Cognac may get occasionally reviewed here on Malt; But I noticed that we haven’t touched on the more accessible brands.
It’s the ones bottled by independent bottlers such as SMWS and Cadenheads we’ve given more attention to. Camus may be one of the more recognizable Cognac brands. However, I still see it as a craft brand since it’s 100% family owned.
It’s not one of the Big Four of Cognac (Hennessy, Martell, Remi Martin and Courvoisier). For Scotch drinkers, you could compare one of the big four Cognacs to Glenlivet. This is due to how widely distributed any of these brands are; Camus can be compared to Springbank, mainly due to their being known by name, but not being as widely distributed as the Big Four.
Located in the Borderies region of Cognac, Camus was started by Jean-Baptiste Camus along with a consortium of independent producers in 1863. The consortium then was called “La Grande Marque.” Eventually, Jean-Baptiste bought out his partners to make the company 100% Camus-owned.
After his death in 1894, his two sons took over the company. Edmond acted as the cellar master, while Gaston handled the export business. Gaston achieved great success. Among his accomplishments are receiving an order from the Court of the last Tzar of Russia, Nicolas II.
Camus became recognized internationally when Michel Camus attacked the international market more aggressively. He saw huge potential in the duty-free market. With this, he eventually got a deal with Duty-Free in the 1960s. Michel’s son, Jean-Paul, then expanded the duty-free business to the Asia-Pacific region.
Today, Camus is headed by Cyril Camus and is the largest of the family-owned Cognac houses. They have determined three important factors:
- The density of floral aromas, which are measured by terpenols.
- Density of fruity aromas, which are measured by esters.
- The balance between the fruit flavors and the wood.
According to these articles by Forbes and Alcademics, the advantage of being based in the Borderies is that the grapes from this region tend to be more floral. This means that it’s easier for them to produce floral Cognac due to the naturally terpene-rich grapes. It’s said that the Borderies soil, a mixture of chalk and clay, is the oldest in Cognac. How old is it? Jurassic old. I guess this is what gives the grapes its floral character.
Esters are naturally created during fermentation. Somewhat similar to dunder in Jamaican rum and sour mash in Bourbon, using the leftovers of a step of the process can increase ester counts. But, dunder and sour mash are stillage, the leftover substance after a distillation run. By comparison, Cognac uses lees to increase ester counts. Lees are dead yeast and other particles from the fermentation process. For Camus, their Cognac distilled without lees has ester counts of 30 mg/L. When distilled on the lees, ester count jumps up to 70 mg/L.
Lees isn’t a term that solely belongs to Cognac. It’s also referenced in Japanese sake (nihonshu). There are also different types of lees, but I’ll talk about this more (along with Cognac basics) in a future review.
The Forbes article mentions that Camus’ VS and Ile de Ré are both distilled without lees. But on Camus’ website, it’s said that the VS is distilled on the lees. However, it’s mentioned in the articles that Camus changes. So, this could either be a typo error on Forbes’ side, or Camus recently started distilling on the lees for their VS.
You may notice that the packaging of the VS and Ile de Ré Fine Island are different from the images I used. It seems like these releases have received new packaging. The samples I bought came from bottles with older packaging.
Camus VS Elegance – Review
On the nose: I immediately get some rancio. It stands out and comes to me in the form of medium intensity dried shiitake mushrooms. Along with it are light but lasting aromas of honey, flower bouquet, fresh ripe peaches, Mandarin orange and dried apricots. At the “outskirts” of the aromas are subtle enveloping dried shiitake mushrooms and the tail end aromas of mangoes and Fuji apples.
In the mouth: The rancio isn’t as bold as on the nose. The floral notes like honey, fresh ripe peaches, Mandarin oranges, Fuji apples, and dried apricots are light but bolder, and longer lasting. At the end are subtle and quick tastes of Taiwanese pineapple cakes, cherry-flavored hard candy and dried mangoes.
I like this. There’s no alcoholic bite on either the nose or in the mouth. Offensive flavors and sensations are non-existent. Distilled on the lees or not, this is a fruit and floral bomb. Pretty intense floral and fruitiness too despite the abv.
The nose has a big and bold start but it consistently falls off. The blending of this seems to be genius with the necessary toning down of the rancio notes in the mouth. After all, most consumers will find the rancio taste to be unfamiliar. Thus, it will be unwelcome, and most likely seen as a fault.
Because I’ve recently been made aware that most Cognac brands add boise, I’m left wondering if this has any boisé. (A macerated mixture of low-proof brandy, wood chips and sugar syrup to add color, flavor and a perception of being older).
The Ile de Ré Fine Island is from the Ile de Ré island of Cognac. It’s the westernmost part of the region. Being an island, the grapes from here come from a unique climate. It’s said that the abundance of kelp and sea spray make the grapes richer in iodine. This expression is said to be the youngest in the Camus Cognac range. They are aged in lightly toasted oak barrels.
Camus Ile de Ré Fine Island – Review
On the nose: I’m welcomed by a hint of ethanol heat. It’s followed by an aroma that reminds me of the Mint Julep cocktail, but mixed with honey, peaches, and dried apricots. Light aromas of leather, tannins, rancio, and cinnamon sticks follow. After allowing this to breathe more, the rancio, leather, and tannin notes become more forward. They’re accompanied by ripe plums and cantaloupes.
In the mouth: Immensely fruity like on the nose. The alcohol bite is about the same. I still get notes of dried apricots, honey, and peaches. However, instead of a Mint Julep, I’m getting more of a Christmas gingerbread cake background taste. With this, imagine a Christmas gingerbread cake with loads of toppings of dried apricots and peaches with honey drizzled on top. There are really subtle tastes of cinnamon syrup, leather, and rancio at the end, but the rancio texture is more evident on the finish. It is manifested through a chalky texture of dried shiitake mushrooms.
Aside from the flavors not lasting as long as I want them to, and the flavors not having as much depth, I can’t say anything negative about this Cognac. But don’t let my griping fool you. I love this Cognac. This is much more full-bodied than the typical 10 or 12-year-old single malt found in supermarkets. There’s a noticeable lack of offensive flavors too. None of that fast distillation and efficient yeast fermentation heat and off flavors.
This Cognac really gives a good first impression for Cognac from the Ile de Ré island.
If you want to start enjoying Cognac, try this or the VS. I recall not enjoying the Hennesys and Remis as I found them a bit too lackluster.
Images courtesy of Cognac Expert.