exhibited dried dark stone fruit, prunes and black berry and the 20 Year Tawny Port, tawny, dried black fruits and toffee notes of coffee and Niepoort’s 2007 Vintage port was dense purple, tightly wound with firm tannins, red and black fruits this port has a lot of time ahead to develop before it is ready to drink.

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Dirk van der Niepoort Taking some Time out to Taste some of his ports with me.

ProWein and Wales 112ProWein and Wales 112He also tasted me on one of his wines.  He made a Rose that was just stunning and very unique.  Almost full bodied at the same time as bone dry, with rose petal and strawberry finishing on a very minerally note. This is a serious wine, though.  And, I could imagine all the foods that it would pair fantastically with.

Agnes Hasselbach of Gunderloch

Agnes Hasselbach of Gunderloch

Over in the Hall 14, a number of the VDP were represented.  As always, producers like Gunderloch, von Hovel, Zilliken and Rebholz had stellar line-ups.  And, 2015 was another solid vintage.  I especially liked Gunderloch’s Nackenheimer Rothenberg Spaetlese.  It was luscious with minerally, peach, nectarine and lime flavors.

Christoph Edelbauer at his stand at ProWein

Christoph Edelbauer at his stand at ProWein

Over in Hall 17, everything Austrian was on display.  I was able to catch up with winemaker Christoph Edelbauer to try a selection of his portfolio.  The whole range was outstanding, but some wines that stood out was the 2014 Reserve Gruner Veltliner.  The wine had a full mouth-feel with lots of peppery spicy notes, lime and nectarine flavors and bursting with lively acidity.

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Some of Christoph Edelbauer’s Range of Wine

The 20015 Riesling Kamptal was solid and showed lovely minerality and pear with floral notes.  The star of the line-up was the 2014 Chardonnay BA.  Logging in at 120 grams of sugar, 8.1 grams of acidity and harvested at 140 Oechsle, this luscious dessert wine was bursting with apricots, honey and chamomile notes.

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Finally, it was time to head over to the Champagne Lounge.  Represented were all the notables; Pol Roger, Billecart Salmon, Lanson and a bevy of grower Champagne producers.  Brimoncourt and A. Robert had some lovely Champagnes worth looking at.

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The surprise for me, was the overall topnotch quality of the Duval-Leroy line-up.

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The 2002 Brut Nature was everything a zero dosage should be and then some with its purity of fruit expression and precision of fruit and acid balance–it is perfect to drink now.

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Duval-Leroy Sales Manager Alexis Vaernewyck holding the Prized Rose in his hands

The Premier Cru Brut Rose and the 2000 Femme de Champagne 95%Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Noir with 5 or so grams of dosage and 14 years on the lees were truly stunning. But, there wasn’t a dog in this bunch.  Actually, the whole range was outstanding and I left thinking that everyone should be so lucky as to drink Champagne of this quality at least once in a life time.

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14 years on the lees and well worth the wait

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ProWein just keeps getting bigger and bigger each year.  Despite its size, it was well organized and a worthy event for those in the trade looking to make important connections in the industry and to taste the best available.

 

 

 

Falling for Whisk-e-y in Fall

Now that we are heading into colder weather, what could be better for a nippy Autumn night, but a fabulous whisk(e)y?  Do you like peaty flavors in your whisk(e)y?  Something sweeter and more complex? A little fruit maybe?

Below, are some Whiskies that that might fit what your palate: italy 281 Made at Kilchoman, the first distillery to be established on Islay in 125 years and one of a few still practicing floor malting.  Kilchoman has brought back the tradition of the farm distillery to Islay by being the only to do all parts of the production process at the distillery from growing their own barley to bottling.

Their spirits are matured in first fill bourbon casks from Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky and first fill Oloroso sherry butts from Miguel Martin in Jerez, Spain.

This 2008 single cask release has plenty of butterscotch, vanilla, some spicy fruit and smoky, peaty notes.  Logging in at 61% alc, the only downside to this whisky is that you can only find this bottling at the Whisk(e)y Exchange.

