Alexander Stein on shaking up Armagnac

At the end of 2021 Alexander Stein, founder of Monkey 47, acquired a majority stake in Société des Produits d’Armagnac from Pernod Ricard with the aim of restoring Marquis de Montesquiou to its former glory. 

In September of this year, the brand relaunched in the UK with a new look and attitude, Drinks International caught up with Stein to find out why he set his sights on armagnac.

“The way I see it, armagnac had always been there, and everybody liked it, but commercially, it had never had its breakthrough,” explains Stein. “So, it is fair to say that not everything had been working well over the last 200 years. I thought that we needed some severe changes in order to appeal to a different audience—a more diverse one. Consumers have changed over the years, and there is a need to reflect that in the product without losing the armagnac DNA.”

The Société des Produits d’Armagnac, that Stein now has a majority share in, has existed since 1936 as the brand home of Marquis de Montesquiou and Comte de Lauvia. It was purchased by Pernod in 1965 but on the whole, it’s a category that has remained relatively uninterested in the modern drinking landscape.

“The category of armagnac is relatively untouched, it hasn’t been industrialized, which is amazing,” says Stein. “I also like the mentality of people working within it—they are not focusing on chasing a trend or changing for the sake of changing but on preserving the values, traditions, and knowledge of the category. But the most important reason of all is: I simply love armagnac.”

Stein is recognised as a brand innovator. Monkey 47, changed the landscape of premium gin when it launched in 2010 and more recently partnered with Pernod to create habanero chilli-infused bourbon Horse With No Name. But Stein isn’t in Gascony to immediately start tearing up rulebooks.   

“In this craft, traditions have been passed down from generation to generation,” he says. “The people have all the knowledge and have done all the hard labour.  As someone who, like me, comes from the outside and doesn't understand everything right away, I have to ask a lot of questions. I believe that if you want to change something, you must first understand why it is the way it is. The deviation from this is then a conscious decision for a variety of reasons, the most important being taste.

“What I say is not important here, what is important is that new consumers discover this wonderful category for themselves, and if I can contribute to this in the sensory way, I'm happy.”