Tasting Notes


© F. Paul Pacult
The following reviews appeared in the December 2017 issue of
F. Paul Pacult’s Spirit Journal

ratings

BRANDY: Seven Reasons Why Brandy’s Time Has Come…Finally!

After viewing recent statistics and after talking with numerous industry executives and bartenders, what’s become clear to me is that the chances are high that brandy will be the next “it” category in distilled spirits. Yes, mezcal is hot, as was explained in our last issue, but its overall case sale numbers compared to tequila are still minuscule. American whiskey surges on, as it continues to explode both domestically and abroad. Gin brand numbers have grown in the marketplace, but the caveat is that it’s really only bartenders and artisanal distillers who are enamored with it, not so much consumers as yet. Single malt Scotch continues to grow, but unfortunately (and irritatingly), blended Scotch numbers are flat and therefore they hold back the entire Scotch whisky category.

In the Monumental Self-Inflicted Injury Department, vodka is flat, sullied badly, as was predicted here in the Spirit Journal, by the rash three to four years ago of stunningly stupid and demeaning flavored vodka releases, such as Wedding Cake, Bacon, Bubble Gum, and Root Beer, to cite just four of the scores of insipid vodka bastardizations. Liqueurs, well, what more needs to said? White dog/moonshine…uh huh…another head-slapping miscalculation nearly as dumb as Wedding Cake flavored vodka. And while rum has had tantalyzing flashes of grassroots excitement (especially dark, overproof, and some spiced rums), it too as a category seems to be running in place.

So, where does that leave the distilled spirits segment in terms of up-and-coming categories for the next two to three years? I say brandy is destined to be one of them and here are the seven reasons why.

1) The Unprecedented Surge in “Brown” Spirits popularity across consuming generations.
        Distilled potables have never been more popular than they are right now around the world. The major growth categories are straight, single malt, and small batch whiskeys from all nations, older dark rums, and older (reposado, añejo and extra añejo) tequila. With the emphasis and consumer preference clearly on “oak-aged” or “brown” spirits, the next logical place to go for the consuming public is brandy, many of which are aged in barrels and therefore brownish/amber in color. Interestingly, statistics show that Millennials are just as intrigued by older, barrel-aged spirits as are Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers, so the fascination is solidly in favor of brown spirits across the generational spread.

2) Versatility: Brandy’s remarkable breadth of style and application gives it a major advantage at all levels of price point.
        Like a few other categories, in particular, rum and whiskey, brandy’s expansive range of style makes it one of the more versatile categories of spirits. From easy-sipping, largely unaged pomace brandies such as grappas (Italy) and marcs (France) to fruit-based eaux-de-vie and fruit brandies like kirschwasser, poire Williams, and so on to the more bracing styles of brandy, cognac, armagnac and calvados (apple brandy) from France, American pot still brandy, and artisanal grape and fruit brandies, there exists at least one variety to suit the vast majority of taste prferences around the globe.
Application-wise, serve vintage armagnac or alembic brandy from California or shimmering poire Williams eau-de-vie or grappa at cellar temperature (56-64 degrees Fahrenheit) in fine crystal, tulip-shaped glassware as a rewarding digestif; or from your favorite bartender, request a classic Sidecar, made only with your favorite VSOP cognac or a zesty Jack Rose made with Pays d’Auge calvados. With brandy, the possibilities for neat or mixed drink pleasures are fathomless.

3) Brandy’s Long Cocktail Pedigree.
        While I leave cocktail history to others, such as my colleague David Wondrich, the author of terrific books like IMBIBE! and PUNCH, I know enough to state unequivocially that brandy, in particular cognac, was commonly used as the base of many classic cocktails created from the mid-19th century through the mid-20th century. Great mixed drinks like the Brandy Crusta, Sidecar, French 75, Sazerac, Vieux Carré, Brandy Alexander, The Corpse Reviver #1, Metropolitan, and the Thunder & Lightning, all include cognac. Some early Mint Juleps were also reportedly made with brandy, most likely cognac. This reason added to Reason #2 embellishes brandy’s useful versatility.