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Easier to obtain, but no less good, the 2007 vintage is made by using 80% Bourbon barrels and the balance from Sherry Butts.  This is the oldest whisk(e)y available at the time of any given release.  The 2007 vintage has salty peat, clove, vanilla, nutmeg and smoked fruit notes.

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From the Highlands in Scotland, Balblair has been making Scotch since 1790. Balblair is unique in its production of only vintage Scotch, signifying the year it was made.

Balblair is typically fruity, smooth and complex.  Their 1975 bottling made 100% with Sherry Casks is no exception.  The complex, smokey, spicy-sweet aromas are followed by honey, citrus, vanilla and spice notes on the palate, finishing long with a touch of coconut, vanilla and smoke.

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Ok, this is rare and retailing for 2,500 GBP, so not exactly affordable. But, it is too delightful not to write about after having tasted it!  On the nose, lots of fresh fruit aromas; citrus, stone fruit and some herbal, mint notes.  On the palate some toffee, spicy fruit, a touch of apple and herbal notes.  Very long on the finish, ending with smoky, vanilla flavors.  So perfectly integrated and at its peak, this is worth seeking out.

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AnCnoc is another Highland whisky, also typically fruity with complex, spicy flavors and aromas.  Lots of fresh citrus and apple flavors with some nutmeg and ginger, finishing with notes of smoke and vanilla.

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Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr was considered to be one of the founding fathers of the bourbon industry, combining classic with modern bourbon making techniques and innovating climate control ageing in warehouses.  E.H. Taylor Jr’s Small Batch is made by hand and aged in the very warehouses the Colonel constructed over a century ago.

Full of apricot, peach and butterscotch flavors this bourbon has sweet popped corn/salted caramel notes.  The long finish ends with some smoky tobacco flavors. italy 290

Rock Hill is a “Rye Recipe” Kentucky Straight Bourbon.  Bourbon in general must be made from at least 51% corn, meaning that this “rye recipe” bourbon just has more rye than the average bourbon.  In addition, Bourbon can not be distilled to more than 160 proof, nor can additional flavorings or colors can be added at any time.  Bourbon must be aged for a minimum of 2 years in new charred oak barrels.

The Rock Hill is very spicy and nutty, with dried red fruit, caramel, toffee and almond paste flavors.  Smooth and honey-like on the finish finishing with notes of butterscotch, toffee and almond.

 

Great Whisky and Food Pairings

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There is always a lot of talk among foodies regarding wine and food pairings, but it isn’t often that one connects whisky as a possible partner to both savory and sweet dishes.  At a recent tasting, I had the opportunity to taste a variety of whiskies paired with everything from Turkish Delight, Chocolate, oysters to sausage.  Below are some pictures of these pairings:

Dried sausage with a wee dram of Kilchoman

Dried sausage with a wee dram of Kilchoman Machir Bay

This pairing probably is one of the more obvious ones. The meaty sausage flavor combined with the peaty, iodine smokey notes of this Islay delight is sublime and a nice alternative to the normal tapas combos.

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Turkish Delight with the Balblair 2002

Turkish delight with whisky?  Beats me, but somehow the sweet rose flavors of the Turkish Delight took the Balblair 02 scotch to another level.

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Glenmorangie Signet paired with Artisan du Chocolat truffles

The Glenmorangie Signet paired with a variety of chocolates courtesy of Artisan du Chocholat of London was heavenly.  Ok, I could have stayed here all night long.  The chocolates were off the hook and the scotch which had sweet notes of chocolate, orange and coffee note. Glenmorangie uses a chocolate malted barley for this whisky, which they attribute to an important component to making this pairing work.

 

 

Some Smooth Armagnacs To Sip

There are many great Armagnac available, but below are a few great estates to look out for.

Château de Laubade

First, is Château de Laubade one of the premiere estates in Armagnac. Built in 1870 and comprised of 260 acres of single vineyard, Château de Laubade is located in Sorbets d’Armagnac, the noblest area of the Bas Armagnac.  The four main grapes of Armagnac are used by Château de Laubade, with Ugni Blanc making up 47%, Baco 22A 30%, Colombard 15% and Folle Blanche 8%.

