Here at The Whisky Exchange we like to choose special bottles – we have a wide range of exclusive whiskies and other spirits already, and we add more each month. One of the common questions I get asked is how we choose them. It varies a bit from bottle to bottle, but the core idea is the same – find great drinks and get them on our shelves.
Our latest exclusive bottling is a 22-year-old Frapin 1993 vintage Grande Champagne Cognac. It was selected by head buyer Dawn Davies MW and Whisky Exchange founder Sukhinder Singh and followed our usual process:
Choose a partner
There needs to be something special about a producer and their drinks for us to want to do an exclusive bottling with them. In the case of whisky, it could be that they make unique spirit or have incredible casks hidden in their warehouses; for rum it could be that they only create old-fashioned, traditional spirits. In the case of Frapin, it’s because we love its Cognac. Dawn is especially a fan of the Fontpinot releases, which are made with grapes from Frapin’s own vineyards – Cognac that’s entirely made on the grounds of Frapin’s estate.
Visit the maker
We like to see where our exclusives are made and meet the people who make them. We’re passionate about great drinks and love working with other companies who feel the same. For our Frapin exclusive, Dawn and Sukhinder travelled to Cognac to meet with cellar master Patrice Piveteau. He’s an excellent distiller and cares deeply about his Cognac – just the sort of person we want to meet.
Have a taste
Tasting a producer’s wares where they are made is something special. Whether it’s a glass of Talisker standing on the waterfront at Carbost, a sip of Somerset apple eau-de-vie standing next to the stills, or a pint of beer at the Weird Beard brewery, there’s nothing quite like trying something in its home.
At Frapin, Dawn and Sukhinder tried about 10 samples – different vintages as well as multi-vintage blends – and made custom blends with Patrice to see if they could create something even better. They chose three favourites and shipped them back to Whisky Exchange HQ for the most important part of the process…
Have another taste
While it’s great to to taste on site, it’s all too easy to be blinded by the experience – you need to taste in the cold light of day. Not only is it potentially distracting to be surrounded by the trappings of a drinks maker when you visit them, you almost certainly will be tasting a lot of options. Tired palates are drawn to big flavours and if you’re not careful, you can discard more delicate and complex drinks.
Dawn and Sukhinder tried their three favourites from Frapin multiple times over the following days, both together and separately, to form their own opinions and to debate which they felt was best. In the end, one choice stood out – it had the depth of flavour we look for, as well as being ‘complete’ in Dawn’s words: it had length on the palate and a balanced character. Also, while it was different to Frapin’s other releases, it was still definitely a Cognac from the house. We want to showcase the producers and the drinks they make, not find something totally different – their great drinks are why we choose to work with them.