Sated’s very own Bourbon-head, recently reborn as a Single Malt enthusiast, heads on down to The Cognac Show 2019 to see if he can be converted to another spirit.
Cognac was once one of the most popular spirits in the UK. UK law stated that the imported spirit could not be higher that 65% or it would incur double the tax. In France, there’s was a big difference where the limit was only 55%. So naturally, France’s Cognac-makers started to export to England, as stronger Cognac meant cheaper transport as they didn’t have to dilute the Cognac to bring the ABV down before shipping. This, amongst many other factors, made it the spirit of choice for the British, along with people like Winston Churchill.
In recent years however, Cognac has fallen in popularity, garnering a reputation as being the drink of the unconscionably wealthy or exceptionally elderly. So what happened to what was once the most popular spirit in the UK? Well, the Scots came along with that golden liquid known as “the water of life” – whisky – and a new craze begun. As avid whisky drinkers with a limited experience of Cognac, we approached London’s The Cognac Show with a deal of wariness and a healthy dose of doubt as to whether this French “eau de vie” could live up to the nuanced and complex category of single malt scotch.
On entering Bloomsbury House where The Whisky Exchange’s The Cognac Show 2019 is being held, we are presented with a stemmed nosing glass and brochure before being directed into the packed hall. The first two rooms are exactly what is expected – Remy Martin and Courvoisier holding court and providing their usual amber delights that, whilst pleasant, did little to excite our hunger for novelty and education.
As we wander through the tables, we are drawn to a bottle of Hardy Legend 1863 by a brand ambassador eulogising with such passion that we know we simply have to give it a try. Created by an Englishman in France, the spirit has a very heavy body with thick sugary coffee notes and a gloriously long-lasting finish. Our standoffish attitude to the category buckles when we discover that this bottle cost less that £55 (purchasable via The Whisky Exchange here).
Filled with the excitement of a five-year-old on a sugar-high in a toy store, we move quickly on to see what else we can discover.
A 180-degree turn and roughly 10-steps later and we find ourselves at the Bourgoin booth. There we are greeted by none other than Maëlys Bourgoin, who lives and breath cognac like no other. Her vivacious personality distracts us long enough to not notice her pouring us a dram of something very different even for Cognac drinkers.
Bourgoin Cognac is all hand-made by the same family and does something that very few people do that is very common in both the whisky and cognac industries. They do not blend. The dram she pours is a cask strength weighing in at 55.3% and is absolutely beautiful. Dark, weighty plum notes protrude, matched with leather, deep grape and a bright barrel bite. What it lacks in complexity is not really a problem as the flavours that do come out are very balanced.
We pull ourselves away from the Bourgoin stand and continue our journey around Bloomsbury House, alighting on more and more drams that succeed in annihilating our doubts about Cognac once and for all. If the desire of The Whisky Exchange was to reintroduce Cognac to the general UK public and in doing so remind them of the spirit’s exemplary character, they manage to do an absolutely stellar job. Not only will we wake up tomorrow feeling mildly worse for wear after our exuberant education, we will also have a new golden liquid to covet and explore.
The Cognac Show Dram Highlights
Camus VSOP Borderies
Limited edition VSOP with a light body and elegant floral notes.
Hardys Legend 1863 Cognac
Heavy coffee notes in the nose, followed by orange marmalade and vanilla. Complex and well-rounded wit ha think syrupy narture.
Tesseron Lot 53 XO Perfection Cognac
Tesseron specialises in very complex, old Cognacs made from Ugni Blanc grapes. Their Lot 53 is a blend of the finest Grande Champagne Cognacs with an age averaging 55 years. Hugely complex with a super slow finish, it is simultaneously sharp and sweet. Plums, figs, chocolate, wood, dried fruit, tobacco supersede the original grape character and great a vivid bouquet with a smooth and luxurious ending.
The family-run house of Prunier began bottling and shipping in 1769, making it one of the region’s oldest producers. Now boastying its 11th generation of cognac-makers, they are this year set to release vintages that are between 90 and 100 years old!
This 20-year-old, in spite of its comparative youth, is full-bodied with notes of dark chocolate, leather and honey, belying its years with a long finish.
Prunier 1969 Vintage Grande Champagne Cognac
This single-harvest Cognac has been matured in French oak casks for 46 years after distillation in 1969. The result is a rich, fruity Cognac full of plum, candied orange peel, green apple, leather and coffee with a finish that lasts a lifetime.
Vaudon Cask 78+80 Through The Grapevine Cognac LMDW
Another of the region’s family producers and the creator of one more of our dream drams. All are exquisite but it is the full-bodied, spicy Barriques 78 & 80 that captured our hearts. Its impossibly smooth palate houses surprisingly fresh fruits and blossom, blown along with vanilla, honeysuckle and citrus peel. There is so much in this glass and we could spend hours unpicking it. Unfortunately, this bottle is as rare as it is beautiful. However, sampling of their Through the Grapevine expression can be purchased via The Whisky Exchange,
A.E. Dor No.10 Cognac
Okay, this one is a dream dram unachievable to most people (unless you visit The Cognac Show next year)! This ultra rare Cognac is limited to just a few large glass demijohns discovered by A.E. Dor in a small cellar of a property in the Grande Champagnes region. No. 10 was matured in casks until it reached 41.5% and was then transferred into the inert demijohns, where it has remains since 1965. This, as one might expect, is an absolutely astonishing dram. Thick and heavy with clear dry oak notes, it is an expression that is so complex and long-lasting that we didn’t want to eat for the rest of the day to keep it on our tastebuds for as long as possible. At £1,225 a bottle, it’s out of most peoples’ budgets, but is just on of the fantastic rare bottlings on offer at The Cognac Show, so make sure not to miss out next year!
Words by Tommie Santala