The Lesgourgues family has been running the estate since 1974.  In its 3rd generation, the estate continues to implement sustainable farming practices.

Château de Laubade is currently the only Armagnac estate coopering its own casks from forests surrounding the estate, a process that requires 3 years of wood drying before the barrels can be constructed.

 ARLE.jpg    The XO is between 15-25 years of age with Baco, Ugni-Blanc, Colombard and Folle Blanche in its blend.  This is rich and viscous, super complex with vanilla, dried fruit, orange peel and prune.

ARMAGNAC-INTEMPOREL-HORS-D-AGE-CHATEAU-DE-LAUBADE--LAUBADE.jpgThe Hors D’Age is a mix of 12-20 years, made predominately with Baco.  Lots of dried fruits, some butterscotch, nut and apricot notes.

p402074.jpg1983 Vintage a mix of Ugni Blanc and Baco.  Rich and complex with some leather, dried fig, prune, cedar and toffee notes.

 

Bas Armagnac Dartigalongue

Founded in 1838 by Pascal Dartigalongue in Nograro, the estate is still in controlled by the Dartigalongue family.  The vineyards of the estate are on mostly sandy soils, with particular focus on the grapes of Ugni Blanc and Baco.

The estate has 3 different cellars. One cellar is dry, one wet and the other cellar is an elevated dry cellar built in the 19th century.  The Armagnac vintages are aged through the 3 cellars. 

Dartigalongue has been available almost from the beginning in Belgium, Holland, England and the US via the port of Bayonne.   They produce about 60, 000 bottles per year.

 The XO is made from a minimum of 10 year old spirits, with the oldest 20 years old.  Very elegant, vanilla, smoke and cedar notes with prune and dried orange and apricot notes.

Other great estates to look for include, Janneau and Tariquet, to name a few.  Try some Armagnac today!

Armagnac, the Forgotten Brandy of Southwest France is on the Upswing

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Gingerbread, prune, violets, truffles, orange peel, vanilla, cinnamon and cream…Just some of the adjectives used at a recent tasting to describe Armagnac, France’s oldest produced brandy.  The best of Armagnac is flavorful and aromatic; the more Baco driven, aged examples can be especially rich and viscous with smoky, dried fruit, prune, nut and rancio flavors.  Younger Armagnac often are lighter and fruitier with floral aromas; sometimes herbal notes.

Armagnac has long been overshadowed by Cognac, but comparing the two is unfair.  The famous bartender Salvatore Calabrese perhaps said it best:

“The difference between cognac and Armagnac? Imagine a length of velvet and another of a silk fabric.  Stroke them.  The velvet has a deep, rich texture.  That is an Armagnac.  The silk is pure finesse, and that, to me is a Cognac.”

Armagnac offers a unique product at comparatively bargain prices–which may explain the 6% uptick in export sales in 2012 according to BNIC.  The prices range according to age and estate as is the case for most wine and spirits, but an outstanding bottle aged 20 years can be had for under $45 a bottle or £35.

Consumers can find Armagnac in a number of styles and a range of maturation periods spanning from as little as 3 months for Blanche Armagnac to Armagnac that has spent many decades in barrel before release.  The new Blanche Armagnac seems to have great potential for mixologists, not to mention other younger Armagnac styles that work have been shown to work well in cocktails.

And unlike in Cognac, Armagnac has a tradition of single vintage releases, for those who like to enjoy a very specific year.  A mature example of Armagnac spanning 40 years and slightly beyond is fairly easy to obtain on the market today.

So why is Armagnac relatively unknown to consumers?   Perhaps one explanation has to do with its geography.  Although the first region to produce brandy in France, Armagnac wasn’t all that accessible outside of landlocked Gascony until the 18th century, when Dutch traders started shipping Armagnac from the Port of Bordeaux.

However, transporting from Armagnac was not very economical as the River Baise was too shallow in certain areas for many months of the year, preventing cargo from being shipped.  It was only in 1839 when the River Baise had been deepened and extended in some areas that economical transport to Bordeaux via Condom came about.

