After spending a few days conferring on how to persuade women to drink Cognac and touring the big Cognac houses, I was more than happy to spend some time at a smaller Cognac maker, getting down to the nitty-gritty of how the spirit is actually distilled.
I had met Alexandre Gabriel, president and owner of Cognac Ferrand, on one of his visits to New York, and liked a number of his products, so I was happy to learn that I’d been invited to spend a little quality time at his family’s distillery before heading back home. Here are a few snaps from that visit.
In the distillery, we sampled the Cognac in virtually every stage, including the relatively undesirable “heads” and “tails,” as well as the desirable “heart” (Coeur) of the spirit. It’s crystal clear at this point; barrel aging is what provides the amber color.
A view of the chateau from the outside.
Inside the warehouse where the Cognac ages. Note the colorful mold growing on the floor and the cobwebs and dust on top of the barrels; we didn’t see much of either in the larger Cognac houses. This was very old school.
This is bartender Willy Shine — it’s a little hard to see, but he’s holding an apparatus used to extract Cognac from the barrels for sampling. It’s akin to a large eyedropper; in whiskey language they call this a “whiskey thief” or a “valinch.” I’m sorry to say I don’t recall what the Cognac folks call this device.
My glass of Cognac, fresh from the barrel. I swear it tastes better this way; it was like liquid butterscotch.
After the Cognac barrels are emptied, Ferrand then re-fills those barrels with other spirits, a technique known as “cask-finishing.” Here, the barrel has been refilled with rum from Trinidad. This one also was particularly delicious.
Back inside the chateau. This is Alexandre Gabriel, treating Willy and me to a sampling of some of his extremely old and rare Cognac collection. Really, a remarkable way to end the visit to Cognac.