Introduction By BillieBLVD
Pairing spirits with cigars is my thing. Its what makes a cigar experience just a little more transcendent, just a bit more meaningful. The spirit has to compliment the flavor and body of the cigar but there are no specific formulas for the right combo. One simply has to separately taste the spirit, smoke the cigar, and then reflect on the entirety of the experience to determine what category (wine, brandy, whisky, whiskey, or rum) and what specific elements of both profiles pair well.
Having done this many times I have found that Armagnac is one stone that is often left uncovered but not because its inferior its because of its authenticity. Armagnac is France's oldest brandy. The precursor of Cognac and one of the most authentic spirits that France can offer. So authentic that it has not been altered to cater to the tastes outsiders. People that drink flavored whiskey and apple beer have no say in altering the authenticity of this pristine spirit and as far as I am concerned it should stay that way. At least until Gordon Mott starts smoking Acid cigars and James Suckling starts drinking Fireball whiskey. When that happens all is lost.
In Georges Simenon's iconic series of French detective novels from the '30s, after a particularly harrowing case, Inspector Maigret often nips into a bar to smoke his beloved pipe with a glass of brandy. And for the intrepid Paris inspector, that inevitably means an Armagnac.
It is the oldest of France's brandies with roots back to the 10th century. Like Cognac, Armagnac is distilled from wine. But the relationship between the two brandies is a little like mezcal's to tequila. Armagnac is the little guy, produced on small farms in Gascony, the heart of southwest France. Cognac, produced 150 miles to the north, with different grapes, on different terroir, has 10 times the production.
In Paula Wolfert's "The Cooking of Southwest France," two-star chef Alain Dutournier of Carré des Feuillants, who grew up in the region, characterizes the differences between the two spirits this way: "Cognac is dependable, but Armagnac, like the Gascons who make it, is more forceful, more complicated — even excessive at times — and more exciting."
To importer Charles Neal, the artisanal spirit appeals to the same people who might be interested in European film directors or independent music. "It takes a little bit more effort to get into and the rewards once you do so are greater as well."
Armagnac is also distinctive because of the way it is distilled. Cognac producers use pot stills and distill twice, whereas Armagnac is distilled just once in a continuous still known as an alembic armagnaçaise. One of its virtues is that it is portable, so it can travel around to small properties. The spirit that emerges retains more character. Rougher at first, a young Armagnac tastes of fire and earth. But after aging in white oak barrels for decades, the spirit is tamed and softened and becomes marvelously nuanced.