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Cognac, Armagnac and Brandy de Jerez production process and quality levels


What is cognac and what is it made from? What ingredients?

Cognac is mainly made from the grape varieties Ugni blanc, Folle blanche and Colombard. In brandy production, generally the more acidic the grapes the better.

What are the Cognac regions called?

Cognac is divided into 6 regions - with Grande Champagne being equivalent to Premier Cru. Closely followed by the Petite Champagne. Cognac from these two areas are characterized by a special fineness. These are followed by the Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois and the Bois Ordinaires.

How is Cognac produced?

The base wine is fermented from the above grape varieties and then distilled according to the Charantais distillation (Alambic Charentais) - the discontinuous process. Discontinuous in distillation means that it is necessary to distill several times. The first firing is the rough firing, which is then fired again and after that is called the fine firing. The predatory brandy, the result after the first distillation can not be used in this way. One distillation lasts about 12 hours. The Raubrand, with its 28-30% alcohol by volume, is concentrated to about 70% by volume after the second run. During the second distillation process, a distinction is made between pre-run, mid-run and post-run.

"Le coeur" the heart of the distillation process

The middle run is the decisive distillation also called "le coeur" as the heart. Le coeur is stored in barrels of Limousin - or Troncais oak - which are 270 to 450 liter barrels. Only through the barrel aging the cognac gets its special polish. The great art is then the assemblage of these different Cognacs - the cellar master is in demand!

Alcohol volume of the Cognac

The Cognac must be reduced to a drinking strength of 40 to 45% alcohol by volume, this must be done with distilled water. The hue may be adjusted with caramel max. 2g/liter sugar!

The age of the cognac is officially controlled and counted - it starts with 00 - between the grape harvest and distillation (until March 31) and then from April 1 it continues with 0. The following April we record the age 1 and then it goes on annually so up to a maximum of 10.

Age and quality designations

V.S. (Very Special) - youngest Cognac with 2 years storage, Cuvée Superieure, Grand Selection - Cognac with at least 3 years, V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale with at least 4 years, V.V.S.O.P (Very Very Superior Old Pale) with at least 5 years, Hors d`Age with at least 6 years and from 2018 the quality designation XO with 10 years storage time is mandatory.


What is Armagnac and what is it made from?

There are 3 areas in which the grapes for Armagnac are grown. These areas are very different due to the soil and climate. There is the Bas Armagnac (much fruit and finesse), Ténaréze (much body and strength) and Haut-Armagnac (hard and edgy).

Grape varieties and production of Armagnac

There are 10 grape varieties allowed for Armagnac, mainly 4 are used: Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, Baco Blanc and Colombard.

As with Cognac, the grapes are processed into a base wine and distilled with a special still the Alambic Armagnacais in a continuous process. The brandy has between 52 and max. 72% alcohol by volume and is reduced to a drinking strength of at least 40% alcohol by volume. Armagnac is stored for at least 1 year in new and used holm oak barrels with a capacity of up to 440 liters. Compared to Cognac, Armagnac is somewhat rougher or more robust. Cognac has more finesse.

Age and quality designations

The quality levels of Armagnac would be:

aged at least 2 years - V.S., at least 4 years - V.S.O.P., at least 6 years - XO/Napoléon, at least 10 years - Hors d`Age.  The abbreviations are according to the Cognac qualities and therefore not explicitly explained again.

Also the age of Armagnac is officially controlled and counted (B.N.I.C.) like the Cognac starting with account 00.

Brandy de Jerez

Brandy de Jerez - which grape variety is in it?

When it comes to brandy, you can strongly assume that it is a Brandy de Jerez, because nine out of 10 bottles come from Jerez. The base wine is made from the Palomino (typical of sherry) and Airén (the most widely grown grape variety in Spain) grape varieties.

Production of Brandy de Jerez

In the case of Brandy de Jerez, there is a strong link with Cognac, because it is produced with the same distillation method (Alambic Charentais). At least the "holandas" the best base for brandies that mature to Solera Gran Reserva.

For the less long aged brandies, the continuous method (column equipment) is used, in which the rough brandy and at the same time the fine brandy are produced in one distillation process. The finished brandy is stored in old sherry barrels in which sherry was previously stored for at least 4 years. This gives the Spanish brandy its typical taste.

Storage of Brandy de Jerez

As with Sherry, Brandy de Jerez is stored according to the solera principle - a barrel pyramid with oak barrels that have a capacity of approximately 550 to 600 liters. The quality pyramid of Brandy de Jerez is structured as follows:

Solera - minimum 6 months barrel aging (often 12 months), Solera Reserva - minimum 12 months barrel aging (often 30 months) and Solera Gran Reserva minimum 3 years barrel aging (often 8, 12 years).


Whiskey - Irish, Scotch, Canadian or American?

The big distinction in whiskey is, of course, the origin - Irish, Scotch, Canadian or American whiskey.

Scotch whiskey

...for example, is made only from barley, and peat is also used in the kilning process. This gives a typical smoky flavor, such as in the Scotch whiskey Laphroaig.

American whiskey

American whiskeys use a lot of corn (main part) with rye, wheat and barley. These whiskeys get their special flavor from the aging process, as they are placed in toasted barrels. This gives these whiskeys a caramel tone in flavor and color.

Storage of whiskey

This point - storage is, of course, quite crucial for the taste. It takes place in all regions in oak barrels. In terms of taste, it is of great importance how these barrels are made. The following factors are decisive for taste and maturity:

  • Size of the barrels
  • Wood of the barrels
  • New or used barrels
  • Degree of toasting - how much wood sugar was caramelized in the process, which is crucial for the taste and color of the whiskey.
  • What was in the barrel before? Wine, sherry, ...?
  • Where and how long are the barrels stored (temperature, humidity, etc.)?

The storage time of the whiskey is at least 3 years except for the American 2 years are mandatory.
However, the usual storage time is much higher with 6, 8, 12 years and longer.

In conclusion, there is a wide range of different whiskeys, which are very regional. From smoky tart to vanilla sweet, everything is possible. The customer should make his preferences known so that professional advice can be given.

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