What can I add to the rather fully-established commentary and opinion of St-Remy? Shall I remind myself that Very Superior Old Pale brandy is a few years older than a Very Special  and a great deal younger than an Extra Old (XO)?  This grading system reminds me that brandy consumption can be indicative of a  very caste-like social system – one part objectivity to ten parts subjective contextualization.

St-Remy has been in production since 1886 and they make a few categorical statements about the VSOP on their website.  The appearance is expected to be amber with golden highlights.  The nose is fresh and fruity balanced with woody and vanilla notes. The taste is suggested as well balanced with vanilla and red berry.  The finish is claimed to be smooth and mellow.

Ah, St-Remy also suggests that the secret to their product is being French.  Well there you go – a little bit of social contextualization.

I’ve approached St-Remy  a few times over the years and I’ve found that it is necessary to submit to the heat and alcohol. The brandy snifter cradled in the palm of my hand doesn’t seem to work for me with this brandy.  Before I offer a serving plan, I want to ponder one of France’s poets from the late 1800s – Arthur Rimbaud.  Particularly, a consideration of A Season in Hell (the translation below is borrowed from Mag4.net)

Once, if my memory serves me well, my life was a banquet where every heart revealed itself, where every wine flowed.

One evening I took Beauty in my arms – and I thought her bitter – and I insulted her.

I steeled myself against justice.

I fled. O witches, O misery, O hate, my treasure was left in your care!

I have withered within me all human hope. With the silent leap of a sullen beast, I have downed and strangled every joy.

I have called for executioners; I want to perish chewing on their gun butts. I have called for plagues, to suffocate in sand and blood. Unhappiness has been my god. I have lain down in the mud, and dried myself off in the crime-infested air. I have played the fool to the point of madness.

And springtime brought me the frightful laugh of an idiot.

Now recently, when I found myself ready to croak! I thought to seek the key to the banquet of old, where I might find an appetite again.

That key is Charity. – This idea proves I was dreaming!

“You will stay a hyena, etc…,” shouts the demon who once crowned me with such pretty poppies. “Seek death with all your desires, and all selfishness, and all the Seven Deadly Sins.”

Ah! I’ve taken too much of that: – still, dear Satan, don’t look so annoyed, I beg you! And while waiting for a few belated cowardices, since you value in a writer all lack of descriptive or didactic flair, I pass you these few foul pages from the diary of a Damned Soul.

Rimbaud reminds me that every one of us has had plenty of occasion to call for plagues and submit to unhappiness as our god. With any kind of luck, those occasions have been short rather than long – that the misery passes.

Like Rimbaud’s ill-humoured ranting, the St-Remy carries a familiar spite that seems a bit noxious at first but soon becomes a not-unwelcome contributor to an evening’s entertainment.  A kind of welcome crank, despite – or even because of- the enthusiastic and inspired ravings. St-Remy tells me a bad mood can also be instructively tolerated – and that’s actually a pretty heartening message.

St-Remy makes a great after dinner addition to strong coffee.  I don’t often drink spiked coffee, but the woodsy warmth of this brandy is an awfully welcome temptation on a cool autumn or winter evening.  I don’t find the vanilla and berry that the distiller claims to be there.  Instead, the wood and fruit puts me in mind of a dark, heavy fruitcake – all currants, raisins and heaviness.

An ill-tempered poet (or perhaps even songwriter) can help shake the gloom by exaggerating its importance (at least someone is more foul-weathered than I am!) and a bit of St-Remy in the grog shakes off the chill.