Rare Cask – Rare Price

On the Rocks
by Ian Williams Mar 05 2010

As part of its push to introduce American sippers to a wider range of high-end cognacs, Rémy Martin is selling a “rare cask” of the brown liquor for a mere $15,000 a bottle.
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Premium brown spirits, whiskies, malts made from grain, and rums from sugar have been surging in the U.S. despite the economic crisis, but brandies, cognacs, and armagnacs made from grapes have not kept pace. Somehow, the taste was lost during Prohibition and never properly recovered. People an scarcely pay a higher price than the $15,000 for each 750ml bottle that Rémy Martin is asking for its limited edition of Louis XIII “Rare Cask.”

Grey Goose comes from France, but Rémy Martin is French with all the style and finish that that implies. Hence the staging, tastefulness, and munificence of the famous cognac maker’s launch of their latest sacrifice on the altar of conspicuous and exclusive consumption. There will only be 30 bottles for sale in the US.

Of course, the 30 bottles are simply the Archangel’s share of the potential market. The aim is to introduce discerning American sippers to the wider range of fine cognacs, to create a sophisticated customer base to match the other brown spirits. Now is the time, and if people are paying a premium for premium spirits, then they can scarcely pay a higher one than $15,000 a bottle, but Rémy makes many other fine and palatable bottles that will soothe the cares of the economic crisis more economically.

But with the Rare Cask, what a bottle! Before going into the craftsmanship inside, the black crystal Baccarat decanter is a work of art in its own right, and in the coarse eBay phrase “a collectible.” If you bought a bottle and drained it, it would be sacrilegious to throw it out for recycling with the other empties.

A few crashes and 15 or so years ago, MacAllan launched its 53-year-old bottle of Scotch on a thirsty world of malt enthusiasts for a mere $2,500. At the time, that was enough for any self-respecting Scot to cross his legs and not go to the bathroom for a day or so after taking a nip in case the precious fluid was wasted. The canny Caledonians restricted tasting to a splash with a syringe on the tongue.

But the French add joie de vivre to their eau-de-vie. At the Astor Center launch of the Louis XIII, they offered a statistically significant sample—a good half ounce, a $300 pour—of the product, and to make sure that the assembled tasters knew what to look for, Remy’s “cellar master” Pierrette Trichet, (they could hardly call her a cellar mistress one supposes) showed how a cognac grows up with the original unaged eau-de-vie, distilled from fine champagne grapes, on to a 7- to 10-year-old, and then up the value chain through 20 to 25, 40 to 45, and 70-year-olds before exposing the now highly sensitized palates to the Rare Cask.

Mme Trichet discovered a cask that she felt deserved bottling unblended, and the bottles are rationed for different continents. It would be difficult to beat her purple prose, which describes how “First, a formidable bouquet of wild mushrooms presents itself. Then, a hint of lifted underwood notes arise that evoke to the senses a bountiful autumnal forest. These are followed by a sparkling display of full, spicy tones that come from 100 years of aging in Limousin oak barrels. Lastly, gingerbread, wax, nuts, and fresh mint notes reveal themselves.”

Frankly, I would have to have been eating magic mushrooms to pay that much for any bottle, but one can appreciate cognac without reaching such heights. Surprising for other brown-spirits drinkers is how the aging process avoids the oak and tannin flavors that sometimes make overaged spirits almost undrinkable. Spirits writer Jonathan Forester pointed out with delight that the cognacs on offer were almost reincarnated, and that as they get older reveal some of the delicate fruity aromas of their infancy, going back to the beginning again.

It is difficult to think of a business model acceptable to Wall Street whose idea of inventory is stocking up product over a century—but many a bonus-laden banker will find the product acceptable at least.

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