How great is this story:
"In the summer of 1981, Ansley Coale picked up a hitch-hiker along Highway 101, north of San Francisco. Hubert Germain-Robin came from the Jules Robin family, cognac producers since 1782. Hubert told a sad tale: ancient hand-methods of distillation were disappearing as huge firms applied "improved" high-volume methods. Hubert wanted to go back to craft-method distillation, techniques handed down for centuries from master to apprentice."
Mr. Germain-Robin and Mr. Coale were thankfully forward thinkers by bringing Cognac brandy making practices and techniques to Mendocino; a great idea long before craft distilling was in vogue. An antique Cognac pot still? Check. Cellared in Limousin oak? Check. Neutral acidic grapes like Ugni Blanc for distillation? Well... not so fast. The major difference between Germain-Robin brandies and the brandies of Cognac is they use premium varietal grapes like Pinot Noir and Semillon. The result is a rounder, smoother spirit. Dare I say it? Their brandy is a lot more elegant than many Cognacs, particularly mass marketed Cognac's younger versions.
Tony Morello and Molly Stapleton of Winebow were kind enough to bring in three separate bottles the other day for me to try. I know, I know, these are the perks of the restaurant business; though I have to remind myself of this when cleaning a bathroom on a busy weekend night.
First up was the Lot-numbered Craft-method Brandy. Comparable to a VSOP (very special old pale) Cognac its age is 6 to 8 years, made with Colombard, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Zinfandel. Rich fruit of apple, pear jump out of the glass.
Next was the Coast Road Reserve, with considerably more age- 8 to 22 years. Distiller Joe Corley calls this blend "dark and brooding." I think richer, spicier, more complex. One might use the Craft-method for mixing in cocktails and the Coast Road for a sip after dinner.
While Germain-Robin makes some single barrel brandies from select years I haven't tried, I did get to taste the Select Barrel XO (extra old- those letters are not as scary as they seem). Average age 15 years, mostly pinot noir grapes, and blended from many separate casks of individual "congruent" brandies. The pinot noir gives a wonderful complex yet soft finish. Which, I might add goes on and on, with vanilla spice and soft red fruit flavors.
Using Germain-Robin in cocktails is a no brainer, obviously with drinks like a Sidecar. But also try as a Bourbon or Rye substitute in a Manhattan. I have made a tasty (at least I think so) Cognac after dinner cocktail for years, I hope it does Germain-Robin justice. The famous nineteenth century bartender Jerry Thomas made a delicious drink called Japanese cocktail, celebrating a Japanese delegation and their mid-1800's visit to New York. His drink was Congnac, Orgeat (almond syrup) and bitters.
Here's my take:
1.5 oz Germain-Robin Craft-Method Brandy
.5 oz Cointreau (or other orange liqueur)
.25 oz Orgeat (use .5 oz if you like it a little sweeter)
4 generous dashes of Angostura Bitters
Shake- I know this is an exception to the rule of stirring as it does not have any fruit juice, but I think it works. Pros might double strain (pour through a sieve) to remove all ice flakes, although I kind of like them as is in this drink.
Use a lemon peel zest over drink, the acid and brandy are a nice foil to the sweetness of the orange and almond.
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