Category Archives: Cognac

Review: Louis Royer Force 53 VSOP Cognac

LOUIS ROYER_FORCE 53 VSOP silo

Most Cognac is bottled at the usual 80 proof, but Louis Royer’s Force 53 says screw that, let’s take a cue from the fellas in the whiskey world and go megaproof.

The choice of 53% abv (106 proof) isn’t accidental. The House of Royer got its start in 1853. Lucky for them, I guess, that the business didn’t launch in 1799. Or 1801.

From a spec standpoint, the higher alcohol level is the major distinguishing feature of Louis Royer Force 53. Otherwise it’s a standard VSOP Cognac in composition, which means that technically the spirit’s been aged a minimum of just four years in cask.

Turns out the extra alcohol (and some smart knowhow) makes quite a difference. Many VSOPs are perfectly drinkable and full of life, but few have the punch and power of Force 53. What could have come across as almost watery in an 80 proof Cognac is instead, well, forceful and lively in this bottling. Here, notes of caramel apple take on more apple pie-like overtones on the nose. The body is delightfully rich, dusted with cinnamon and cocoa powder, offering fig and raisin notes on the back end. That classic Cognac sweetness is unmistakable throughout, all those fresh citrus, apple pie, banana cream, and molten caramel notes building to an expressive and delightful — yet still youthful — whole.

For barely 40 bucks, you will be hard pressed to find a brandy of any ilk that is as well-balanced and downright enjoyable as Force 53, and Royer may very well find it has launched a big trend with this “high strength” idea in a world where 80 proof has long ruled the roost.

A / $43 / louis-royer.com

Review: The Last Drop 1950 Fine Aged Cognac

last drop 1950 cognac

The Last Drop is a company with an amazingly fun story: It sources its spirits from shuttered, abandoned, or “lost” distilleries. When you buy the company’s product, that’s it. They’re gone and no one is going to make them again.

That’s a powerful promise of rarity. The Last Drop says it “found these casks in a tiny distillery lost in the woods near Cognac.” So, yeah, you aren’t getting any more of this stuff.

The Last Drop 1950 starts with a classic Cognac nose of old fruit, raisins, incense, and well-aged wood. It’s got a bit of a funky, almost burning undercurrent to it — like an old rhum agricole — offering notes of coconut husk and fuel oil. The body is immediately austere, with sherried stone fruits, balsamic, and oiled leather. With a salted caramel/cocoa powder back end, things start to go out on a lightly sweet high note, but the finish is so drying and woody that it sucks all the fruit away completely, ending on an almost astringent overtone.

That said, it’s a unique Cognac and an excellent example of what very old brandy is like. At this price, though, you might want something that’s still firing on all cylinders, and which is more balanced from start to finish.

83.6 proof. 478 bottles made (each includes a 50ml miniature as a bonus).

B+ / $2,600 / lastdropdistillers.com

Preview: Cognac Lheraud Cuvee 20 and 1974 Vintage

011

Cuvee Lheraud (lerr-oh) is a family-owned Cognac producer that makes a million bottles of brandy every year all from its estate vineyards. And you’ve never heard of them, because until now they have not sold products in the United States.

This fall, Lheraud arrives on U.S. shores, bringing its unique spin on Cognac to our esteemed shores. While it makes single-vintage editions much like many other high-end producers, it also takes the same approach to its higher-end non-vintage dated blends. As Export Manager Francois Rebel explained to me on a recent visit to San Francisco to introduce the brand, the various cuvee bottlings, including the 20 year old Cuvee 20, are made from casks of exactly that age. This year’s Cuvee 20 was made from casks distilled in 1994. Next year it’ll be 1995 casks, and so on. Doesn’t this cause a problem with consistency from year to 013year, if you can’t blend from other vintages to achieve a flavor profile that doesn’t vary from year to year? Yes. But that’s the way we do it, says Rebel. Some years customers may not like the changes, but “Lheraud does not blend.”

Neat idea, though I could never get a clear explanation of why the Cuvee 20 doesn’t indicate it’s a Cuvee 20 distilled in 1994 — which would seem to boost sales. Ah, the French!

