What is Cognac culture? The first association of Cognac is a well-dressed gentleman sitting on an elegant sofa with an airedale terrier sleeping besides him. But that is just an impression of the past.
The situation has changed meanwhile: Cognac lives it’s renaissance as the favorite drink of the biggest hip-hop artists, as Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Jay-Z, Snoop Dog and Ludacris.
Despite the great enthusiasm of these rappers, the conservative French Cognac world distances itself from the gangsta culture, while the afro-Americans use it to distinguish themselves from white cultural lifestyle.
The two world is really different: rappers sing about cars, money, women and other materialistic things, which is hardly reconcilable with the low-key elegance of Cognac gentlemen. But in spite of all these, rap did a great service to Cognac industry. It acquired a lot of new young customers, and opened new fronts in the US market. Read a verse of a rap song about Cognac:
„Just by the way she kiss me
Hold her wit the index and thumb tippsy
Ma I’m so trippy
Hard to hold back, scent so sweet
Got to Cognac and honey wrap her this ain’t drink
From Taiwanese to Amsterdam greeny green
To hydromic that make a weak stomach vomit:”
– Gangsta Lean (The Clipse)
Cognac became very big between 2001 and 2007, but the economic crisis was harsh to this particular branch also. The numbers of the UK export fell dramatically from 55 million bottles in 2007 to 43,4 million bottles in 2009. But thank God recently a recovery has begun from the nadir. As said before, cognac houses drew a huge benefit from Rap stars. Landy uses Snoop Dogg as their spokesman, T.I. Promotes Rémy Martin and Ludacris works for Birkedal-Hartmann’s & Tiffon’s.
Today there is such a huge demand for Cognac that France exports the 97 percent of their Cognac product to the rest of the world. The USA is the largest purchaser, using up 3,9 million 9-liter cases of the spirit in 2012 alone. The second and third largest Cognac drinking nation is China and Russia. „Pass the Courvoisier”, a famous song of Busta Rhymes and Puff Daddy is about the exclusivity of the beverage, claiming that it has been fabricated for the rich and the fabulous.
By the way, what is Cognac? Every Cognac is Brandy, but not all Brandy is Cognac. But what is Brandy? Brandy is a spirit distilled from fermented grapes. The story is similar to Champagne. Only the Brandys distilled in France’s Cognac county have the right to call themselves Cognac. It is all about the prestige, the name, the brand and luxury.
There are six regions in Cognac: Bols Ordinaire, Bons Bois, Borderies, Petite Champagne, and Grand Champagne (which has nothing to do with it’s name relative up in the north). Cognac is a blend of different eau du vie (water of life in French). Have you ever recognized the letters VS, VSOP and XO on the Cognac bottles? It signifies the duration of the aging process in the oak barrels.
The longer the aging, the more subtle will be the spirit. VS means „Very Special” (the youngest spirit in the blend is minimum 2 years old), VSOP means „Very Superior Old Pale” (the same as before, but with 4 years) and XO means „Extra Old” (6 years). Prices vary from 30 dollars to ten thousands of dollars (like Remy Martin’s Louis XIII), it all depends on the brand and the quality, which two is not inevitably connected. Let’s run through the following list, which I compiled of the best Cognacs in the world:
6. Rémy Martin
The business was founded by Rémy Martin in 1724. The grapes used in this special spirit come from the best areas in Cognac: the Grande Champagne and the Petite Champagne (Champagne refers to a type of soil, which is full of chalk “I think to fully realize one’s potential, you must take action, remain curious, embrace your failures as they are gifts, and honor your successes with humility,” says Jeremy Renner, a face accompanied to the firm, an actor who don’t want to be put in boxes.
Louis XIII is undoubtedly the most special and finest product of this famous Cognac house. It is blended from 1200 eaux de vie and fermented in several hundred years old oak barrels called tierçons. It’s average price range is between 2100 to 3100 dollars.
The Cognac house takes place in Jarnac, Charente. The firm was established in 1809 by Emmanuel Courvoisier and Louis Gallois as a trading company, but later they recognized that production would be more interesting.
