overhead shot of three glasses of armagnac with leaf shadows

Armagnac: Discover this Legendary Brandy

Armagnac is the oldest type of brandy around. This has given distillers the chance to make something great, and people continue to improve on the recipe. It's a popular after-dinner drink, but many people also mix it with other liquors. 

Typically, Armagnac is rarer than some other types of brandy because it's produced by small farmers in Armagnac, which is located in the Gascony region of France.

While traditional types of brandy are available outside of Europe, Armagnac is more of a local brandy. In fact, many people outside of the Gascony region might not be familiar with Armagnac. The good news is that we’re here to introduce you to this delicious brandy that's earned its place in history.

This article covers what Armagnac is, where it's produced, its potency, where you can get it, and much more. Read on to learn everything you need to know about Armagnac.

Armagnac: An Introduction

Armagnac is a type of brandy that's been around since 1310. In fact, it's the oldest type of brandy and originated from the Armagnac region of France. It's a single-distilled brandy with a brown color instead of the slightly reddish color of some other types of brandy and cognac

Typically, Armagnac is aged in oak barrels for many years, and that aging process gives it a smooth and smoky flavor that you don't find in other brands.

Armagnac also has diverse tasting notes, including grape, earth, leather, and Christmas sweets. For this reason, it's popular around the holidays and works well as an after-dinner beverage to help you digest a delicious meal. Whether you’re at home or out to dinner, Armagnac is worth a sip… or several.

What Is the Alcohol Content of Armagnac?

Armagnac’s alcohol content can vary based on who makes it. Since it's usually made by small farms, the alcohol content isn't always consistent. Expect the alcohol percentage to be around 53-54% alcohol. That said, it can be as high as 60% or as low as 50%.

What Is the History of Armagnac?

Armagnac has a long history, and it's one of the oldest forms of brandy that you can get your hands on. While the individual bottles aren't old, Armagnac got its start in the early 1400s and comes from the Gascony region of France. It's even been mentioned in historical texts because of its bold, sweet, and smooth flavors.

That said, Armagnac never had the chance to become popular like its cousin, cognac. The reason for this comes down to location. Armagnac was made in the South-Western region of France, so it's not close to the coast. Plus, it was produced by small farmers to top off their income from food sales. In fact, this is still the reason for the lack of Armagnac supply today.

Armagnac also has a dark history. Along with cognac, it was traded in the triangular trade and used as a payment for slaves and other resources. 

While Armagnac was sold across the world, it was never as popular as cognac because of its lower distillation range. This would keep Armagnac’s numbers lower than cognac until the invention of the Verdier. This was patented in 1818 by a peasant farmer, and it catapulted the production of Armagnac.

What made this invention important is the fact that it was easy to transport and allowed farmers to distill Armagnac at a lower distillation range. Plus, it was cheap enough for the average farmer to use and have on their property. Soon after this invention. most of the Armagnac region quickly turned into Armagnac farming operations.

While production was high, there was still the issue of trade and transportation because Armagnac wasn't close to the coast. This is where canals like the Canal de Garonne come into play. Built in the late 1800s, canals helped the farmers ship out their Armagnac. While Armagnac has been around for ages and continues to be produced, it's still not quite as popular as cognac.

Where Is Armagnac From?

Armagnac comes from the Gascony region of France. This region might not be what you think of when you think about France, but it's a great place to get your hands on some historic brandy. The area is split into three regions: Bas Armagnac, Haut Armagnac, and Tenareze.

Another unique aspect of Armagnac is that it's not usually made by big distillers. There are a few out there, but most of the Armagnac you can drink comes from local and small farms in the Gascony region. This makes it a delicacy that isn't as popular as other types of brandy outside of France.

When Was Armagnac Created?

Armagnac was first mentioned in historical documents and texts from the early 13th century, specifically 1411. It was created in the Armagnac region by small farmers who were looking to make a little extra money, but it quickly became popular. It also underwent refinement with new inventions and distilling techniques during the 1800s. 

However, there is some controversy around its creation because Cardinal Prior Vital du Four may have written about it in 40 Virtues. However, it's hard to tell what specific type of alcohol he was referencing.

What Types of Armagnac Are There?

There aren't many types of Armagnac because it has to be made in the Armagnac region of Gascony; otherwise, it can't legally be Armagnac. This is a similar rule to cognac, so it's not exactly unique to Armagnac.

That said, there are a few types of aged Armagnac that vary based on how it's named. For example, VS is a mix of brandies produced in the Armagnac region that have been aged for at least two years. On the other hand, VSOP means that the brandy has been aged for four years. 

There are also some other distinctions, like XO (barrel-aged for 6 years) and Hors d’age; this last option is aged for more than 10 years and has a smooth flavor that you won't find in most types of brandy.

You may also come across some single-year vintage Armagnacs, but these are usually rare and expensive. The flavor profiles can vary, so it depends on the vintage.

