David Pearce chats with Edouard Boyer of Armin Armagnac (article written by Martin Raymond)

Dr Samuel Johnson, who knew a thing or two about booze, famously opined that claret was the drink of boys, port for men, but for heroes nothing short of brandy would do.
But perhaps if the good Doctor had been a bit more adventurous in his tastes, then he would have opted for Cognac’s wilder and fiery compatriot, Armagnac. Altogether a more heroic drink. And potentially a more interesting one too. For Edouard Boyer, plus his colleagues Edgar Anagnostou and Augustin Chatenet, the moment for Armagnac has come. From a background in the drinks industry the three partners bring an ambitious vision and marketing nous to a product rooted in tradition.

For a country overflowing with national drinks – anisette, cognac, absinthe, not to mention all the wines – Armagnac perhaps speaks of le patrimoine like no other.
And there lies the problem. Edouard sums it up neatly:
‘Armagnac is super-dusty. Your grandad drinks it. But no one else. It’s for older people and only for older French people. Where Cognac has big markets in China and the USA, Armagnac has only an ageing domestic market.

It’s far too good a spirit no to be drunk! So, we approached the domaine with a plan to change all that.’
Their mission was big and bold, with packaging that is more Las Vegas than Les Halles. Colour and clarity is the name of the game:
‘The consumer needs to know what they are buying – what to do with it. Armagnac is a digestif, but we wanted to make it clear that you didn’t have to be a sixty-year-old man on a big sofa to enjoy it. This is a drink for young urban consumers, women as well as men, for people relaxing after work, or having a good time in a club. It’s a shot, a mixer, an everyday beverage. We avoid jargon and we let drinkers know what they can do with the drink. We break the rules!’

I salute Edouard and his team. They are taking a valuable product into the 21st century – making sure that part of the nation’s heritage has a future. But before you think that Edouard and his colleagues are reinventing the brand without finesse, the equivalent of projecting a fast-food advert on to the L’Arc d’Triomphe, listen to his respect for the tradition:
‘Our still is designated a historical monument. It was installed in 1804 and is in daily use. Our barrels are made from oak grown on the domaine. The craftsman who turns the oak into barrels has been doing the job for over forty years. Just like his father before him. Regrettably the tradition is under threat as there is no one to take over his craft. He makes four barrels a day.’

 

These valuable containers often have a second life as a highly prized part of the maturing process of certain whiskies. ‘The terroir of our drink is unique. The Gascon climate and grapes, of course. But also, the people – they are very much part of the drink. The Gascon people are unique and that is reflected in the drink and its long heritage.’

And Edouard also has plenty respect to for Armagnac’s better known relative, Cognac:
‘I see parallels between tequila and mescal. Like Cognac tequila is the dominant spirit, it’s conquered the world. But mescal is possibly the more interesting spirit, and has gained ground. In the same way Armagnac is maybe less smooth than Cognac, but it has a bigger personality and it’s strong character makes it more adaptable and more memorable.’

Edouard feels that Armagnac’s robust personality makes it ideal as the core spirit in cocktails:
‘My favourite is an Armagnac based Old Fashioned, and for a simple long drink Armagnac and tonic is hard to beat. But it works across any cocktail that is based on a brown spirt like whisky or rum.’
I can vouch for the fact that Armagnac brings la difference to cocktails – it adds a real bite and kick to most mixes. Armin Armagnac 6-Year-Old (VSOP – but they don’t make much of that – it’s unhelpful insider jargon) is designed especially for easy cocktail experiments.

Cognac has a bit of head start – it’s produced in ten times the volume of Armagnac. But Armin is very much on the case and a perfect of example of how respect for tradition and modern marketing imagination can be combined to supercharge a heritage drink.

Cognac may be for heroes, but the logical extension here is that for superheroes, lounging in their tights and masks after a hard day saving the world, a shot of Armagnac is the only suitable beverage.

You can view their website here

If you enjoyed this article you may like to read the ones on Glenallachie or Arbikie.