In 1828 they moved from the Paris region to Charente. They started to produce high quality cognacs. In 1909 the house was sold to the English Simon family, but it remained in Jarnac. Courvoisier Cognacs are aged in 200 years old barrels made of oak from the Tronçais forest in France.
The Cognac appears in many movies and songs, as the „Skyfall” James Bond film, „Love and Death” from Woody Allen or the songs of Fleetwood Mac and Busta Rhymes. Courvoisier is the only brand that received the ‘Prestige de la France’ award in 1984, which -as the name indicates- is a really prestigious one.
Founded by Jean Martell in 1715, Martell is the oldest Cognac house in Charente. He died in 1753, so his widow and his two sons took over the business.
Their fame spread quickly throughout the world, exporting Cognacs to Japan, Korea, England etc. Cordon Bleu is definitley the most successful product of the company. Cordon bleu is blended of Brandys aged from 10 to 25 years in oak barrels, and can be characterized with notes of flower, honey and vanilla.
„Martell XO”, „Martell Création Grand Extra” and „L’Or de Jean Martell” are also very famous and special brands. There were periods when the company belonged to Seagram Group and Pernod Ricard.
The fifth generation of the Camus family is producing Cognac in le Plessis in teh Cognac region of France. Jean Babtiste Camus founded the company in 1863.
Their philosophy is about innovation, the respect of the land, double distillation (both with and without lees) and an endless quest for aromatic finesse.
This principles result in complexity and substance. After the distillation, Camus Cognacs are placed into oak barrels with light tannin, during which process they get notes of amber and become really round. Today, Camus products are sold in the whole world, Cyrill Camus is the actual director of the company. And no, they are not related to the famous existensialist philosopher, Albert Camus.
Hennessy is a Cognac house founded in 1765 by Richard Hennessy (an Irishman) in Cognac, France. The company produces the 40 % of the world’s cognac (50 million bottle/year), this makes them the largest cognac producers in the world.
In 1971 the house incorporated Moet et Chandon, and they became Moet Henessy. Then Moet Henessy fused with Louis Vuitton which resulted in LVMH (Louis Vuitton-Moet Hennessy). They have around 20 products, including such luxurious specialities as the „Paradis Impérial Cognac” which is one of the most prestigious brand offered by the house with it’s 2700 dollars price, and which is claimed to be inspired by the favorite of Tsar Alexander I.
The beverages can be characterized with a smoky, woody character and a thick body in general. Notes of raisins, plum and rum is likely to appear. Hennessy is one of the favorite brands of American rappers as Digital Underground, Biggie Smalls, Nas, Logic, Mobb Deep, who mentioned the Cognac in their songs.
African American customers buy up more than 50 % of Hennessy’s sales in the USA. Another interesting thing is the fact that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il is a great admirer of the Cognac brand, who once spent over 700,000 dollars a year on Paradis cognac.
“I think the whole world’s goin insane. I fill my brain with the Henny, and drink away the pain. I think the whole world’s lost its brain. I sip away on the liquor, and drink away the pain.” – Drink Away the Pain (Situations) by Mobb Deep
Jean Prunier (1665-1732) was the first family member who got involved in the Cognac business. At the beginning (around 1700) he shipped his wines and his Cognacs, and was recognized as a great expert of these spirits.
This activity slowly turned into production with the management of the descendants (François and another Jean Prunier). The Maison Cognac Prunier was established in 1769 in the Maison de la Lieutenance, the house of the Lieutenant General of Cognac, which is still the symbol of the company today.
The cellars take place in the heart of the town of Cognac, but the house does not possess it’s own vineyards. The youngest generation of the house guarantees the continuity of the family firm. Their VSOP is very sophisticated drink with rich fruity and floral notes, which was made only from Grande Champagne grapes.
Cognac is a far more complex spirit than you might think, with a lot of nuances. It is similar to wine, but this is not surprising, given the fact that it is distilled from grape. Even though the grape variety does not influence the aromatic spectrum that much: the length of aging plays a bigger role in this.
Sharpen your sensory powers before you undertake a Cognac tasting, and prepare yourself and your taste buds for a very exciting experience and a huge adventure of flavors! If you are sophisticated and mature enough, you would not be dissapointed.