Cognac has a taste I've yearned to dive more fully into ever since I had my first cognac flight at Brandy Library in NY years ago. I have made attempts to learn more by attending cognac seminars at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans or the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. But where is the cognac equivalent to the excellent Ministry of Rum, which, thanks to founder, Ed Hamilton, has done much to educate the country on the complexities and range in rum? There is a stigma to cognac in some circles that it's too elitist, expensive or unapproachable. As with any spirit, this is not true if you know where to sip.
I am smitten with Camus cognac, the last of the independent, family-owned cognac houses (since 1863) in Cognac, France. Though it's the fifth largest cognac producer in the world, and readily known in Asia and Eastern Europe, it's only just beginning to permeate the US market, and is, for the moment, only available in CA through Wine Warehouse (ask for it at your local liquor shop). I had the privilege of enjoying lunch with Cyril Camus, the president and fifth-generation distiller, after I tasted through the line beforehand. By the time I got to my second taste-through with Cyril, it confirmed my initial impressions.
There is much to love in any one of their cognacs, all blended, 80 proof, some with innovative screw-caps which double as a one ounce measuring shot, aged in lightly-oaked cognac barrels so there is less oak influence and a smoother taste.
Camus VS: I serve this one as an introductory cognac for those unfamiliar, and also as proof that cognac can be both exquisite and affordable. At a mere $25 a bottle, this lively cognac balances citrus fruit with subtle vanilla and is light and smooth, while being rich and full. Excellent on the rocks or in a cocktail, you won't likely find a better deal for cognac at this level.
Lunch with Cyril Camus. Photo by Virginia Miller
Camus VSOP: With a little more oak and vanilla in the profile, this crisp, lively VSOP retails around $45 a bottle and works neat, on the rocks or in cocktails. As their best-seller, I actually prefer the VS, though you won't go wrong with the VSOP.
Camus XO Elegance: Now we move to greater age and a $120 price tag, but the signature Camus taste of fruit with subtle vanilla, mild oak, even hints of liquorice, remains. This is a fine sipping eaux-de-vie blend that holds up for whisk(e)y drinkers like myself. I could sip it after dinner on a regular basis.
Camus XO Borderies: In a stunning, perfume-like bottle (for the XO Elegance the bottle is clear, for XO Borderies, it's frosted), this the only non-vintage, single estate cognac in existence, made from 100% borderies grapes in Camus’ vineyards. With a raisin-like sweetness, this silky cognac still remains light, complex with citrus and a robust floral quality balanced by hazelnut and dried fruits. An exquisite imbibement.