The Charentais Alem­bic

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Jean Martell was one of the ear­li­est pi­o­neers in the field of wine dis­til­la­tion into co­gnac, and the process and still that is used is named af­ter the Char­ente river where Co­gnac is lo­cated. Wine is fed into the boiler, where it va­por­ises. As it rises, it passes through the swan’s neck to go into cooled tubes, where it con­denses into eau-de-vie. The first dis­til­late is called “brouil­lis”, and this has a con­cen­tra­tion of around 30 per cent. This is re-dis­tilled, into a higher con­cen­tra­tion eau-de-vie called the “bonne chauffe”, and it is at this point when the heart of the dis­til­late is sep­a­rated from the head and tail, which are re­cy­cled, while the heart is aged in oak barrels to de­velop its flavours.

Cham­pagne has sim­i­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics but with a shorter fin­ish. Fin Bois pro­duces fast-age­ing eaux-de-vie with strong fruity flavours and fre­quently con­sti­tute the base of most co­gnacs. Bon Bois and Bois Or­di­naires tend to­ward gen­tler styles that age quickly and of­fer a hint of the sea.


Like co­gnac, ar­magnac is a re­gion­spe­cific brandy that is based largely on the same grapes used in co­gnac pro­duc­tion. The process of age­ing is iden­ti­cal, and ar­magnac was con­sid­ered in the past to have a medic­i­nal and ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fit for life. The ter­roir of the re­gion de­ter­mines the kind of flavours that you can taste in the co­gnac, and four main re­gions ex­ist: Bas-ar­magnac, Ar­magnac-té­narèze, Blanche dʼar­magnac and Haut-ar­magnac.

The key dif­fer­ence lies in their dis­til­la­tion, ar­magnac be­ing dis­tilled only once to yield a fra­grant spirit, af­ter which it is aged. The cat­e­gori­sa­tion of age­ing fol­lows the same rules as co­gnac, with one top rank­ing: Hors d ʼâge, which has the min­i­mum age­ing of a decade. How­ever, it also fol­lows a vin­tage age­ing style, in the same way as wines, for par­tic­u­lar vin­tages.


A nat­u­ral progress from the cider farms of the Nor­mandy re­gion, ap­ple brandy is dis­tilled from ciders made from very high qual­ity ap­ples from farms in the re­gions. Var­i­ous types of ap­ples are used, with up to 100 dif­fer­ent ap­ple va­ri­eties ex­ist­ing in one single bot­tling.

Fruits at ap­ple farms are har­vested and pressed, ei­ther by hand or ma­chine, fer­mented and then dis­tilled. The age­ing process takes place in oak casks and dou­ble dis­til­la­tion (like co­gnac) in alem­bic pot stills. Cal­va­dos can also be dis­tilled in a single process, but only on col­umn stills.

Cal­va­dos is also rated by cask age­ing and vin­tage bot­tling, depend­ing on the qual­ity of the fruit that is avail­able.

Dif­fer­ent Rat­ings

While co­gnac and ar­magnac bear a single ap­pel­la­tion (in­ter­na­tional rat­ing), cal­va­dos has four. The stan­dard is the AOC Cal­va­dos, and the more re­stric­tive AOC Cal­va­dos Pays d ʼ Auge has a des­ig­nated re­gion and re­quires dou­ble dis­til­la­tion. AOC Cal­va­dos Dom­frontals have more tra­di­tional stan­dards and Fer­mier Cal­va­dos in­di­cates the tra­di­tional style that is made by hand.

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