Spirit of Choice: Armagnac, and Where to Drink It

Cognac's lesser-known sibling is making an appearance on some of America's best cocktail menus.

Courtesy Trou Normand
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With an increasing interest in rustic spirits, amplified by bartenders’ affection for deeper, complex cocktails, France’s second-most famous grape-based brandy, Armagnac, is finally getting its chance to shine in the States. Much like bartenders are reaching for mezcal over tequila and rhum agricole over traditional rum, since both of these spirits stand out in cocktails rather than hide beneath other ingredients, Armagnac too is finding its way onto more menus these days, taking the place of its less complicated relative.

While Cognac is often subtle with delicate floral aromatics, Armagnac is typically bolder, with forest-like notes of mushrooms, herbs, and wood, alongside hefty fruit flavors such as orange, plum, quince, and apricot. These differences stem from the fact that Armagnac is made from a wider number of grape varietals than Cognac, and is distilled to a lower proof—helping to retain more of the grape’s flavor—usually in small continuous (rather than pot) stills. It’s also made in a different region of France with sandier soils, and is often aged in locally harvested wood barrels. It’s also more likely to be sold in single vintages (encouraging wider variation between batches) and consumed more in its native country, while Cognac almost always emphasizes blends (resulting in a more consistent flavor profile) and sells big in the export markets. 

What follows are a few of the most notable places throughout the United States highlighting stand-out bottles of the spirit on their back bars, as well as those bars using it to create excellent cocktails with deep, interesting, unreplicable dimensions.