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It takes a century to make this drink

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THERE have been just a handful of “cellar masters” who have created Remy Martin’s Louis XIII, the liquor Paul-Emile Remy Martin began to make in 1874, and which was named to honor French king. Cellar masters are tasked to choose the best eaux-de-vie, or “water of life,” the selection of blends from which to create a Louis XIII. To do this, they must sift through an extensive range of choices, sampling the various eaux-de-vie produced by winegrowers and distillers around Grande Champagne in Cognac each year, and setting aside those which they deem as having the best potential for aging.

The selected eaux-de-vie are briefly stored in new oak casks, then are moved to older oak barrels, where they sit for 40 years. The next cellar master will then have to decide if the eaux-de-vie still needs time to mature, or if these can be transferred to 150-year-old casks, where they are left to age some more. It takes four generations of cellar masters (each of whom must pick up to 1,200 eaux-de-vie), around a century to produce a batch of Louis XIII.

The present cellar master, Baptiste Loiseau, has recently picked what he considered were the best eaux-de-vie for his successors to work with in the coming decades. But Mr. Loiseau is unlikely to taste the fruit of his labor in its final form. No cellar master ever did.

Uncorking a decanter of Louis XIII is no small occasion then, and it was something Remy Martin, through brand ambassador Florian Heriad Dubreuil, recently did for some guests in Manila. During the activity, Mr. Debreuil said opening a bottle of Louis XIII starts by pulling the string that lifts the foil seal away, then carefully removing the cork stopper — which should be immediately replaced by a crystal bottle stopper. Once opened, the bottle should be finished “within a few weeks.” According to Mr. Debreuil, this is especially crucial when the bottle is already halfway empty. Because it is at this point, he explained, when oxidation begins, and this affects the taste of the cognac.

In drinking Louis XIII, Mr. Debreuil said it is best to start with a small amount; this lets one’s palate get used to the taste of the liquid. Succeeding sips will then reveal complex flavors and aromas like myrrh, walnut, dried roses, plum, honeysuckle, figs, passion fruit, even cigar box and leather, he said.

Mr. Debreuil, a fourth-generation member of the family that owns Remy Martin (his great grandfather, Andre Renaud, acquired E. Remy Martin & Co. S.A. in 1924), noted cellar masters must use 1,200 eaux-de-vie to “ensure the quality and taste of each decanter of Louis XIII” are uniform. Using this many, he explained, allows the cellar master to adjust the quantity of each eaux-de-vie that goes into the cognac, compensating for the difference in harvests on some years. Which can be expected, given there is a century’s worth of harvests involved in the process.




As Louis XIII global executive director Ludovic du Plessis put it; “To drink Louis XIII is to drink time.” — Brian M. Afuang

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