After a meet-cute on an eleven-hour flight, Daniel Cooney and Christine Foubert’s lives were changed forever.
The two fell in love, started a family, and started what has since become a celebrated importer of French spirits to the US.
In 2008, Heavenly Spirits came to fruition, importing a range of artisanal and craft French spirits including Armagnac, Cognac, Calvados, Gin, Aperitifs, Liqueurs, and a range of French Whiskies. The company’s name came from the reference of “the angel’s share,” which refers to the portion of the distillation that is lost to evaporations while being in oak barrels.
After interviewing Daniel and Christine in our February/March issue, we knew we wanted to share more of their incredible story.
Daniel and Christine—You both bring unique backgrounds to your company; can you share a little about your history and how you bring it to the table at Heavenly Spirits?
Dan: Christine is from the Cognac region of France. She studied languages and classical dance. I am an Irish American from Southeastern Massachusetts. My interests have always been in visual arts, communications, and culture. We met on an airplane in Iceland in 1985 when we were both in our early 20s, and I was living in San Francisco. Between Reykjavic, Luxembourg, and Paris, we spent eleven hours traveling together the first time we met. Two years later, Christine quit her job as a tri-lingual export assistant for a Cognac company and joined me in California, where I was about to begin the MFA program in painting at UC Berkeley.
We were married in St. Jean de Liversay, a small French village located just outside of La Rochelle in 1989, and continued to live in San Francisco for five more years. Christine started brokering Cognac in CA for her former employer, then she was hired to manage the American division of Con-Export, an Italian wine consortium. She was a young French woman with an Irish last name managing an Italian wine company in America – life was good. Then, in 1992, Christine’s grandfather and then her father both passed away unexpectedly. Soon after that, our first son, Austin, was born, and in 1994 we decided to move to France to help her family deal with all the change.
Christine: Between 1994 and 1999, we worked to restore my grandparent’s 300-acre farm, and we began putting together the portfolio that we have today. We moved back to the U.S. in 1999, and in 2000 our second son, Keenan was born. Dan began teaching in the Art department of one local University and served as the Communications Director at another. I continued brokering our portfolio of exceptional French spirits and taught a few ballet classes on the side. In 2008 we decided to create our own import company and called it Heavenly Spirits. It has been growing steadily ever since, making us the leading U.S. importer in several categories, including Armagnac, French whisky, and organic French spirits. We credit our backgrounds’ in the arts, which fostered our commitment and passion for quality, combined with our willingness to learn from our mistakes for making our success possible.
You both had a background in spirits but were following different paths—what lead you to open your own company?
Dan: When we first met, my background in spirits was limited to my consuming them, but I was always very interested in learning more about what I was drinking. Christine’s knowledge was already deep, natural, and grounded in having spent most of her formative summers on her grandparent’s farm/winery. There she observed her grandfather, Amedee Foubert, blending and aging wines and distilling some of the fallen fruit into a rustic, unaged eau de vie.
Christine: My first job out of University was as a trilingual export assistant at a Cognac negotiant. Dan & I have been learning and working together ever since we met, and we continue to enjoy the experience. We both came from families that we got along well with, so having a business that required us to travel between the two countries made good sense. Opening our own import/wholesale company was just part of the natural evolution of our journey together.
When I was a broker dealing mostly with importers, I often felt like I was stuck working on the surface. It was frustrating because I found that many of those importers lacked knowledge about craft spirits, were inconsistent with national pricing structures, made almost no marketing effort, and were constantly running out of stock. I wanted to be more involved on a deeper level with the sales and distribution so that I could monitor things more closely for better results.
Share a little bit about the range of spirits you carry and how have you developed your portfolio.
Christine: Our portfolio was originally built around the triad of iconic French Brandies: Armagnac, Cognac, and Calvados, with the idea that some of the best examples of these spirits come from the smaller family-owned producers, many of which lacked U.S. representation. Due to my grandfather’s influence, I always felt Armagnac was misunderstood and underappreciated in the United States. Despite growing up in the Cognac region, my grandfather, Amedée Foubert, who owned a winery, introduced me to Armagnac at a very early age. I mean “very early,” like 6. While he had nothing against Cognac, of course, he wanted me to learn to appreciate the robust flavor profiles of that “other brandy,” and I guess I did.
During the time that Dan and I were restoring my grandparent’s property, in St. Jean, between 1994 and 1999, I would organize research trips to the various brandy regions in France, ie.: Armagnac, Cognac, and Calvados. We would go for a couple of days, meet different producers, taste, and ask questions. Eventually, we carefully added a wider range of high-quality French-made spirits to our portfolio, which now covers most of the common and some of the uncommon French spirit categories.
A big part of your team focuses on education—something our readers are very interested in – what are a few misconceptions you’ve encountered about your products?
Christine: Well, for one thing, we find that approximately 50% of the U.S. population has still never heard of Armagnac, but at least that’s better than 80%, like when we started. I also notice that many consumers still falsely believe that drinking absinthe will cause them to hallucinate. It really won’t.
Dan: A large percentage of American’s seem genuinely surprised to hear that the French make great whisky. No one believes us when we tell them that France actually drinks more whisky than any other country. There are more than 90 distilleries now making whisky in France.
What do you think is important for bartenders to know about your products?
Christine: I think bartenders and mixologists should know that we very much appreciate it when they consider using our craft spirits in their cocktail creations. They often serve as the best ambassadors for introducing our products.
Could you each share a favorite cocktail with one of your spirits?
Dan: We are both big fans of the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan, and with so many quality ingredients at our disposal, I experiment a lot and often blur the lines between them.
Here are two recipes that we both really enjoy.
Arm in Arm Manhattan
- 2 oz. ArmoriK Single Malt Whisky, Armagnac Cask Finish
- 1 oz. Guerin Sweet Red Vermouth or Dry Red Vermouth
- 3 dashes Orange bitters
- Garnish – 1 Bada-Bing or Maraschino Cherry
Preparation: Stir first three ingredients with ice. Strain into chilled rocks glass. Add a cherry.
Armagnac Old Fashioned 25
- 2 oz. 25-Year-old Armagnac Delord, or Dartigalongue
- 1/2 oz. Honey
- 2 dashes Orange bitters
- 2 dashes Chocolate bitters
Preparation: Pour ingredients over a large ice block in a rocks glass (warm the honey first). Stir slowly for 20 seconds. Garnish with twisted Orange peel.