If you suggest Armagnac on the rocks to certain connoisseurs, you might well get a “Quel sacrilège!” in response.
Armagnac is, after all, the oldest brandy in France and traditionally it is served as a classic digestif after dinner. However, times are a-changin’, and although the postprandial pleasure of being offered a glass of golden Armagnac to swirl and sip is still the most pleasurable way to properly partake of the amber nectar, there are other ways in which to enjoy this eau-de-vie from southwest France.
In Armagnac, there are blends and there are vintages; there are young and old in both styles. A blend is just that, a blend of different Armagnacs of varying ages and it is categorised depending on the youngest Armagnac in that blend ie. A VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) is a blend of several Armagnacs, though the youngest Armagnac in that blend must have been aged for a minimum of four years in oak (although a lot of producers age their Armagnacs for longer than the legal minimums). This is a great place to start if you are considering adding ice to your glass. The younger styles such as VS or VSOP are fresh, fruity and lively in their youth and therefore the perfect choice for this style of drinking pleasure.
Some old-school purists may indeed consider it a pity to chill or add water to such a noble brandy, though it is a quite a usual practice carried out by whisky drinkers. So, if you enjoy a drop of water or an ice cube with your whisky, this could be a pleasing and original alternative to your habitual dram.
Whisky drinkers (there are a lot of them in France, as the French drink more whisky per capita than any other country in the world), that are used to a plethora of styles and complexity are already discovering the diverse offerings available in Armagnac and often at a fraction of the cost, as whisky prices are increasingly prohibitive.
A simple Armagnac and tonic or Armagnac and ginger (there are so many fabulous quality mixer brands on the market now) is a tasty and refreshingly light aperitif, so think outside the box and give it a try. I can guarantee you and your guests will be pleasantly surprised.
To placate the sensitivities of the Armagnac connoisseur, it would be a shame to defile a superb vintage Armagnac by adding anything, and indeed, the older blends with more of an oak influence may not take kindly to being diluted. These are best reserved for a classic consumption in order to properly appreciate the perfumes, complexity, texture and finish.
Made from wine that has been distilled, Armagnac is very close to the grape and as such, the vigorous young expressions are bursting with fresh fruit, vanilla from the oak staves, floral and herbaceous notes, making them an ideal base for classic brandy style cocktails such as the Old Fashioned, Sidecar, Vieux Carré, Brandy Alexander and one of my favourites, the Japanese Cocktail.
It doesn’t just have to be brandy cocktails though as any brown spirit based cocktail like a Manhattan or Sazerac for example, where you replace the whisky with Armagnac, works extremely well too. Impossible to talk of Armagnac cocktails without mentioning the white Armagnac, Blanche, but you will have to wait for a future article to learn all about that. In the meantime, there are no hard and fast rules, so, enjoy your Armagnac as you prefer, neat at room temperature, on the rocks or with a mixer. www.armagnac.fr