Monday, January 14, 2013

Daniel Bouju Cognac



Having done a number of Cognac reviews in the past, I've been focusing on Armagnac during this series, but I did want to feature one Cognac that has piqued my interest and seems to be highly regarded. Daniel Bouju is a small grower/producer in the Grande Champagne region of Cognac. It seems that much of their Cognac isn't available in the U.S. or is very hard to find, but I was able to get some samples from a friend. Like many of the Armagnacs I tasted last week, the Bouju Cognacs exhibit a bolder flavor profile than the typical syrupy sweetness that we find in many Cognacs.

Bouju claims that they don't use any additives or caramel, but these things are all as black as night which certainly makes me suspicious. They don't carry any age statement, but I'm told that the Royal is 15 years old, the Extra is 35 years old and the Tres Vieux is 40 years old. The Royal and the Tres Vieux are cask strength (brut de fut).


Daniel Bouju Royal, 60% abv

The nose is dry and a bit musty. On the palate, there's an initial sweetness yielding to a dry palate, some spice and some of the mustiness from the nose as well as some medicinal notes. The mouthfeel is thick and syrupy. The finish is peppery. This tastes like some kind of Cognac concentrate, thick and rich and syrupy.


Daniel Bouju Extra, 40% abv

The nose is quite spicy with fruit underneath. The palate is sweet with freshly dried prunes, raisins and ends in spice which joins the prunes in the finish with just a touch of bitterness.


Daniel Bouju Tres Vieux, 50% abv

The nose on this is dry and woody, more like a bourbon than a Cognac. On the palate, it comes on astringent, though not in a bad way, with a fair amount of acid as well as spicy tobacco notes, yielding to some fruit, then menthol. The fruit comes back for the finish, mixed with some spice, then trails off with a palate numbing menthol.


After all of that Armagnac, I had to adjust to the sweetness of these, though they are not as sweet as most Cognacs. Of these three, I most enjoyed the Royal, with it's concentrated flavor, but also liked the Tres Vieux which had a lot going on but may not have had as many high notes. I didn't care as much for the Extra, which was overly bitter on the finish. All of these are very intense such that a little goes a long way.

24 comments:

Numen said...

Hi Sku,

Great reviews of these. Daniel Bouju lost his importer to the US a year or so ago, which accounts for the difficulty in finding his products. With the exception of his Family Reserve, everything is 100% Ugni Blanc. Bouju is extremely well known not just for not using additives, but also for advocating against further restrictions on their use in Cognac.

The color is extremely dark and deep because of the wood influence. I received a set of coffrets that includes all his primary releases, and it provides the age, wood type, and grape varietal for the various expressions. The wood influence really changes the color with time (and whether it's new oak or old oak).

You're definitely right on about the style; he's iconoclastic (to borrow a turn from Jay Erisman of The Party Source), and really likes to show wood influence, which carries some of the flavor - the sense of being sweet without actually being sweet - and more rancio.

I'm curious to hear how you compare the Tres Vieux Brut de Fut to the Tres Vieux, which is 40% and lightly filtered (non-chill). The Family Reserve is a fairly different animal as well (in addition to Ugni Blanc, it has Folle Blanche and Colombard - and spent some time in ash). Of the three, I preferred the TVBdF and then the Royal, and then the Extra behind both.

Numen said...

Quick correction - Bouju is fighting to increase restrictions on the use of additives. He is very anti-additives.

Anonymous said...

I tried a number of the Bouju cognacs a decade or more ago. Although I very much like cognac, and I have tried many cognacs over the years (including many from small producers), I disliked the Bouju products. All were, as Sku mentioned, very dark, and all had a bitter finish. Bouju claims not to use coloring additives. But his cognacs are much darker than Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old, a spirit, as we know, that is aged in new, charred barrels. And in warehouses exposed to high summertime temperatures. So I am skeptical that Bouju can get his cognacs so dark with barrel aging alone. And even if he can, why bother to impart such an overwhelming oak bitterness to a perfectly good brandy? If a U.S. importer is looking for great Grande Champagne cognac, he or she should try to bring in the Ragnaud-Sabourin line. All of their products are outstanding, they used to be available in the U.S. under Chateau & Estate. But I have not seen them here in a long time. Of course, taste is highly individual. So fans of Islay malts might find the Bouju bitterness to be highly desirable. Not me, though.

