Armagnac, the grape-based brandy from France’s Gascony region, is a delightful spirit well worth a pour. Although almost every discussion of the category begins by referencing Cognac—the other, more famous French brandy—Armagnac has no problem holding its own.
The robust richness of the brandy makes it an ideal dessert companion or nightcap. The flavor profile often includes butterscotch, stone fruit and caramel while older bottlings tend toward more dry flavors that suggest roasted nuts, plum skin or leather. Spice notes also can feature prominently, leading some to posit that bourbon is to rye whiskey as Cognac is to Armagnac.
Armagnac is frequently bottled in dated vintages, which means they can be perfect for commemorating a special birthday or anniversary. However, blended Armagnacs also exist. Many of these are affordable options that can be a good choice for mixing into cocktails. Those blends use an age grading similar to Cognac: VS, VSOP, XO and hors d’age, which has similar requirements as XO but producers use to indicate high-quality, often older bottlings.
One notable new blend is Bhakta 50, which incorporates an astonishing range of brandies: the youngest is 50 years old, distilled in 1970, the oldest distilled in 1868, plus six other vintages between 1878 and 1965. The average age of the blend is over 60 years old.
“It’s a miracle that these brandies survived,” producer Raj Bhakta rightly observes. “Nearly every village in war-ravaged Europe has been sacked time and again, and after its fortifications are reduced, a captured town’s alcohol is the first thing to be consumed.” It’s a reminder how much history can unfold in any bottle.
Luckily, this blend wasn’t treated too reverentially as it was finished in Islay Scotch casks, adding subtle bacon fat and smoke tones. The end result is a nontraditional spin on a traditional spirit—yet another signal that Armagnac is ready for its spotlight.