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Raj Bhakta, the American rising star of Armagnac

Two years ago, Raj Bhakta bought Ryst-Dupeyron, a company specialising in mature Gascon brandies. The entrepreneur helped double shipments of Gascon brandy in 2020 using an approach inspired by whiskies.
Par Vitisphere Le 28 septembre 2021
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Raj Bhakta, the American rising star of Armagnac
Raj Bhakta in front of Ames Hall on the Green Mountain College campus, which he bought last winter. - crédit photo : DR
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How did you come to invest in Armagnac, and not in better-known European spirits like Cognac or Scotch whisky?

I created the number one high-end whisky in the United States, Whistle Pig, in Vermont, which has since been sold (partly owned by LVMH). When I learned to understand the American whisky consumer, I realised that Armagnac has more age, flavour, history and craft than American whiskies. In 2017, we created the Black Prince label for the Boss Hog brand, where we aged a rye whisky in an Armagnac cask. This started to pique my interest for the unsung gem of the spirits world. Whilst on holiday in France, I was introduced to Ryst-Dupeyron and was impressed by the quality and history of Armagnac. And I didn't understand why this spirit had not garnered a global reputation.

 

It is said in Gers that lack of commercial success is due to the absence of big firms like LVMH, Pernod-Ricard and Diageo...

It's true that there is no standard bearer for Armagnac. No brand has stood out from the crowd internationally. But that won't happen through LVMH or Pernod-Ricard. It can only happen thanks to an entrepreneur who knows the marketplace. And I am an entrepreneur. Armagnac’s success in the United States hinges on its age count. Compared to whisky, Armagnac is cheap. American consumers have paid too much for spirits that were not mature enough for too long.

 

Can you tell us about the products in your current range and ongoing projects?

Bakhta 50 is a limited edition of 48 casks where spirits from 1868 to 1970 are blended and then finished in Islay whisky casks. The retail price is $400 a bottle, which will rise to $500 by the end of the year (from €340 to 420). At this price, it's still a very good deal – there’s still plenty of room for growth. In ten years' time, maybe less if I work well, a bottle of Bakhta 50 will cost more than the Louis XIII Cognac decanter [Ed: by Rémy Martin], because it really will be limited.

We have just launched a new brandy, called 27-07, which blends 90% Calvados with 10% Armagnac from 7 to 27 years old, with a finish in Islay casks. It will be a unique product. Everything about Bakhta spirits hinges on innovation. We are planning to launch a new Armagnac blend, with a blend of 1888 and 1999 vintages.

 

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