Tom Troland

Numen said...

Tom,

Good suggestion on Ragnaud-Sabourin. I'd also recommend Chateau de Beaulon, which is also additive free (other than water).

On the color issue, I don't think that PVW 23 is the best indicator. For instance, Glenfarclas 20 is much darker than the PVW 23, which really isn't much darker than the PVW 15 or the 20 despite the increased age. I know that Bouju puts a lot of emphasis on the lack of additives in his Cognacs, a claim supported by Jay Erisman, and a book on Cognac by Axel and Bibiana Behrendt.

Having seen the progression of 5 and 10 year Boujus with new and old oak, it's possible to see the color development. All the same, I think that some of it is also the method used in distilling, ageing, and replacing the angel's share.

His style is definitely unlike most all other Cognacs on the market. It has a bitter, woody edge to it, though it also tends to emphasize the 'rancio charentais' quality that is hard to find in more floral, lighter Cognacs.

I think that perhaps people who prefer the very old sherried whiskies would like Bouju more, but the bitterness in Bouju is more obviously 'wood' rather than from a sense of chocolate/coffee from the sherry profile. Of course, as you rightly say, taste is highly individual :)

Anonymous said...

Numen,

Very thoughtful comments! And, yes, Beaulon is also a great producer. I would be surprised if Bouju loudly championed the cause of no additives then stuffed their cognacs full of colorants! So, I should certainly assume they are honest since I have no proof to the contrary. But whatever Bouju does, I don't happen to like it. Another excellent Grande Champagne producer, sometimes available on the U.S. market, is Frapin. According to the classic book Cognac by Nicholas Faith, Frapin uses a lot of new wood (just the opposite of Delamain). And the Frapin cognacs I have tasted show real wood influence, but not the bitterness of the Boujou products.

Thanks, Sku, for letting a couple of brandy enthusiasts hash this out! We all love whiskey, especially folks like me from Kentucky, but brandy brings pleasure as well.

Tom Troland

Numen said...

Tom,

Thanks! Frapin's got a lot of great and well-respected offerings out there, like the Fontpinot. I've also been thoroughly impressed by the Tesseron range (especially the Lot 53), which gives a small hint of rancio without the heavy oak influence.

With French brandy, it'll always be a challenge in the US because of the real lack of availability (on a consistent basis) of a wide spectrum of producers and their bottlings. Aside from special release expressions, you can go into any decent liquor store in the US and find the standard offerings of Ardbeg, Talisker, Macallan, Glenmorangie, etc, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anything other than the VS and VSOP of the big four Cognac houses, which is a real shame.

Tom, have you tried Pierre Ferrand Cognacs? I've been gifted some samples, and became curious about the label's range.

Anonymous said...

Numen,

I have not tried any of the Pierre Ferrand cognacs. At least not in their more modern versions. Some years ago, I visited the property, spoke with M. Ferrand, and tasted some of his cognacs. They were excellent. Later, I read in a book that Ferrand went into association with another firm and, as a result, lost the rights to his name. So, according to the book, he began selling his own products under the name Pierre de Segonzac. (His property is in Segonzac.) I assume that the current Pierre Ferrand cognacs come from sources other than Pierre Ferrand since the book suggests that M. Ferrand was not happy with the commercial loss of his name.

Long story, apparently without a happy ending. But the current Pierre Ferrand cognacs may be great for all I know. Try 'em and see!

Now I'll try to prove I'm not a robot. It's not easy!

Tom Troland

sku said...

Thanks for the great discussion guys.

