Have you ever walked through your favorite liquor store and noticed that Cognac seems to be, ahem—a little on the expensive side? In many cases, it might be the most expensive liquor on the shelves. So why is this so? It’s time to crunch the numbers.
Cognac Production Costs vs. Other Spirits
On the surface, the costs of producing Cognac against that of other hard liquor is a little hard to fathom. But when we delve into the intricacies it begins to become clearer. The basic reason is that the costs associated with Cognac are that much higher. A liter of vodka costs around €0.90 to produce and a liter of 12-year-old whisky approximately €1.70. But when it comes to Cognac—and a VS quality, at that—the figure rises to a heady €7.00! That’s a heck of a difference, we think you’ll agree.
But why is this? What’s the reason the production cost for Cognac is so much higher? Well, the answer is multi-faceted.
1. The Resources are Limited
The biggest factor influencing why Cognac is probably the most expensive alcohol to produce is the cost of the resources. In other words, the grapes. These are finite in number, thanks to the laws surrounding where they can be produced and that each year’s harvest is at the mercy of Mother Nature.
When it comes to whisky, vodka, etc., that are produced from grain, there’s a vast amount of resources. There’s no limit in how much can be harvested each year, therefore the cost is much lower. Another reason is that agricultural crops, like wheat, often benefit from large subsidies, especially in the EU.
The ratio of resources between Cognac and whisky are 7:1. When it comes to vodka, this rises to 14:1. Gin lies somewhere between the two, and is dependent on the method of distillation and herbs used.
2. The Branding
While the hip-hop community has been, literally, singing the praises of Cognac over the past decade or so, the spirit has enjoyed a cult following long before these flamboyant wordsmiths decided it was cool. There are various legalities in place to protect the status of the drink and the growth region. Much in the way a Scotch can’t bear the name unless it’s spent a few years in a barrel in Scotland, so Cognac doesn’t earn its moniker until it’s done its time in the region. Find out more about the legal status in our article, Why is Cognac called Cognac?
In addition, brands need to position themselves in the market based on their unique qualities. This factors into their pricing strategy. It’s especially relevant when it comes to the larger houses, such as Hennessy, Remy, and Martell.
3. Distillation and Production
Every house jealously guards its Cognac-making secrets. However, the basic method of production is to use double-distilled wine, matured in oak casks, and blended to suit the particular product. Naturally, the longer an eau-de-vie is aged, the more the final Cognac is likely to cost. Many are blended (or single vintage) from distillations that are decades old, and some came into the world more than a century ago. As the saying goes, time is money, and that cost has to be recouped.
The costs of distilling other liquors is less than Cognac—usually much less. 90% of other spirits use distillation procedures that are way cheaper. To distil wine from grapes is a long and complicated process. It’s also necessary for this to occur within the Cognac region, whereas other sprits aren’t held to such requirements.
As previously mentioned, the amount and quality of grapes is dependent on how good the harvest is, and they vary a lot. Some years the results can be very poor. The cost of harvesting grapes is much higher than any other resource used to make alcohol.
4. The Aging Process
Cognac is aged in barrels. But these aren’t any old barrels. They must be sourced exclusively from certain regions and are produced by true craftsmen. This differs somewhat from even bourbon casks that can be made from a variety of woods. Other spirits manufacturer’s often use these Cognac barrels for their own aging processes, therefore reducing their costs.
Cognac barrels can only be utilized if there was no other type of liquor inside the barrel before. While there are some Cognacs on the market that have undergone a small part of the aging process in barrels that have previously held alternative spirits, such as the Courvoisier Master’s Cask Collection Sherry Cask Finish, this only applies to the very final element of the process. The majority of aging is, by necessity, governed by the strict rules that apply to the creation of a brandy that’s deemed fit to bear the name of Cognac.
Other liquors are permitted to use barrels that’ve contained other spirits, such as port and sherry. Quite simply, barrels are less expensive for other liquors. Another factor is that many other spirits are crafted in a chemical manner that produces zero alcohol. In such cases the taste is added through ‘d’eau de coupage’, a water that gives the liquid a specific taste.
5. The Exclusivity
Finally, the demand for Cognac continues to rise. The US and China, in particular, account for a large proportion of sales, importing the drink in earnest on an annually increasing basis. Rising interest in African countries, as well as Europe and Australasia, causes a supply and demand surge. Cognac can only be produced in limited quantities. The more people desire the drink, the more exclusive (and, therefore, expensive) it becomes.
Having determined the many reasons why Cognac is so expensive, let’s take a look at what many bottles seem to claim, that of being the most expensive Cognac in the world.
Henri IV Dudognon Heritage Cognac
A Mexican distillation company tried, unsuccessfully, to sell this bottle in Dubai, filled with tequila. Having failed miserably, they then made a deal that saw it filled with Henri IV Dudognon Heritage. It’s now entered in the Guinness Book of Records as the most expensive bottle ever made.
At a cool 1 million pounds (sterling), the bottle boasts 24 carat gold, sterling platinum, and over 6,000 brilliant cut diamonds. It weighs over 8 kilograms and is filled with a liter of Heritage Cognac.
We’re sure you’ll agree, the bottle is truly jaw-dropping. However, it received some mixed reactions. Here’s a selection from our readers:
- “What to do with the bottle after the content has gone? Recycle it? Fill it with another Cognac? Or something else? I don’t envy filthy rich people with such problems ;-)”
- “I agree with the above statement…..”
- “I want one.”
- “Where can I get one from and are you sure it’s 100 years old?”
