Born in the Gascony region of France, Armagnac is the older, lesser known brother of Cognac. Despite being less popular across the globe, it’s taken the hearts of many brandy and cognac lovers due to its unique style and character. Unlike Cognac, the Armagnac region didn’t have any commercial river or sea connections to reach the English and Dutch merchants. As a result, it wasn’t able to spread around the world as fast as its French brother.
Armagnac is made of white grapes, primarily of the Ugni Blanc variety. However, there are three other varieties, Baco, Folle Blanche, and Colombard that are also used for Armagnac.
The biggest difference in the distillation process is that Armagnac is distilled in an alembic continuous still, as opposed to double distillation in a copper pot still for cognac. The process is quite complex. One has to balance temperature and know when to dispense heads and tails and when the desired level of alcohol is reached. As a result, the spirit is a lot more flavourful and full of character. Of course, the alcohol levels also rise from the major cognac brands, usually at 50%-58%.
The main difference of Armagnac to the big brandy players like Hennessy and Remy Martin is the craft and artisan heritage. The producers focus on traditions, with distilling secrets passed from father to son . Sometimes, different houses will distill various grapes separately and then blend them after they’ve been aged in a barrel. While this sounds simple, it actually requires skills that can only be obtained through decades of experience.
Armagnac is often blended and later sold as vintages, with the age of the bottle describing the youngest of the blend. The distilling time is usually in the late fall, around the end of October and all the way through mid-November. However, this depends on many factors, with the main ones being the weather and availability of the local alembic still.
The thing that’s impossible to miss is the personality of the spirit. Often, it has been produced on the same land by the same families for centuries!
If you want to give it a try, buy a bottle of Armagnac in our liquor store in Calgary, Alberta, Canada or online at ZYN.ca!