Numen, you noted that Bouju "replaces the Angel's Share." Do you mean they top off the barrels? Is this common practice in Cognac?

As to the wood, I understand that the wood influence darkens whiskey but these things are black and the three samples I have are fairly similar in color. Even the Royal is very dark. These are darker than any whiskey I've seen except for maybe Loch Dhu.

Glenfarclas is certainly dark but it's sherry aged which tends to add color. Do we know what type of barrels Bouju is aged in?

sku said...

Oh, and I did review Pierre Ferrand Ambre a few years ago. I wasn't thrilled, but I think it's their lowest end offering.

Numen said...

Sku,

I'm not sure how common topping off the barrels is with Cognac, to be honest. When people discuss it in terms of Bouju, they suggest that most producers (who do it) use younger distillate. The Maison Surrenne Tonneau no. 1 also refers to 'topping off' in its label story.

Copy-pasting from the website:
In 1922, Surrenne filled an oak tonneau with old petite champagne cognacs. Concerned about evaporation because the tonneau gets direct sun from the half-moon casement over the entry door, Surrenne’s successive cellar-masters topped the tonneau every year for 79 years, always with old petite champagne of very high quality. Never used, this rare solera-like blend contains a high proportion of cognac aged more than 100 years. From the Madame facility in Jarnac.

It may be common, but not discussed, infrequent, or just part of the mythos for certain producers.

With the exception of the Family Reserve, which spends some time in ash casks, Bouju uses oak - generally, and the distillate generally spends a long time in new oak. He is supposed to have incredible stocks of aged Cognac, so he can continue to age everything else; there's no rush to get stuff out the door and into bottle. He uses Limousin oak, with wide or medium grain (according to his website). I don't know how, if at all, the barrels are treated, though I think that they are fully air-dried (I may be completely mistaken). He's usually very responsive to requests; perhaps we should email him and ask about the color of his Cognac.

http://www.cognac-daniel-bouju.com/en/

Still, the one thing that this really highlights is that, even when producers have a certain reputation, as long as the industry permits additives and alterations to the spirit, people will wonder about it. I'm hopeful that discussions like this prompt Cognac producers writ-large to be more transparent and up-front about additives and their process, and for the industry to take notice.

Numen said...

I had (but gave as a gift) this coffret collection. On the inside of the lid there was information about the age, status of the oak (new or old), and that sort of detail about each expression.

http://www.cognac-daniel-bouju.com/en/products/coffret-collection.html

The items are listed by age (youngest to oldest), so you can see how each one does get slightly darker. The starkest change is really the 5-10 year mark (Selection Speciale, 5 years in new oak, to the VSOP - 10 years in new oak).

Numen said...

Sku,

One more comment (sorry to spam) to clarify, the Tres Vieux at 50% is called Brut de Fut (even on Bouju's website), though the Royal (15 year, 60%) and Family Reserve (80 year, 42%) are also "Brut de Fut." There is a separate 'Tres Vieux' that is very lightly filtered and 40%.

David OG said...

Just a little information about some of the questions brought up here. Generally, all Cognac producers are topping up the barrels as often as possible. It is generally done with spirits of a similar age and done across the warehouse and the paradis. This is basically done to eliminate as much evaporation as possible and improve consistency over multiple seasons. Unlike whisky production, the idea of having a single cask and its importance is none existent. While barrels are generally identified in the warehouses by their vintage, they are rarely sold that way and casks from a single vintage are generally interchangeable int the eyes of the cognac producer. The goal in cognac is to gain consistency for a given expression over time as well as minimize the tax obligation - french brandy producers are taxed on the volume they produce less a predetermined loss established by the government, if they can prevent that loss or minimize it they can save money. Generally, it is normal for Cognac producers to "work" the brandy several times a year. That means pumping every drop out of the barrels, aerating, measuring strength and topping up barrels. Another aspect that is very different from whisky is their use of new and old wood. Most cognac producers put fresh brandy into new wood for only a few months before removing it and filling it into older barrels. A barrel will be used 4 or 5 times before it is no longer considered new. This gives the cognac some color and oak tannin and most producers say they remove it from the new barrels to prevent it from getting too oaky. Of course new barrels are also very expensive, so one must consider this as a factor when assessing their statements. Producers will buy as few as they possibly can. Even without enough new oak, the brandies may mature nicely over several decades, but will not achieve that dark dense color that cognac aficionados expect, hence the need for caramel colorant and boise. Bouju seems to be the exception to this rule. New french oak imparts a lot a color especially when you leave it in the barrel for 30-40 years. Certainly the tannins are much darker and spicier than American oak, hence the distinction between European and American Sherry Casks in Scotch production. Bouju seems to be leaving these cognacs in new oak for their entire maturation and this is why they have achieved such a dark product. Wouldn't mind stopping into see the operation for myself. Perhaps we'll make a pit stop in March!

