Louis Royer Cognac
wine pixies

Louis Royer Cognac

Louis Royer has recently sent me an impressive line of Cognacs, including a line of three Kosher Cognacs, their special 53% alcohol VSOP, and their evanescent 32-year-old single cask offering (in a very small bottle indeed). Begun by Louis Royer in 1853, the house still has major Royer family input, although it is now an affiliate of the Suntory Group. Cellar Master Laurent Robin has the admirable option of dipping into Cognacs from Royer distilleries in each of the five major production zones. It is not surprising that these blends show both character and individuality.

It may be most fitting to start at the top. The Louis Royer 32-year-old Single Cask Grande Champagne Cognac will set you back from $450 to $600 depending on your bargaining power, but the prospect of still having that money and not having this liquid delight is grim indeed. Here is a Cognac of deep copper and amber hue. Single notes do not do justice to this masterpiece, but I did write several down: orange marmalade, toffee, nutmeg, clove, fruitcake, peanut brittle, and brioche. On the palate these combine with extremely subtle oak richness and a gentle rancio fullness, roasted hazelnut, walnut and coffee bean. The Cognac is extremely soft on initial attack, soft through a lengthy mid-palate, and the finish is eternal. Single cask Cognac has idiosyncratic character, and I can only imagine how 32 years could affect the product of the next cask over. Matchless.

The Louis Royer Préférence VSOP (watch those acute accents) is a fine piece of work, at about $50 or less, a tenth the price of the single cask Cognac. Comparing the two is senseless, since these are different beverages for different purposes. I love the deep amber color. This Cognac is nicely constructed, bringing rich aromatic notes of butterscotch, licorice, dried fruit and ripe apple. In the mouth the initial attack is pleasingly soft. Decidedly dry through mid-palate and finish, the palate shows citrus rind, dried leaves, nutmeg and a touch of clove. This is quite different in style from the other VSOPs (all from large houses) I have in my cabinet. If I have to distill the difference in a word, that word is savory.

The Louis Royer XO Cognac will run you $160 or so. Every home needs an XO to lord it over the VSOPs. Four of the Cognac regions are represented: Grande and Petite Champagne, Fins Bois and Borderies. The liquid is deep copper in color, with aromas of toffee, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, dried fruit, white flowers, vanilla, sandalwood, and citrus peel. Mouthfeel in this full-bodied Cognac is rich and engaging. The palate brings dried fruit, fruitcake, mulling spice, toasted walnut, deep cedar. The wood notes have a final sweet say on the lengthy finish. Though my aromatic and palate notes are likely to be totally different next tasting, I am certain that the sensual elegance of this XO will register again.

When Cognac is first distilled, in has an alcoholic strength of just over 70% by volume. Some of this, the “angel's share,” is reduced by evaporation, but the remainder is commonly reduced, very slowly, by adding demineralized water, until the market strength of 40% is achieved. Many Cognac professionals consider this a shame, since they generally agree that the aromatics and flavor of a Fine Champagne Cognac is optimal at the 53% level. The house of Louis Royer apparently decided, “why not?” They pack the Cognac bottle in a unique perforated metal canister, a metal label firmly bolted on.

The Louis Royer Force 53 ° Fine Champagne VSOP (about $50) is deep amber in color. Aromas are fruity and soft: fig. raisin, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon, dried flowers, fruitcake. The Cognac is soft, mouth-filling, with the sweet edge of dried fruit, prune and apricot, and the fragrant oil from an orange peel twist. Add water, and this Cognac opens up into a realm of sweet candied fruit and, I dare say, ripe mandarin orange gelato (to name just a few of the possibilities, depending on the human brain at the other end). This one, of course, is perfect for mixing, say for that exquisite Sidecar, Brandy Alexander, or try it with Champagne for that decadent French 75. The high end Brandy and Soda is of course an option, if you can find a soda to match this quality. This is the first “53” I have enjoyed, and I have become an instant fan. (In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must own up to the fact that the house I grew up in was number 53, so that number has always been special for me.)

The three Louis Royer Kosher Cognacs have a small OU symbol on the bottle label, though not on the box, indicating that they are among the 400,000 products certified by the Jewish Orthodox Union as Kosher. Unlike some other spirits, like bourbon and gin, Cognac needs to go through a special certification to be considered kosher because it is made from wine.

The Louis Royer Kosher VS is amber-colored. Nose is pronounced, dominated by oak, citrus and hazelnut, with white floral elements in the background. The attack is smooth, showing red plums, dried apricot, honey and a slight caramel/vanilla mix that persists on the palate on the finish. The mid-length finish is quite clean.

The Louis Royer Kosher VSOP is golden brown in color, showing amber highlights. First aromatic impulse is warm earth, some oak and vanilla, a touch of spice. Medium- to full-bodied, the Cognac is a bit spirited at first touch but starts to behave once in the mouth. On the palate the Cognac has a citrus element, dried apricot and nutmeg. The finish takes its time, bringing more dried apricot, dried fruit and sweet oak. Well produced, with many fine elements and good complexity for a VSOP.

The Louis Royer Kosher XO is deep copper in color with lighter highlights at the edges as you swirl it in the glass. Aromas come in dense layers: dried flowers, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, vanilla. Medium bodied, mouthfeel is soft and silky. Complex array of fruit and spices: orange peel, dried apple, honey, warm cinnamon, toasted walnut. Finish is long and patient, with alternate swirling layers of fruit and spice, delightful butterscotch and mocha at the end and more vanilla. Polished and nicely flavor balanced, this Cognac still has some rough, idiosyncratic edges that delight, especially some of the “kernel” aspects like the toasted walnut. Though sophisticated, this is a Cognac for convivial conversation rather than meditation.

Verdict: A superb and full line of Cognacs with character.

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Cognac: it has a way of speaking for itself.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

Louis Royer Cognac

Laurent Robin, Maître de Chais.

Louis Royer Cognac

The Louis Royer bee symbolizes the house's commitment to craftsmanship.

Louis Royer Cognac

The careful blending process at Louis Royer.

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