4) Rise in Premium and Super-Premium American Brandy.
        As has been covered thoroughly in the Spirit Journal since the late 1990s, the gradual coming of age of both domestic mainstream and craft brandies has been a quiet, multiple decade long revolution. Large distillers like E&J Gallo in Modesto, CA, Korbel in Guerneville, CA, Laird & Company in Scobeyville, NJ and The Christian Brothers now owned by Heaven Hill Distilleries of Bardstown, KY have made tremendous progress since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 in elevating the quality of large-scale brands, such as E&J, Korbel, Laird’s Apple Brandy, and Christian Brothers. Newer, small-scale producers, led by Germain-Robin (now owned by Gallo), St. George Spirits, Clear Creek (now owned by Hood River Distillers), Jepson, Copper & Kings, Osocalis, Cedar Ridge, Koval, Starlight, Rhine Hall and others, are making brandy out of myriad types of fruits as well as single grape varieties. This combination of grand and tiny scale brandy production has changed the conversation about domestic brandy for the better. And, has above all, raised the degree of quality.

5) The Undeniable Effect of Hip-Hop and African-American Culture.
        In the post-World War Two era, cognac and other finer brandies, in general, were viewed as the postprandial liquid domain of men’s clubs, upper level restaurants, and palatial country clubs, populated primarily by the roped-off segment of affluent white America and Europe. During the first half of the 20th century many black entertainers, Josephine Baker among them, musicians, and artists lived in Europe, with the top choice of location being Paris. Since cognac was the liquor of choice in Paris, it gradually became associated with black musicians.
World War Two brought many white and black American GIs across the Atlantic Ocean who were influenced by many things European, in particular, those things French and English. While the white GIs returned home with a thirst more for Scotch whisky and beer/ale, many of the African-American GIs glommed onto cognac and brandy. In the 1970s, jazz great Herbie Hancock was part of a quintet not coincidentally named VSOP. As jazz and R&B morphed into rap and hip-hop in the 1980s, the closeness of cognac with the African-American community became more publicly known as seminal rappers/entertainers/entrepreneurs like Busta Rhymes (Pass The Courvoiser — 2001), Puff Daddy, Ludacris, Nas, Jay-Z, T.I., Snoop Dog (Hennessy and Buddah — 2000) and others became associated with France’s most famous spirit. This cultural phenomenon boosted cognac sales across the U.S. through the 1990s and into the 21st century. This trend continues in 2017/2018.

6) Brandy is a Significant Global Category, with Genuine Local Impact.
        Here’s a salient factoid to consider: just about wherever grapes and other fruits such as pears, apples, peaches, plums, and berries are grown and wine is produced, some form of brandy exists. Since the world is now in a frenzy to plant more sustainably farmed orchards and vineyards, the pathway forward for brandy is being reshaped by healthier agriculture which can only improve what already has been proven to be a wonderful, life-enhancing beverage alcohol product. Advances in wood maturation, fermentation, and distillation are likewise contributing to a brighter future for all the world’s brandies. This encouraging outlook is important because virtually all brandies carry with them the burden of having direct socioeconomic impact on their commnunities of origin. So, that bottle of armagnac you buy and enjoy will help the village economy of France’s Gascony region; that grappa you purchase assists in making life a little better in rural Veneto, Italy; and the coveted bottle of rare American craft brandy gives encouragement and financial resources to the small-scale artisanal distiller in the backwoods of northern California. Brandy, like all spirits categories, is always about people first and enjoyment second.

7). Brandy Quality Has Never Been Better.
        For all the reasons above, from improved technology to artisanal producers to naturally grown fruits and grapes to wider availability in the global marketplace, never has brandy been better, more accessible or more delicious than it is right now in 2017/2018. Isn’t that enough to tweak your interest? So, give yourself, your local liquor retailer or bartender, and the brandy producer a boost by first educating yourself about brandy and second by buying a bottle or two or a glass or cocktail to savor and enrich your life. There is a special, spectacular brandy out there waiting for you, I guarantee it.

FRUIT BRANDY/EAU-DE-VIE AUSTRIA

Rochelt Wachauer Marille Apricot Brandy Aged 6 Years
50% abv, $325/375 ml.
As clear and pristine as spring water. The opening nosings pick up vibrant fragrances of apricot skin, fruit salad, winter holiday fruitcake, slate, and apricot preserves; following more aeration, the bouquet sustains the high degree of piquancy, offering tangy aromas of apricot-filled pastry, green leaf tea, vine leaves, minerals, and limestone/flint. Entry taste is dry, acidic and therefore cleansing, just a touch fiery as the 100-proof serves notice, and top-loaded with ripe apricot flavor; midpalate stage turns minerally, green tea-like, and stone-like, as the taste profile turns squeaky dry and metal-like, eschewing the apricot core in favor of fruit stone and green tea bitterness. Concludes medium long, stony, and totally dry. Had the midpalate and finish not turned away from the apricot foundation, this eau-de-vie might have gotten a fifth rating star.
Spirit Journal December 2017:
redstars4Highly Recommended