For brandy lovers, it may be a blessing in disguise that Armagnac has been slow to export.  Armagnac is today dominated by mostly small, family owned distillers, a total of 500 independent producers, 300 cooperatives and 40 negociants. This means that a truly handcrafted, unique product can still be found in Armagnac.

It is interesting to note that Armagnac is a relatively rare product on the market when compared to Cognac and other spirits.  Only 5.6 million bottles of Armagnac were produced in 2012 versus 183 million bottles of Cognac, and an estimated 5 billion bottles of vodka.  50% of Armagnac production is consumed domestically with the rest being exported to over 100 countries, with China, Russia, the UK, Germany and Spain leading the way, according to statistics provided by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de L’Armagnac (BNIA).

History

It took contributions from three cultures to develop Armagnac.  First, the Romans who brought wine vines to the region. Second, the Arabs who invented the Alembic, and third, the Celts, who introduced wood barrels into the equation.

Armagnac or Aygue Ardente, the precursor to Armagnac was developed for therapeutic reasons, not for pleasure, which may surprise some. In 1310 Prior Vital du Four, a cardinal, famously wrote about the 40 virtues of the spirit that could miraculously cure hepatitis, cankers and gout to name a few.  It was also attributed to preserving youth and retarding senility.

It wasn’t until 1410 according to records, that Armagnac was consumed and sold.  Finally, in the 16th Century Armagnac became available in regional markets.   By the 18th century, Armagnac was finally exported to international markets via the Port of Bordeaux by the Dutch.

In 1760, Armagnac finally made its way to Versailles and took the French court by storm.  Armagnac became the preferred brandy of King Louis XV.

After the US War of Independence, the US boycotted whiskey and cognac, another form of rebellion as these were the preferred spirits of the English.  Armagnac helped fill the void and America’s thirst for brandy in the early days.

By the 1850s, the Gers, the department where Armagnac grapes are grown, was the biggest grape growing region in France.  Unfortunately, in 1879 phylloxera hits the region destroying half of Armagnac’s vineyards.

In early 1900s, the 3 regions of Bas-Armagnac, Armagnac-Tenarèze and Haut Armagnac are delimited and the Appellation decree is signed.  In May 27, 2005, a new AOC is created for Le Blanche, a fruity and floral water clear brandy made from a choice of Folle Blanche, Ugni-Blanc and Baco.

Now, the Technical Information about Armagnac

There are 10 accepted grapes, with the 4 main ones as follows:

Ugni Blanc – 50% of Armagnac grape production is made with Ugni Blanc, making a high acid, low alcohol wine.   When distilled, it makes a very refined, high quality spirit that ages well.

Baco – is the only hybrid allowed in Armagnac grape production and makes up 40% of Armagnac grapes grown and a cross of Folle Blanche and the Noah grape.  Baco was invented by François Baco, a Landais schoolmaster at the end of the 19 century in response to the phylloxera devastation.  It is particularly adapted to the sandy and boulbène soils of the Bas-Armagnac where it gives smooth, round eaux-de-vie with aromas of ripe fruits, especially after long ageing.

Folle Blanche – makes up only 8% of grape production due to difficulty in grafting, it is the most ancient and  best  known  variety.  The Folle Blanche produces a floral, elegant brandy that are shows particularly well in the Blanche and other young Armagnac.

Colombard – only represents about 2% of Armagnac grape production.  It is fruity, spicy spirits with some vegetal characteristics and is most often used as part of a blend.

Other varietals allowed, but only a few hectares are grown are  Clairette de Gascogne, white Jurançon, Plant de Graisse, Meslier St François or the white and rosé Mauzac.

Regional Information

Located in the heart of Gascony, between the Adour and Garonne Rivers in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Armagnac is divided in 3 regions so defined by the Fallieres Degree in 1909; Bas-Armagnac, Armagnac-Tenarez and Haut-Armagnac.  The best Armagnac’s are thought to come from Bas-Armagnac, which typically comprises of a sandy, boulbènes (mix of sand, clay and iron) soil.

