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15 May 2024 By

It’s Weird That No One Thought of This Before: A Bar Specialising in The ABCs of Fruit-Based Spirits — Armagnac, Brandy, Calvados. Well, Someone Has Now, And We Are Embracing SyZyGy.

Let’s start with the ‘B’: Armagnac, Cognac and Calvados are all brandies, but each is distinct and has its area of origin, production methods, base ingredient and naming style. So what’s the difference?

Glad you asked.

But first, a quick word about SyZyGy, on the second floor of a Beach Road shophouse. This cosy new bar specialises in Armagnacs and Calvados, and it’s an impressive collection. You can just about find any vintage bottle with your birth year (at not too eye-watering prices), which makes for poignant gifts. 

After you go through our spirits cheat sheet here, you’ll definitely want to settle on their couches for a dram and some caviar as well.

So, what’s the word?

Syzygy Singapore-Bar Interior-2

Armagnac Cheat Sheet

Armagnac and Cognac are grape-based. (Experts believe the former to be France’s oldest type of eau-de-vie or fruit brandy.   

Armagnac is from the three geographically protected regions of Gascony, while Cognac must be made in Cognac, the southwestern region of France. 

To make Armagnac, ten grape varietals are allowed; ugni blanc, baco blanc, folle blanche and colombard are the most common. These grapes must be vinified (without sulfur) and rested on their lees (residual yeast) in the fermentation vessel before distillation. 

The brandy must be aged in oak barrels for at least two years before it is bottled:

VS (“Very Special”) Armagnac = at least one year in oak; 

VSOP (“Very Special Old Pale”) = at least four years in oak; 

Napoleon or XO is oak-aged for a minimum of six years, while hors d’age Armagnac is at least ten years old. 

Armagnac became an AOC product in France in 1936.

[ Fun Fact: Armagnac generally ages for a more extended period than Cognac. ]

Syzygy Singapore-Bar Interior-2

Cognac Cheat Sheet

Cognac must undergo double distillation in a copper pot still; Armagnac goes through a single distillation in a special column still. 

Cognac usually has an ABV of about 40%, while Armagnac usually charges in at a higher ABV of around 45–48%.

Cognac must be made from ugni blanc (the most common), folle blanc, colombard, or other grapes grown within its designated appellations. 

Cognac can come in vintages (a blend of barrels from the same harvest year). 

Are you confused about the initials?

VS = at least two years in oak;

VSOP = four or more years in oak;

XO = at least ten years; 

XXO Cognac sleeps at least 14 years in oak.  

[ Fun Fact: There are only two forests where the French oak barrels can be sourced. ]

Syzygy Singapore-Bar Interior-2

Calvados Cheat Sheet

Calvados is made from apples and sometimes pears and only from designated areas in Normandy, northwestern France.

Calvados may be distilled once or twice, depending on the appellation. The distillate spends at least two years in French oak barrels before it’s bottled. 

Vintage Calvados is made with a blend of barrels from the same harvest year.  

“Fine” or “VS” = at least two years in oak before it is bottled. 

After four years in oak, Calvados can be labelled VO or Vielle Reserve (old reserve) = minimum four years in oak.

Those aged for six or more years are designated XO (extra old), Tres Vieux (very old) or Napoléon.  

[ Fun Fact: Pays d’Auges indicates Calvados that has been double-distilled in a copper pot still. This means you’re getting a more complex and richer flavour profile. ]

Syzygy Singapore-Bar InteriorIn Singapore, the comprehensive range of brandies and fine spirits are exclusively distributed by One Minor Group which supplies to various channels and also operates a B2C retail platform.

Because of their respective AOCs, you can’t ferry ugni blanc grapes grown in Cognac to a distillery in Bas-Armagnac and then try to make Armagnac. Obvs.

That’s pretty much all the 101 (again, ABC) you need to know to get started on these spirits. Cognacs tend to be pricier (because marketing), so at SyZyGy, you’re likely to find value-for-money Armagnacs and Calvados that taste heavenly.

The bar also has some exquisite caviars you can pair with your drams. Which caviar to pick? That’s another cheat sheet altogether.

SyZyGy, 247 Beach Road. Tel: 8363-4280.

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