Bottle #16: Chemineaud Fine Brandy

May 17, 2023

According to the remarkably history-free “History” page on their website, “Chemineaud Fine Brandy has found a special place in the hearts of Quebeckers.” What that special place is, I haven’t really been able to determine.

The one actual history fact on the page is that Bottle #16, Chemineaud Fine Brandy, can trace its origins back to the Chemineaud Freres. This is a Parisian company that made and exported brandy and Cognac beginning in 1826. Apparently quite good brandy, at least according to the 1910 edition of Dun’s Review: A Journal for the Promotion of International Trade.

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The label on my half-empty plastic bottle declares that it was produced and bottled under the direct supervision of Chemineaud Freres of Paris, France by Maison Chemineaud Ltee of Montreal, Canada. Searching for various combinations of those words eventually led me down a rabbit hole that opened up into the enormous cavern which is the Seagram’s company.

I’d heard of Seagram’s, of course. But what I hadn’t realized until I started doing my research is that this company, which started life in 1857 in Waterloo, Ontario was, by the 1990s, the largest owner of alcoholic beverage brands in the world. I’ve only started scratching the surface of their story, and because my grandmother lived in Canada, they are going to come up a lot in future bottles. So I’m not going to do a Seagram’s deep dive right now.

What I can tell you is that one of the many acquisitions Seagram’s made was in 1958, when they gained a majority stake in Chemineaud Freres. What I can’t tell you is if they did that because Chemineaud was already popular in Quebec, or because they were looking for a brandy product to introduce to that market. According to Quebec’s provincial alcohol authority (SAQ), the 1950s were a time when, despite encouragement of moderation from the church, Quebecers were a pretty hard drinking lot, choosing spirits like gin and whiskey to drink with meals instead of wine. I’m not sure how picky they could be on brands. Until 1961 you couldn’t even see the bottles you were going to purchase; you just gave your order to a cashier who would go retrieve the bottle for you from the back.

But that opened up a lot in the 1960s. In the new stores you still had to ask the cashier to hand you your liquor, but at least you could see the bottles artfully displayed behind the counter. Chemineaud definitely would have been one of those bottles.

My bottle is probably from the 80s, given that it’s made of plastic and half empty. There aren’t a lot of clues otherwise. The brand has been incredibly consistent with their branding, and the few older bottle pictures I’ve found online look mostly like mine. Even the modern bottle is remarkably similar.

Back to that “special place in the hearts of Quebeckers.” In my research, I had a hard time finding anyone who’d ever heard of Chemineaud; although when I was at a famous poutine restaurant in Montreal in 2022, there was a bottle of it front and center on the backbar. A coffee drink was created to commemorate it “decades” ago, although “created” overstates the recipe, which is just coffee and Cheminaud brandy, topped with whipped cream and sprinkled with cocoa or nutmeg. And in the early 2000s a Quebec folk-rock band named themselves Les Freres Cheminaud.

At $28 Canadian for a 750 mL bottle, it’s not quite the cheapest brandy on the SAQ’s website. An American Scotch reviewer, recalling bad choices of his younger days, described a 2002 bottle of it as “hot, ill-tempered and tasting of spoiled sherry.” And in this rather indescribable 2003 album review in a Toronto digital magazine called Now, it gets invoked in the same paragraph as Colt .45 Malt Liquor. So maybe it’s just so iconic that nobody needs to explain it anymore? If you’ve got a special place in your heart for Chemineaud, be sure to drop a comment below!

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Bottle #16: Chemineaud Fine Brandy

May 17, 2023 |

According to the remarkably history-free “History” page on their website, “Chemineaud Fine Brandy has found a special place in the hearts of Quebeckers.” What that special place is, I haven’t really been able to determine.

The one actual history fact on the page is that Bottle #16, Chemineaud Fine Brandy, can trace its origins back to the Chemineaud Freres. This is a Parisian company that made and exported brandy and Cognac beginning in 1826. Apparently quite good brandy, at least according to the 1910 edition of Dun’s Review: A Journal for the Promotion of International Trade.

The label on my half-empty plastic bottle declares that it was produced and bottled under the direct supervision of Chemineaud Freres of Paris, France by Maison Chemineaud Ltee of Montreal, Canada. Searching for various combinations of those words eventually led me down a rabbit hole that opened up into the enormous cavern which is the Seagram’s company.

I’d heard of Seagram’s, of course. But what I hadn’t realized until I started doing my research is that this company, which started life in 1857 in Waterloo, Ontario was, by the 1990s, the largest owner of alcoholic beverage brands in the world. I’ve only started scratching the surface of their story, and because my grandmother lived in Canada, they are going to come up a lot in future bottles. So I’m not going to do a Seagram’s deep dive right now.

What I can tell you is that one of the many acquisitions Seagram’s made was in 1958, when they gained a majority stake in Chemineaud Freres. What I can’t tell you is if they did that because Chemineaud was already popular in Quebec, or because they were looking for a brandy product to introduce to that market. According to Quebec’s provincial alcohol authority (SAQ), the 1950s were a time when, despite encouragement of moderation from the church, Quebecers were a pretty hard drinking lot, choosing spirits like gin and whiskey to drink with meals instead of wine. I’m not sure how picky they could be on brands. Until 1961 you couldn’t even see the bottles you were going to purchase; you just gave your order to a cashier who would go retrieve the bottle for you from the back.

But that opened up a lot in the 1960s. In the new stores you still had to ask the cashier to hand you your liquor, but at least you could see the bottles artfully displayed behind the counter. Chemineaud definitely would have been one of those bottles.

My bottle is probably from the 80s, given that it’s made of plastic and half empty. There aren’t a lot of clues otherwise. The brand has been incredibly consistent with their branding, and the few older bottle pictures I’ve found online look mostly like mine. Even the modern bottle is remarkably similar.

Back to that “special place in the hearts of Quebeckers.” In my research, I had a hard time finding anyone who’d ever heard of Chemineaud; although when I was at a famous poutine restaurant in Montreal in 2022, there was a bottle of it front and center on the backbar. A coffee drink was created to commemorate it “decades” ago, although “created” overstates the recipe, which is just coffee and Cheminaud brandy, topped with whipped cream and sprinkled with cocoa or nutmeg. And in the early 2000s a Quebec folk-rock band named themselves Les Freres Cheminaud.

At $28 Canadian for a 750 mL bottle, it’s not quite the cheapest brandy on the SAQ’s website. An American Scotch reviewer, recalling bad choices of his younger days, described a 2002 bottle of it as “hot, ill-tempered and tasting of spoiled sherry.” And in this rather indescribable 2003 album review in a Toronto digital magazine called Now, it gets invoked in the same paragraph as Colt .45 Malt Liquor. So maybe it’s just so iconic that nobody needs to explain it anymore? If you’ve got a special place in your heart for Chemineaud, be sure to drop a comment below!

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