A brandy producer has won two top awards for an outstanding cognac that has been aged in oak casks for 50 years.

Hemitage Cognac Ltd in Bradford-on-Avon took the International Wine & Spirits Competition Trophy for Brandy Producer of the Year 2021.

And the company won the IWSC Cognac Trophy for its 50-year-old Grande Champagne Cognac from the Cognac region of France.

Managing director David Baker said the Brandy Producer of the Year award came as a surprise because the firm won against a highly-competitive shortlist of finalists.

He was delighted with the Gold Outstanding Award for the cognac, which he says is one the finest they have ever produced.

“It is a considerable achievement and I’m delighted to win the awards. We are well known now in France and French producers seek us out.”

The IWSC 2021judges said the Grande Champagne Cognac was 'like opening an old leather-bound book or antique oak armoire'. It scored 99 points out of 100.

The judges described its flavour as: “Figgy pudding and rich dark chocolate, wonderful rich spices and the bitterness of orange zest come through on the palate. Spicy but gentle and supremely dry.”

Mr Baker, 77, founded his company over 30 years ago after becoming interested in wine and spirits more than 60 years ago.

When he was a teenager, his former piano tutor used to allow him small glasses of wine and wine tasting soon became an obsession.

Soon he was looking for more diverse and complex flavours. Cognac won the day and the Hermitage Cognac company was formed.

Mr Baker said: “We seek history and provenance in our cognacs, which are either vintages, from the year of harvesting, or age statements, with defined years of barrel ageing.

“Cognacs from the Grande Champagne mature more slowly but this is an advantage. They can remain in their casks for longer, drawing on the oak that will, after decades of ageing, provide the intense richness known as rancio.

“Originally our 45-year-old Grande Champagne Cognac, we have watched this remarkable brandy develop in its cask for many years.

“It is now more than 50 years old and still it grows in maturity, richness and finesse. The flavours of fruit cake, sultanas and porcini will continue to develop in this masterpiece.”

Mr Baker says the 50-year-old cognac has the aromas of a warm fruit cake made from sultanas and Victoria plums.

“The flavour of fruit cake is immediately apparent with a hint of mangosteen tang. There are some delicate hints of crab apples which brings together the intense rancio flavours of orange syrup and porcini.”

Aged in damp and extensive cellars in 350-litre casks, Hermitage has much experience in developing these fine cognacs and has 40–50 in its range.

The 50-year-old cognac was distilled in four large 25-hectolitre stills, which produce all their eaux de vie and then put into the oak casks to mature.

Mr Baker says that Hermitage, which also has an office in Segonzac in the Cognac region of France, has close links to scores of local producers.

“Our cognacs are very special so only those from single estates are acceptable. Each handpicked cognac reflects the terroir of its origin.

“For decades we have striven to provide cognacs of the very highest quality. Our experience and understanding of old cognacs, and their bookmarks in history, has provided us with an intimate relationship with both the cellars from where they come and the cognacs themselves.

“We are passionate about passing this knowledge on to our colleagues to help develop an understanding of these precious spirits and their sales.”

Hermitage sells its cognacs nationally to the ‘top end’ of the market, and they are generally bought by connoisseurs and specialist retail wine and spirits stores.

Its approach to sourcing only the finest cognacs has led the company to win many category and gold medals at leading competitions.