Armagnac-Tenarèze is thought to produce coarser, more full-bodied Armagnac with a soil that is a mix of boulbènes, limestone and clay.  Some liken the Armagnac of this region to have violet notes.

Haut Armagnac is the largest territory, but the smallest vineyard area and has a chalky soil.  While this region produces good quality, there are few producers remaining here.

Vinification of Base Wine

Grapes fermented to about 8-10 ABV.  The addition of Sulfur Dioxide is prohibited. The resulting wine is usually high in acidity. There is no fining or filtering before distillation, lees contact is maintained to add to the flavor profile.

Overview of Armagnac versus Cognac

Armagnac Cognac
Grapes Mainly, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Folle Blanche, Baco + 6 others Ugni Blanc
Distillation Column Distillation- single distillation Pot Still – double distillation
Climate Warm, sunny, drier than Cognac Maritime, humid
Maturation Gascon Oak, AKA Black Oak from Monzelun Forest Limousin and Tronçais Oak
Soil Composition Sandy, boulbènes (Bas Armagnac) Limestone, boulbènes (Tenarèze) Limestone

 

What the Armagnac Label Means

•    VS or *** Young Armagnac between 1 – 3 years

•    VSOP or Napoleon, Armagnac between 4 – 9 years

•    XO or Hors d’Age, from 10 years on

•    XO Premium, over 20 years and vintages

Special Thanks to Amanda Garnham of Attachée de Presse at Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac for making historical and statistical information available to Elixrr.

 

More On Vermont Micro-Distilleries…

On a recent trip to Vermont, I decided to take a trip to see some of the producers in person.  Below, a bit about a few of the distilleries and more importantly, some pictures.    Pictures are worth a thousand words, right?

Caledonia Spirits & Winery, based in Hardwick, Vermont

In 2006, bee guy Todd Hardie took his passion for honey production and started a winery in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont to make artisanal meads.   Since then, Caledonia has since begun production of a small batch, handcrafted Gin and Vodka, with honey as the star ingredient.

The Vodka is of particular interest to those who may suffer from gluten intolerance as it is made using only water, yeast and honey.  It takes 4 ½-5 pounds of honey for every 750ml bottle of vodka to be produced.  The honey has to be cold fermented for several weeks and is then distilled.   This Vodka embodies soft, round, honey flavors with a slight touch of herbal/grassy notes.  This is delicious straight up.

Caledonia’s Still

A little more about their Gin made with organic juniper.  Juniper is very prominent in this Gin along with floral, orange blossom and honey aromas as a result of the addition of raw honey added before bottling.

This Gin is soft and round and is very viscous.   While this is wonderful straight up, I had the opportunity to taste this mixed with tonic water at one of my favorite spots in Vermont, Shelburne Farms and found thought it put this drink on another level.

A member of the Caledonia team working in the tasting room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caledonia’s stills

Vermont Spirits Distilling Company, Quechee, Vermont

Vermont Spirits, the oldest Vermont micro-distillery still in operation was established originally in 1998 and specializes in Vodka production.   They are known for their White and Gold vodka; the Gold made using maple sap as its base and the white vodka is made using milk sugars or whey.

The Vermont White Vodka made with milk has vanilla notes, creamy, very round on the palate.

The Vermont Gold Vodka is made with maple and has butterscotch, maple and crème brûlée flavors, this is a very viscous and seems to be almost off dry as the maple gives an allusion of sweetness.

Smugglers’ Notch Distillery, Jeffersonville, Vermont

I already wrote early about Smugglers’ Notch award winning Vodka and a barrel sample Rum I tasted several months ago.  Since then, they have come out with a final version of their rum and they now have a new Gin.

First about the final version of SN’s Rum; it was aged 3years, starting first in all new charred oak barrels and then ending with time spent in used Bourbon barrels.   Layered with flavors of butterscotch, vanilla, orange blossoms, caramel this is a full, luscious and velvety on the palate.

The Smugglers’ Notch Gin had subtle flavors of juniper, anise and herbal notes their gin is made with the same winter wheat and corn base material blend as the vodka.

The botanicals used in Smugglers’ Notch Gin