Several items of interest covering a variety of topics and information:
Who Brought the Armagnac?
Usually left out when speaking about wintertime beverages is a terrific item from the southern region of France: Armagnac. In an attempt to simplify the understanding of Armagnac, the spirit is usually lumped in with Cognac. The two are not similar at all.
Whereas Cognac operates under a strict set of definitions and regulations, Armagnac is much more diverse. Cognac strives for commonality of style, even among the many producers who make the product. Armagnac operates under no such direction and each producer creates the liquid according to their history, tradition and ability. Commonality is not something in which they reach. The manufacturing of Armagnac uses a wide variety of grapes, whereas Cognac is limited to just a few.
Armagnac comes from the southwest area of France known as Gascony, the land of foie gras, truffles, and the prized Gascogne pig. The stills used to make Armagnac – a distilled spirit – are Alembic column stills, mostly. Some Armagnac producers use the same Charente pot stills as are common in the Cognac region, but those are not the norm. Why that is important is because Armagnac producers make no “cuts,” during the distillation process. Cognac deletes the beginning and the end of each pass through the distillation process, using only the “heart.” Cognac distills its wines again and again. With Armagnac, distillation proceeds in one pass and the resulting spirit is not best-part-re-distilled resulting in a bolder, more forward and sometimes even harsher product than is created in Cognac.
The boldness of Armagnac also makes the spirit an ideal ingredient in cocktails. It won’t get lost among the bitters, the citrus and other drink ingredients. The taste of Armagnac covers a wide spectrum of flavors – from floral to spicy, to leather to chocolate and beyond. That makes Armagnac a very difficult beverage to enjoy because of the variance in flavors from producer to producer. The place of Armagnac’s origin is less important than just about any other wine or spirit producing region in Europe. Armagnac is all about the producer’s circumstances and process and you have to taste the spirit from a lot of producers to find the one you like. That’s not a problem for you, is it?
Most wines in the world are made from about 150 varieties of grapes. That may sound like a lot of grapes until you understand that there are somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 varieties of grapes out there. The number has a great variance because grapes are quite adept at multiplying and morphing. At any given time they are capable of completely changing. Seems a convenient way for grapes to avoid annoying phone calls and bill collectors.
Southern Comfort Comes Home
In 1874, bartender Martin Wilkes Heron, son of a boat builder, invented a new drink at McCauley’s Tavern in what is today known as the Lower Garden District/Irish Channel. Legend and lore say it was in the French Quarter, but research about noted streets in the diaries of the day has shown not so. Southern Comfort was originally known as Cuffs and Buttons.
Heron moved to Memphis, Tennessee about 15 years later and decided to patent his renowned and oft-copied creation. He changed the name to Southern Comfort, a friendlier name in the true South of which Tennessee was still proudly a part, and bottled the beverage. Heron won a medal for his creation at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
Fast forward to the end of Prohibition. When bottled and released after the failure of the Noble Experiment, Southern Comfort’s label depicted a pen-and-ink illustration of Woodlands Plantation, to this day still operating as a B&B in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.
The original label noted, “Two per customer. No gentleman would ask for more,” and “None genuine but mine.”
In 1979, spirits manufacture and marketing conglomerate Brown-Forman, based in Louisville, Kentucky, purchased the brand. But lately, with increased competition from flavored whiskies, Brown-Forman has struggled to grow, even maintain, Southern Comfort’s sales. It was obvious as recent as 2010 that the company was seeking answers from anywhere to stem the loss of sales when they removed the iconic image of the plantation home from the label.
Just last week, Sazerac Co., the largest distilling company in America, and based in New Orleans – but there are no distilling operations locally – purchased Southern Comfort.
Welcome home, Southern Comfort.
Read Happy Hour here on www.myneworleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at www.wgso.com