Aside from the age of the Armagnac, you may also come across bottles from different manufacturers that have unique distilling methods. Armagnac Sempé 1934, for example, has rich aromas like dried fruits. On the other hand, Château du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac XO has flavors that resemble baked bread, and Delord Armagnacs have nuttier flavor notes.

What Ingredients Are in Armagnac?

Armagnac is a simple liquor that doesn't have many ingredients. It's made with a blend of grapes and then placed in oak barrels. The grapes of choice for most Armagnac distillers are white grapes. From there, the brandy is aged for several years or even several decades to achieve different flavors.

The still that it's made in can also be considered a unique ingredient because most brandy is made from pot stille. However, Armagnac is made in column stills that have a longer distillation process that adds to the flavor over time. Oak barrels are also essential to add other earthy and woody flavor notes to Armagnac.

How Much Does Armagnac Usually Cost?

Armagnac costs about as much as cognac. You can find some Armagnac that's only been aged for a few years for about $25 to $50. However, if you want to have single-year vintages or 10-year-old Armagnac, expect the price to increase. In fact, some rare vintages can cost a few thousand depending on when they were made and the rarity of the vintage.

What Is the Best Way to Enjoy Armagnac?

The best way to enjoy Armagnac is to drink it as an after-dinner drink. It's not something you want to be drinking all night, and it's usually something you drink at room temperature. It's best to drink at room temperature because you can enjoy the flavor notes better that way. That said, some people may drink it before dinner or during a night out at a nice restaurant.

You should also be careful with your choice of glass when drinking Armagnac. Make sure you choose a glass with a narrow rim so that you can smell the aromas because this adds a lot to the flavor profile. 

It should also be served neat, but some people may add a splash of water. You can also swirl the glass like you’re drinking red wine to bring out the aroma and flavors.

Last but not least, some people will drink Armagnac in a cocktail like a Manhattan. It's usually paired with something sweet and creamy.

How to Choose a Good Armagnac 

Choosing a good Armagnac isn't hard because it comes from a small region in France and has to be made a certain way by law. Still, some types of Armagnac are better than others. You need to check the label to ensure that it's from a good producer, and you should look for letters like VSOP or XO that tell you how long it has been aged.

When it comes to choosing a good Armagnac, the most important thing to note is its age. Armagnac aged for longer periods is smoother, easier to drink, and packed with more flavor.

Where Can You Find Armagnac?

The best place to find Armagnac is in France, but that doesn't mean it hasn't made it to the United States or other regions of Europe. Still, it's on the rare side, so you might not find it in every restaurant or liquor store. 

That said, your local liquor store should have at least one type of Armagnac available. As for bars and restaurants, it will be hit-or-miss. While you might not find it in a dive bar or sports bar, there's a good chance that it will be available in a high-class restaurant.

What Are Popular Alternatives to Armagnac? 

There aren't many alternatives to Armagnac because it's a unique type of liquor that's produced by small farmers. That said, the best alternative is a cognac like Rayon Cognac

While there are some subtle differences, cognac will give you the closest flavor profile to Armagnac. People who also dislike the sweet flavor of Armagnac but enjoy dark liquor may prefer Whistlepig Whiskey instead.

Armagnac FAQs

What Is Special About Armagnac?

What makes Armagnac special is how it's made and where it comes from. First and foremost, it can only be made in the Armagnac regions of France, so if it comes from anywhere else, it's not legitimate. 

The next thing to note is that it's only distilled one time and with a column distiller. This is a different and more complex process than distilling other brandy types. Additionally, it's aged in oak barrels.

What's the Difference Between Armagnac and Cognac?

The main difference between Armagnac and cognac is how it's distilled. Armagnac uses a column distiller for single distillation, whereas cognac follows more modern practices. 

Furthermore, cognac can only be made with the Ugni Blanc grape, whereas Armagnac is made with the Ugni Blanc grape and up to 10 others. Armagnac also has to come from the Armagnac region of France, and cognac is made in the Cognac region of France. 

Is Armagnac Smoother Than Cognac?

No, Armagnac is not smoother than cognac. In fact, it's more viscous and has a rougher texture compared to most cognacs. This is because of how the Armagnac is produced. Cognac is distilled with more modern methods, whereas Armagnac is made with column distillers that offer an old-fashioned, more crude way of distilling the brandy.

Enjoy Armagnac Today 

glass of brandy with ice on wooden table

Armagnac is a lesser-known brandy that shares some similarities with cognac. While it may be less popular, now you know everything you need to know about it. 

If you want to sound fancy at a nice restaurant, it's worth a shot to order it, especially at a French bistro or other French restaurants. Not only will this impress your friends, but it might even turn some of the wait staff’s heads.

We also recommend giving Armagnac a try if you’re in France. While it's similar to cognac, it's hard to explain the subtle differences until you finally get a taste. You can also find it online and order directly from some farms in Gascony if you’re looking for authenticity. 


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