 

ARMAGNAC FRANCE

Chateau Arton Fine Blanche Armagnac
45% abv, $35.
Void of color; spotlessly clean and sediment free. Upfront, I get seductive, vivid aromas of spiced mincemeat (cinnamon, vanilla, and clove, with apples and pears), sultanas, figs, parsley, sage, and grape jam; secondary inhalations are ripe, intensely fruity and jammy, leafy and vegetal, yet exhibit a gentility and reserve that make the olfactory stages keenly pleasant and memorable. Entry explodes on the tongue in a tsunami of spirit-driven flavor that highlights the pear and white raisin aspects; midpalate turns softer, as the taste profile turns incredibly ripe, peel-like, seed-like, bitter, and yet dense with grapiness. Aftertaste is long and sculpted, tannic and therefore desert dry. I liked this blanche a lot until the midpalate when it turned narrow in scope and stingy in flavor. Was on the path to Four Stars until then.
Spirit Journal December 2017:
redstars3Recommended 

Chateau Arton La Reserve Haut-Armagnac
45% abv, $80.
The deep mahogany color is very attractive and free from any form of residue. First whiffs pick up deeply woody aromas, as in resin, floor polish, and pine tar, plus old leather- bound books, worn saddle, and butter brickle; secondary sniffs encounter no fruit to speak of, but add scents of parchment, butcher’s wax paper, toffee, and treacle. Entry is thick with bittersweet flavors of caramel, toasted almond, candy bar, nougat, and walnut; midpalate goes a bit too bitter and fruit deficient, but does offer a modicum of candy shop flavors that deliver pungent and off-dry tastes of roasted nuts, cocoa, and espresso. Finishes medium long, chocolaty, toasted, and pleasant.
Spirit Journal December 2017:
redstars3Recommended 

 Chateau de Laubade VSOP Bas-Armagnac
40% abv, $40.
Rated Three Stars in 2002. Very pretty gamboge/golden wheat field color; excellent purity. I get immediate, if sedate, scents of old saddle leather, library books, nutmeg, allspice, and baked apricot in the initial sniffs after the pour; further aeration unleashes just-below-the-surface fragrances of sweetened black tea, lemon zest, and cardamom; this elusive bouquet always seems just an arms-length away. Entry is more pronounced than the aroma as appealingly pungent flavors of honey, grilled apricot, gingerbread, and chamomile vie for dominance; midpalate stage is where this armagnac offers its best virtues in the forms of bittersweet flavors of English toffee, buttered toast, charcoal, and toasted marshmallow. Finishes briefly and with a bittersweet taste of fruit stone. I had hoped that it had improved to Four Star status since I reviewed it 15 years ago, but it hadn’t and Three Stars remains the proper and fitting score.
Spirit Journal December 2017:
redstars3Recommended 

 

CALVADOS – FRANCE

Christian Drouin 1997 Pays d’Auge Calvados
42% abv, $140.
Cocoa brown/peru color; impeccable clarity. Right off the crack of the aromatic bat there are mesmerizing aromas of apple pie, apple strudel, baked apple, with supplemental notes of cinnamon, Anjou pear, and apple cider thrown in for good measure; after more aeration, there’s a surge in the apple cider aspect that turns brown sugar-like and dense with more time in the glass. Entry is zesty, crackling, bittersweet, juicy, and intensely cinnamon doused baked apple-like; midpalate turns spicy (cinnamon, clove, mace) and piquant as the apple base goes narrowly focused and dry, yet rich in texture, peppery, and high in acidity, almost turning prickly and pungent in the process. Aftertaste is long, spiced apple-like, and for the first time, oaky/woody/resiny. A 20 year old calvados of tight structure and delectably pleasing apple strudel flavors.
Spirit Journal December 2017:
redstars4Highly Recommended
 