Anonymous said...

David adds some fascinating insights! Still, I can scarcely imagine how Bouju extracts such dark color compared to bourbon. Bourbon is always stored in new oak, the oak is charred (not merely toasted, as I imagine the French barrels are), and the large seasonal variations in Kentucky (or environs) temperatures ensure close contact between spirit and wood. Plus, very long aging cannot be the answer, I suspect, because most of the tannin extraction from a new or nearly new barrel surely occurs rather early in the aging process.

So, David, if you pull over chez Bouju in March and solve this mystery, please let us know the answer! And while you are in the Grande Champagne, consider stopping in Ambleville and securing some Ragnaud-Sabourin cognacs.

Tom Troland

tanstaafl2 said...

As interesting as the information on cognac and armagnac has been I was just as interested in learning about the history of Pierre Ferrand cognac and the fact that it is no longer made by Pierre Ferrand.

I will seek out the Pierre de Segonzac cognac (and the Pineau des Charentes which I like as well or better than cognac to be honest!) just to give it a try even if I have to go to France to do it! of course that mey be a while...

David OG said...

Tom,

I'm pretty sure that cognac barrels can be charred to whatever specifications the distillers wish. As you say it's common knowledge that most of the color is added in the first few months/years, but obviously over time, as with bourbon, the longer it stays in the barrel the darker it gets. This concept is pushed unanimously by distillers in Cognac who remove the distillate after several months and have a vested interest in spreading the oak tannin through as much eau-de-vie as possible and usually don't have a qualms about using additives. We never question this assumption, yet we all agree that 20 year old bourbon should be darker than 2 year old bourbon. In addition, it is well known that European oak throws a much darker tannin than American oak, so the dark color could be explained by these factors completely. Or he's totally bsing, which would suck. He's definitely the only producer I've ever seen releasing 30 year old cognac that was aged entirely in new oak. We shall investigate...

Anonymous said...

Hello Sku and everyone (hi Tom),
I'm so pleased to see this rich discussion about one of my favorite Cognac producers. The Bouju style is not for everyone, it is true, but it sure is a nice addition to the Cognac scene. I love the stuff. I just want to say that I'm in touch with the Boujus about getting them fixed up with a new US importer, and this time getting that done right, once and for all. Hopefully we see an American return by this, yes, iconoclast of Cognac later in 2013.
Cheers,
Jay Erisman
The Party Source

sku said...

Great news Jay! Thanks.

Cognac Tasting Tour said...

For those willing to get more names of Grande Champagne cognacs from family estates, have a look at www.maisongrandechampagne.com.
Site in French but some worth the discovery...

Dominik MJ Schachtsiek said...

I think it is a pity that some are speculate any "monkey business" of a producer who shows that much integrity.

Dark color in spirits can have a lot of reasons - in the least cases it is caramel [or burned sugar]. This is used usually only to ensure consistency in color and would be recognizable as a shade.
They might do something like Ron Zacapa rum, which are not only changing more often the barrels [yearly] - but also agitating them [from distillery to warehouse, from warehouse to the bottling facility]. Agitation would increase much the contact with the wood, hence it would not only color faster, but also would increase the wood taste [which is definitely the case, as everyone talked about a bitterness - a result from increased wood influence].

