One night on a recent visit to France, I visited Cognac Pierre Ferrand. It was awesome.
Our group had the good fortune to visit Ferrand on the first day of the cognac harvest, and the bad fortune to arrive so late that we missed seeing it. Alas. Still, we had a tour of the still room where during the winter the pot stills run for 24 hours a day. Ferrand actually has three brands of cognac that include Landy and Gabriel, with Ferrand as the flagship brand.
The stills at Ferrand are a little different, as two of them have "spirit safes" on them. These enclosures are required by the government to ensure that all tax is collected on spirit products, but they're not usually required on cognac stills. At Ferrand they make Citadelle gin in the off season, so they had to have the safes installed.
Ferrand releases blended cognacs without age statements, along with some very old single vintage cognacs including one from 1914. However, they're particularly proud of a more recent vintage 1972 cognac that's a new release to the market. And delicious. Also in the line is Selection des Anges, bottled at the point where the angel's share (that which evaporates out of aging casks) is greater in proportion to what's left.
Speaking of aging, I was going to talk about dry versus humid cellars, or chais. When cognac ages in humid cellars like those along the Charente river, alcohol evaporates out of the casks at a faster rate than water (much like distillation), and the spirits in the barrel loses alcohol content over the years. The good news is that because of this, flavors are more concentrated in the spirit and it needs less dilution to reduce the cognac to bottle strength, which is nearly always 40 percent alcohol by volume. Dry cellars (often located upstairs in the same aging buildings) are hotter and water evaporates more rapidly, so the cognac retains or even gains percentage of alcohol by volume. One blender described the dry cellars as producing dryer and more subtle cognac, while the stuff aged in humid chais was more fruity and flavorful.
After the tour of the distillery and cellars, we drove to the very modern blending facilities, which happen to be located behind brand owner Alexandre Gabriel's rather fabulous house.
We had a long and very fun dinner inside and that, friends, was a great night.