Rebel tasted me on two of the distillery’s upcoming releases, and my thoughts are below. Note: Our sampling was quite limited to small tastes, so these should be considered preview descriptions and ratings and not canonical reviews. Prices are estimated based on overseas pricing. Will update with official pricing when it is available.

Cognac Lheraud Cuvee 20 (2014 Bottling) – Made from grapes from the Petite Champagne region. Classic style for a Cognac this age, light incense and raisin notes atop a sweet core that offers oaky, almond, and honey notes on the palate. Easy to like. 86 proof. B+ / $70

Cognac Lheraud 1974 Vintage – Made from Grand Champagne-grown grapes. A 40 year old bottling, bottled at cask strength — unusual for any Cognac. More exotic on the nose than the Cuvee 20, it offers darker chocolate and nut character, dark raisins, dried figs, and drying, resinous oak on the finish. Less sweet than the Cuvee, but it still has plenty of sugar to go around. Complex and worthwhile. 98 proof. A / $500+

cognac-lheraud.com

Review: Cognac Claude Chatelier XO

cognac-claude-chatelier-xo-extra-b

I recently encountered this Cognac for the first time on a trip. I wasn’t familiar with the brand at all, but was pleasantly surprised by what I found inside the bottle of its XO release. No age statement is provided.

Perfectly fruity nose, with notes of cherry, apricot, and a bit of ruby Port. Some woody notes give it an incense character, too. On the palate, again the fruit dominates, offering pretty citrus, touches of plum, vanilla, and more of that woodsy incense character. A touch of heat makes the finish a bit racy, just enough to give this Cognac some curiosity, keeping it from devolving into an an utter fruit bomb. An all-around excellent effort at a very affordable price level.

80 proof.

A- / $50 / claudechateliercognac.com

Review: Camus VSOP Elegance and VSOP Borderies Cognac

Here’s something you don’t see every day: A Borderies Cognac… that’s a youngish VSOP. Borderies, for those not in the know, is a small, very renowned grape-growing subregion of Cognac. Normally, Borderies bottlings are old XO expressions — which command even higher prices due to their regional pedigree. vsop camus borderiesAnd while Camus does offer an XO Borderies, it has recently (and quietly) put out this VSOP Borderies expression, a rarity I’ve never seen before now.

It just so happens I had a fresh bottle of Camus VSOP (now known as Camus VSOP Elegance) to compare against this limited-edition Camus VSOP Borderies. Here’s how they shake out.

Camus VSOP Elegance – Recently cleaned up with strong “Elegance” labeling and more modern styling, the off-the-rack Camus VSOP bottling offers classic younger Cognac notes: oak, Christmas cake, and lingering citrus notes, tinged with cinnamon. It’s an easygoing sipper that doesn’t overly complicate things. B+ / $40

Camus VSOP Borderies – More fruit up front here, growing considerably as it gets some air to it. Cinnamon apple, apricots, even coconut and pineapple notes come across. You don’t get much of that with the standard VSOP, which keeps its cards closer to its vest. The finish only builds up the fruit component. 15,000 bottles made. A- / $57

camus.fr

Review: Hennessy Privilege VSOP Cognac

hennessy privilegeA new VSOP from Hennessy, meant to stand as an upgrade to the standard-grade Hennessy, and with a slightly higher price to match.

Privilege is a perfectly acceptable brandy, with easy fruit on the nose, some raisins, some spice, and a little raspberry tea. The palate is warm, with applesauce notes, oranges, honey, and baking spice on the back end. The finish has a bit of alcohol on it — with ample caramel (like caramel candies) evident as well.

Altogether there’s really nothing shocking here, but Privilege is perhaps priced too high for what it is… and not really a huge improvement over the regular Hennessy bottling. That said, I’d have no trouble using it in a cocktail.

80 proof. 

B / $65 / hennessy.com

Review: Camus Family Legacy Cognac

CAMUS

Camus Family Legacy arrived at Drinkhacker HQ with the most unfortunate typo. On our sample bottle, the price was listed as $12.99. That’s a mistake of two orders of magnitude. Camus’s latest is a full $1299 — the company’s entry into ultra-luxe spirits.