My favorite cognac or even spirit [and I am by no means a cognac person] is Frapin Fontpinot XO. I believe, that cognac which is rather fragrant and floral showcase better its character, than oak rich versions [for example Hennessy is emphasizing a lot on oak].
But I do have a bit different notion about the Bouju. I love, if people follow their own style. Why doing the same as other producers? Just have a distinctive product as this, is in my eyes better, than cater for the taste for the average Joe.

Unfortunately I could not get my hands on Daniel Bouju cognacs - but for me it would be not one or the other, but one and then the other…

Anonymous said...

Bouju uses additives. No way they acheive get that color in younger products without it. Unless they deny it on the label, I'd assume that stuff is dosed.

Jusden said...

Anonymous,

Any sense of expertise you were displaying you had is completely scrubbed, with assumptive, asinine comments such as this. I've had several lengthy email conversations with both Daniel and Francois. This is an eighth generation family owned business who continue to make cognac in the same approach as when they first began. They have no interest in mainstream success or expanding beyond their one copper still they have used for many decades-quality and what they feel is the best use of their talent and family tradition is all that matters. They also top the angel's share with 100% Grand Champagne from their estate (count the number of cognac distillers that do that). I also have a pretty extensive and large collection of most of the offerings from Daniel Bouju so I have been able to compare in succession the color and flavor changes side by side. Talk to anyone but the most serious of Cognac/spirits fans and they will say "Daniel who?"
Why on earth would they want to fake their color by making it as dark as possible as you say, when this is completely opposite of the normal that you see in cognacs. No one is going to buy cognac simply because it is nearly black. What possible advantage would they have by adding and then lying about this? Think about it. Like what you like (and you appreciate tasty cognac), but don't tarnish the name of one of the handful of distillers trying to do exactly the opposite of big corporate beverage institutions.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I stayed at the Bed and Breakfast adjacent to Daniel Bouju (coincidentally right around the same time this Blog post was written). After visiting many grower/distillers in the Grande Champagne region of Cognac, we visited Daniel Bouju and met Francois Bouju. Although we came away with NO proof that the Bouju line of cognacs available contain additives, Francois came across as the most sincere and dedicated grower/distiller that we met during our two week trip to Cognac. Having said that, we tasted his entire lineup with him (including the Family Reserve which had a mouth feel so complex it made me want to chew). It is important to note that during the tasting, he only took credit for the Bouju Cognacs available for roughly the last 25 years. The older bottlings he gave credit to his father, grandfather and great grandfather for making. In fact, when we were tasting the Brut de Fut with him, he mentioned that the Cognac AOC didn't even exist when a few of the older stocks were harvested and distilled. Accordingly, Francois said that he was sure that not all of Bouju's older stocks technically meet today's Cognac AOC regulations (although he didn't say it, this could mean additives). That said, we walked away from our experience thinking more to ourselves that long oxidation is the result of the darker colors in those older stocks. I won't lie though, whenever I drink from the bottles of Daniel Bouju that we brought home with us, I am amazed at the almost Coca Cola color of the Cognac, especially considering there still is a balance of fruit that comes forward with the wood in both nose, taste and finish.

Anonymous said...

PS - To my earlier post (we are the ones who stayed at the Bed and Breakfast adjacent to Daniel Bouju Cognac), it is important also to provide this context: When the term Brut de Fut is used by Daniel Bouju, this doesn't JUST mean that no water has been added to the spirit; it also means that very very long aging has naturally brought the spirit to roughly 40 percent ABV. This is remarkable when you consider that all unaged Cognac starts at roughly 80 percent ABV. Given this, the complex rancio and almost chewy mouth feel is not a surprise. When looked at this way, the term "cask strength" is over-used and probably not completely accurate (i.e., either some water is added, or you are being served a spirit that is still quite high in % ABV).