GRAPE BRANDY INTERNATIONAL

Sainte-Louise-BrandyBrandy Sainte Louise Pale and Old Brandy
43% abv, $25.
Blended, aged, and bottled in France. 100% pot still distillation of a high majority of French eaux-de-vie that are supplemented with eaux-de-vie from Italy and Spain. Rich, burnt orange/mahogany color; excellent purity. First inhalations pick up plenty of vibrant grape jam, baked nectarine, kiwi, baked peach, and Danish pastry fragrances that are assertive without being aggressive; allowing for another few minutes of air contact, the aroma opens up even more offering tantalizing, off-dry scents of lemon drop, orange blossom, almond, and clove. Entry is supple, silky, gently sweet, and fruit salad ripe, with tangy background flavors of caramel and fresh honey from the hive; midpalate mirrors the entry phase, featuring now a toasted orchard fruit flavor that’s baked, delicately spiced, and caramelized. Finishes long, ripe, balanced, and deeply satisfying. Applications in abundance for neat service in a tulip-shaped wine glass or in a classic brandy cocktail, like the Sidecar or Vieux Carré. A phenomenal value that outshines more than a few young VS and even VSOP cognacs and armagnacs.
Spirit Journal December 2017:
redstars4Highly Recommended
 

Christian Brothers Sacred Bond
Bottled-in-Bond Brandy Aged 4 Years in Bourbon Barrels
50% abv, $26.
Pot still distillation. Pretty burnt sienna color; impeccably clear and clean. Opening nosings detect very delicate, almost ghost-like aromas of white grapes and stony dry soil; after several more minutes of air contact, the aroma simply doesn’t open up any more than it did in the initial passes so I move on. Entry is keenly fruity/plummy and a touch warm from the 50% abv but not for a nanosecond hot or fiery; midpalate shoulders much of the quality load as it offers floral/dried violet, baked pineapple, white raisin, and quince flavors that dive deep into the velvety, silky finish, which features taste aspects of toasted marshmallow, plums, and vanilla bean — from the bourbon barrel, no doubt.
Spirit Journal December 2017:
redstars3Recommended 

GRAPE BRANDY SPAIN

Torres-15-YOTorres 10 Imperial Gran Reserva Brandy
40% abv, $20.
Spanish brandy Cataluña style. Maroon color; pristine clarity. Big-hearted, opulent aromas of walnut, nougat, almond paste, green tobacco leaves, and dates welcome the olfactory sense in the initial inhalations; later whiffs pick up truckloads of bakery aromas, including Danish pastry, cinnamon bun, holiday fruitcake, dried apricot, candied almond and baked pear; there is no shortage of aromas here. Entry is chockfull of roasted nut flavors, as well as black tea, pipe tobacco, vanilla bean, coffee bean/espresso; midpalate picks up where the entry left off, featuring toasty, roasted, raisiny, prune-like flavors that come wrapped in a thick coat of texture. Aftertaste is slightly smoky, heavily oaked, more bittersweet than ripe or sweet, and unabashedly delicious and brawny. Wow.
Spirit Journal December 2017:
redstars4Highly Recommended
 

Torres 15 Imperial Reserva Privada Brandy
40% abv, $33.

Rusty sienna color; flawless purity. This opening nose is sedate when compared to that of the robust, in-your-face Torres 10, offering melded, understated scents of black raisin, dates, figs, and sawdust — where the 10 is bakery shop hearty, the 15 is deft, elegant, yet substantial in its potency, using a softer voice; later inhalations discover integrated fragrances of dates, nutmeg, allspice, oak plank, and hard cheese. Entry is stunningly elegant, harmonious, and honeyed, giving the clear impression of superior distillation and wood management; midpalate highlights dense yet nimble flavors of coffee bean, dark chocolate, caramel, marzipan, meringue, and chocolate covered cherries. Concludes long, sophisticated, opulent, and utterly luscious from start to finish. Easily one of Spain’s top 4 or 5 brandies and the case can be made that it’s one of Europe’s top 25 brandies. Scrumptious.
Spirit Journal December 2017:
redstars-5Highest Recommendation

 

COGNAC FRANCE


Delamain Pale & Dry XO Grande Champagne Cognac
40% abv, $120.
Blend of 20-25 year old Grande Champagne cognacs. Earth yellow/sandy brown color; perfect purity. I like the melon-y opening scents that are zesty and fresh, but it’s after more air contact that this deceptively complex bouquet shows its best virtues in the forms of cigar box, pipe tobacco, violet and honeysuckle. Entry is intensely bean-like, peppery, yeasty, and dried fruit-like; midpalate is toasty, seductively pruny and raisiny, with background notes of cocoa and dried fig. Finishes creamy yet streamline texturally, with long in the throat flavors of marmalade and prune.
Spirit Journal December 2017:
redstars4Highly Recommended
 