The production process sounds impressive — five crus involved in an eight-step maturation process that adheres to “ancestral rules of perfect blending”  — but is short on usable details. Given the price tag it’s safe to expect some truly old stock from Cognac’s greatest vineyards. It’s just not clear how old it is.

The nose is surprising in its initial level of heat, a blazer that eventually blows off to reveal a quiet and understated brandy. On the body — as with the nose it needs some time and air to settle down — this Cognac eventually mellows out to reveal a surprisingly nuanced Cognac with light sherry notes, gentle floral notes, raisins, creme brulee, and a modest, sandalwood character on the finish. Restraint is the order of the day here. This is a Cognac that’s considerably dialed back, an elegant and easy spirit that is marred only by an initial rush of alcohol that is bafflingly out of place.

81.6 proof.

A- / $1299 / camus.fr

Review: Martell Caractere Cognac

martell charactereMartell recently launched this Cognac, a simple blend of brandies (in an admittedly snazzy bottle), with no age indication at all. In other words: This is entry-level Cognac, so let’s see how it tastes.

On first blush it’s a clearly young spirit, somewhat brash on the nose, but tempered with notes of incense and, curiously, sawdust. On the body, there’s plenty of heat, along with some more raw grapeseed notes. Again, secondary notes save the day from driving Caractere into forgetability. Prune/raisin, some orange oil, and chewy caramel provide interest, although there’s no real sense of balance or cohesion in the end. Ultimately this would work for a mixing brandy (Martell’s cocktail ideas including mixing it into a blend of pineapple juice and cola), but it just doesn’t have the austerity for drinking straight.

80 proof. Exclusively available in California.

B- / $35 / martell.com

Review: Aga Vie Esprit D’Agave

aga vieWhat is it about the French and tequila? First Given blends tequila with lime juice and grape juice in Cognac, France, and now there’s Aga Vie, a commingling of blanco tequila and Cognac that have been (re-)distilled together into one oddball spirit. (This distillation removes whatever color is left behind, namely from the Cognac.)

Describing Aga Vie leads terms that are exactly as you’d expect: The nose is sweet like tequila, and the body offers an agave punch plus some of that brandied sweetness. To dig into the details, when you first get a whiff of Aga Vie, imagine not blanco but reposado tequila (there’s some wood in there), with a little honey thrown into the mix. On the palate, things get weird. The tequila’s there — though it’s not particularly definable beyond indistinct agave notes — but it’s considerably overpowered by the sweetness of the Cognac. Aga Vie doesn’t delineate the proportions of tequila to brandy in this spirit, and it’s hard to tell whether a little expensive Cognac goes a long way in a lot of cheaper tequila or whether it’s the other way around, but either way the mixture will be confusing to anyone who’s accustomed to drinking either of the two. The vanilla notes from the Cognac make you feel like you’re drinking an older tequila stock at first, but the impression soon fades as a hefty sweetness takes hold on your throat. The spirit ends with a mouth-coating candy-like character that is hard to shake and which, all things considered, is the only part of the experience that isn’t particularly satisfying.

The natural question you might ask next is: But why? Why would you take perfectly good tequila and Cognac and blend them together? The official story on the Aga Vie website evokes the French occupation of Mexico (a brief period in the country’s history), but I doubt anyone was mixing up tequila and Cognac during those years. Whether we should be doing that now is left as an exercise for the reader.

B- / $45 / agavie.com

Review: Louis Royer Cognac XO

louis royer xo cognacLouis Royer has been producing Cognac since 1853, but it’s relatively obscure on U.S. shores. This XO, like most, doesn’t offer much information by way of production or aging notes (Royer uses grapes from the six big growing regions of Cognac), but I wouldn’t fret over it. This is quality Cognac that is worth visiting, and a bargain for a spirit of this quality.

Immediate dark chocolate and coffee notes on the nose and on the first sips. This is a much darker, burlier Cognac than most other brands, particularly XOs, which tend to run fruitier, with more of a baking spice note. Alongside the above, the Louis Royer XO offers more incense, burnt orange, and root beer notes — backed by a heavy vanilla extract finish — making for an altogether intriguing, complex spirit. There’s so much going on here that it invites continued discovery. I keep going back to it, finding something a little different every time out.

80 proof.

A / $140 / louis-royer.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]