- “It’s about marketing and presentation. I LOVE COGNAC!!! Pass the bottle! ;)”
- “This is ridiculous. I can make a 2 million pound bottle. Just throw in a another 50 carat diamond and you’re set. But then again, it’s the content that counts.”
The Cognac itself was first produced in the 18th century. It’s matured in oak barrels for over a century before it’s deemed ready to drink.
The family house of Dudognon Cognac has a history dating back to 1776. The estate is found in Lignières-Sonneville, in the heart of the premier cru of Grande Champagne. Discover more about this prestigious marque on our dedicated Dudognon Cognac brand page.
The 1858 Croizet Cuvée Leonie
In 2015, this made the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive Cognac. The 1858 Croizet Cuvée Leoni was owned by rare spirit dealer, Lee Tachman. Still clothed in its original packaging—which includes dust that’s hundreds of years old—Tachman says of the legendary bottle, “One of these bottles is said to be opened by Eisenhower… while he was planning the D-Day invasions. They took one out of France, smuggled it, and they opened one.”
The bottle hit the headlines as the most expensive ever when it sold at auction in September 2011 for a cool $156,760. And being as Tachman deals in rarities such as these, we’re pretty sure that the next owner had to part with somewhat more than this amount to own it.
While rare, examples of such bottles tend to fetch similar amounts at auction. One sold in 2013 for $157,000, and another in Shanghai for a record-breaking 1 million Yuan. The purchaser was Maggie Yong, the director of Hong Kong’s Citibank.
One thing that makes it so special, apart from the provenance and history, is the fact that this is a pre-phylloxera blend.
The house of Croizet is well-known for its luxury Cognacs. With a history that spans back over centuries, today it’s new owners are doing their part to continue the heritage of this sought-after brand.
Discover more about Croizet Cognac.
Hennessy Beauté du Siècle
Another contender on the leader board for the most expensive Cognac is Hennessy’s Beauté du Siècle. Weighing in at around €180.000 a bottle, only 100 have been created. The name translates to ‘Beauty of the Century’, and we have to admit that it is rather gorgeous to behold.
Owners don’t only get a bottle of wonderful Cognac, but a beautiful presentation chest designed by the artist, Jean-Michael Othoniel. Like a small treasure, this work of art is accompanied by a book that details all you’d ever want to know about the Cognac and its packaging.
1805 Massougnes Cognac
In 2018, a bottle of 1805 Massougnes Cognac sold for an incredible £200,000 sterling. One of the most expensive bottles of Cognac ever to be sold in the UK or, indeed, the world, the bottle has an illustrious backstory.
It was sold to an undisclosed buyer at Hedonism Wines in Mayfair, London, England. Prior to this, the bottle was bought around two decades ago by the house of Cognac Hermitage, from the Comtesse de la Bourdeliere, Marie-Antoinette des Allees. Her family owns the former Cognac producing Massougnes estate, and she is the last remaining direct descendant of King Louis VII.
This amazing Cognac was created in the same year as the Battle of Trafalgar, and Marie Antoinette has written a note that describes the life history of this extraordinary bottle. The house was famous for producing pre-phylloxera Cognacs. At its peak, the estate boasted vineyards extending over 346 hectares.
Such Cognacs are extremely sought after, as they’re mostly produced from a completely different grape than those used to make Cognac today. In the 1860s this tiny phylloxera pest literally decimated the Cognac vineyards. Before then most were planted with the now rarely seen Folle Blanche and Colombard grape varieties. After this massive event the taste of Cognac was forever changed, as wine growers re-planted their ruined vineyards with species more resilient to such invaders.
Cognacs today are mainly made from the Ugni Blanc grape, one that’s much hardier and somewhat easier to grow. Discover more about this monumental change that altered the taste and flavor of Cognac forever in our article about Pre-Phylloxera Cognac.
Remy Martin: At $140 a Sip
Of course, we can’t talk about some of the most expensive liquor in the world without giving at least a passing mention to the legendary Louis XIII from Remy Martin. While many different editions have been produced, we decided to work out the cost-per-sip of the super-premium iteration, the Louis XIII Rare Cask 43,8.
The Cognac is presented in an extraordinarily handcrafted carafe, created by famous French crystal-maker, Baccarat. The bottle is made from rare black crystal and takes more than 10 people to create and over 50 different procedures. The neck of the decanter is dressed in palladium and the decanter is presented in a box forged in metal. Mirrors underline the black crystal, causing it to glisten like a precious jewel. Of course, it sports the fleur-de-lys of France, making reference to the historic roots of Louis XIII.
Only 786 were produced for worldwide sale, making it a dream addition to any serious collection.
So what does a sip of this desired Cognac equate to? AT $140 bucks it could be a new netbook, a pair of sneakers, maybe a violin, or even a rim for a Corvette!
Being as Louis XIII is probably one of the most talked-about Cognacs of all time, we’ve put together an in-depth feature article discussing all you need to know about this iconic brand. Read all about it in our blog article, The History & Legacy of Remy Martin Louis XIII.
So…. There you have it. A round-up of the most expensive Cognacs in the world and the reason why our beloved drink commands such a hefty price tag. Of course, not every bottle hits six figures (or more). There are plenty more affordable options that still bring the desired luxury experience.
To this end, Cognac Expert has put together a unique, free-to-use, online recommendation assistant to help guide you to your ideal Cognac companion. Enter a few details (it only takes a minute or so) and we’ll provide you with three personal recommendations depending on your taste and preferences. From great value and versatile VS and VSOP delights through to hors d’age and collector pieces, it’s a great way to find a Cognac that perfectly suits your mood.
Find your ideal Cognac partner at our dedicated Recommendation Assistant page.