Delamain Vesper XO Grande Champagne Cognac
40% abv, $150.
Blend of 30-35 year old Grande Champagne cognacs. Cinnamon/mahogany color; impeccably pure. On the immediate side, I pick up slightly smoked fragrances of smoking campfire embers, cherry compote, damp soil, and tobacco; a complex, intricate aroma turns even more so after more aeration as scents of mushrooms, moss, forest vegetation, and walnut converge into a single point. Entry is keenly spicy/peppery, oaky, vanilla-like, and semisweet; the drier midpalate stage adds candied almond, walnuts, nougat, and allspice flavors that add up to a satiny aftertaste where its highlight flavors include black peppercorn, oaky resins, and cocoa bean.
Spirit Journal December 2017:
redstars4Highly Recommended
 

Delamain l’Aigle XO Grande Champagne Cognac
40% abv, $180.

Tawny/topaz color; flawless clarity. There’s an initial, engaging, baked juiciness to this aroma that’s youthful and vivid, as it resembles dried apricot, dried fig, saffron, and mince pie and then, just as quickly, dry stone/granite and dry earth; with more air contact, the bouquet becomes nicely integrated and fruit pastry-like, with marginal traces of sandalwood and green tea. Entry is seductively juicy, floral, bakery shop spicy (vanilla, clove, nutmeg), with vivid flavors of grilled orchard fruits and Danish pastries; midpalate offers languid tastes of guava, cherry strudel, and cinnamon bun. Aftertaste features a long, keenly peppery flavor that piquant, dry, and mineral-like.
Spirit Journal December 2017:
redstars4Highly Recommended
 

delamain-extraDelamain Extra XO Grande Champagne Cognac
40% abv, $320.
Blend of 35-40 year old Grande Champagne cognacs. Sinopia/bronze color; pristine clarity. The first nosings collect mature, fully integrated, and deceptively concentrated aromas of butter cream, bacon fat, and lichen/moss/porcini mushroom that take a few deep inhalations to locate, but once located, they are sublime; the second passes are much more open as round, succulent fragrances of old oak, cedar wood, pipe tobacco, and parmesan cheese make for seductive sniffing. Entry taste profile is a textbook on how older cognacs should both feel and taste as oily, buttery, slightly oaky flavors thrill the gustatory sense with gently spiced (vanilla, nutmeg), dried fruit-like (raisins, dates), and toasted tastes that along with the midpalate impressions are the defining moment for this very mature cognac. Finishes as elegantly and stately as the midpalate, but perhaps even showing a trace more richness and baking spice. A showcase for the majesty of cognac at its most memorable and classic.

Spirit Journal December 2017:
redstars-5Highest Recommendation

hardy-legendHardy Cognac Legend 1863
40% abv, $60.
Primarily Petite Champagne eaux-de-vie with a measure of Borderies; aged for “up to 12 years”, according to the data sheet. The cocoa brown color is dazzling; impeccably clean. Oh my, I like the understated chocolate-covered coffee bean-like first aroma that’s bittersweet and tangy; after more air contact, the mesmerizing perfume turns to cigar box, leather, hazelnut, even orange zest. Entry bathes the tongue in oily bittersweet flavors reminiscent of English toffee, tobacco, litchi, and candied fruits; midpalate stays the course laid down at entry, adding only a modifying flavor of toasted oak that adds a touch of tannic bitterness. Concludes medium long, slightly spicy, raisiny, and piquant.
Spirit Journal December 2017:
redstars4Highly Recommended
 

 

MARC DE BOURGOGNE FRANCE 

Joseph Cartron 15 Years Old Marc de Bourgogne
45% abv, $60.
Distilled from the musty red wine pomace of the Volnay, Vosne-Romanee, and Chambolle-Musigny districts in France’s Burgundy wine region. The color is a greenish/amber/khaki and the clarity is immaculate. Opening smells include pungent aromas of grape skin, beeswax, grape seed oil, and freshly tilled soil; secondary fragrances are mineral-like, flinty, and chalky, with background notes of rubber tire, thyme, rosemary, and wet wool. Entry taste soars in deeply wine-like, off-dry, and spicy flavors of grape preserves, grape seed, and raisins; midpalate is where the 90-proof spirit comes alive, dictating the course for the flavor profile as the taste turns silky smooth, campfire warm, and almost a bit like tropical fruit. Finishes fathomless, long, dense, and grapy. A clinic on how marc should smell, taste and feel.
Spirit Journal December 2017:
redstars4Highly Recommended
 

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