Some of the best American brandy you can buy is coming from Ukiah, California-based Craft Distillers, but said brandy can often cost a pretty penny, if you can find it.
A few years ago, the company decided to see if it could produce a more affordable product that still offered high quality, and 3 1/2 years later, it’s here: Millard Fillmore U.S. Brandy.
Naming a brandy after our 13th president — one of the least effective in the country’s history — is auspicious, to say the least, but let’s try not to judge a book by its cover. This brandy takes column-distilled grape spirit from the San Joaquin Valley and blends it with pot-distilled brandy from Germain-Robain’s old timey Cognac stills. The result is a hybrid of styles, but unfortunately it’s not a wholly effective one.
There’s lots of youth on Millard’s nose, both in the form of raw wood and raw alcohol. Gentle fruit notes line its pockets, but this brandy wears its inexperience on its sleeve. On the palate, it’s more of the same: dusty lumberyard character tempered by oily petrol notes, then finally some juicy red berries and plum notes to offer a counterpoint. Notes of licorice, tobacco, and oily leather bring up the rear, though it’s that immature wood character that makes the most lasting impression.
C+ / $35 / craftdistillers.com
Barking Irons Applejack is a new apple brandy which is distilled (for its owners) at Black Dirt Distillery in upstate New York. The applejack starts with a distillate of jonagold, macoun, and gala apples that is aged in #2 char oak barrels (time unstated but said to be just a few months) at Brooklyn’s Van Brunt Distilling before being individually bottled, hand-labeled, and numbered.
So, let’s see how this applejack fares in tasting.
On the nose, it’s rather racy stuff, immediately showing quite a lot of youth, with notes of raw wood and some petrol, though this is balanced out by a light lacing of apple cider character and some orange peel notes. On the palate, it quickly and thankfully reveals a much more well-rounded spirit, offering clear caramel-apple and butterscotch notes — though it’s backed up with more of that punchy lumberyard character. The finish is on the astringent side, though on the whole the spirit still manages to be quite sweet and fairly satisfying in the end.
All told, this is a young applejack that nonetheless manages to squeeze a whole lot of character out of that youth. Worth a look for apple brandy fans.
100 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1 (400 cases produced).
B / $43 / barkingirons.com
Gilles Brisson, or just Brisson, is a Grande Champange-based producer of Cognac located in the Grande Champagne region of Châteaubernard. With just 65 hectares of production, Brisson is a relatively small producer, but it makes some impressive brandy from all estate fruit. Today we look at its two lower-level releases (a Napoleon and XO bottling are also available).
Both are 80 proof.
Gilles Brisson 1er Cru Cognac Grande Champagne VS – A bit rough and tumble, but it’ll work in a pinch. Initially a tad alcoholic and overtly woody on the nose, it opens up with time to reveal ample fruit and spice. The body leads the way with simple apple and cinnamon notes, vanilla touched with a bit of lemon peel, gingerbread, and grapefruit notes. The finish isn’t altogether clear, though, with a somewhat grainy character that isn’t unpleasant but which takes the focus off the fruit. I’d use this as a solid mixer or for straight sipping in pinch. B+ / $25
Gilles Brisson 1er Cru Cognac Grande Champagne VSOP – A clear step up, this Cognac offers immediately more maturity, its nose distinguished by more well-integrated wood notes complementing winey characteristics and well-matured fruit notes (think sultanas and figs). The body is seductive and dusky with notes of sherry, dried cherries, orange peel, and ample ginger. On the finish, a gentle coffee character comes to the fore, lingering alongside a complement of dried citrus. Lovely balance, and an outstanding value. A / $35
This is the entry level Cognac bottling from small producer Pierre Croizet, a Fins Bois based producer. This VS (production and aging information is not available) is a soft but surprisingly well-made and focused brandy, with a nose that offers aromas of gentle fruit in the form of baked apples and golden raisins, studded with notes of simple caramel and some spice.
The body plays up the spicier aspects of the Cognac, some cinnamon, gingerbread, and ample vanilla, all of which play beautifully with those apple notes. The finish is modest but fresh and fruity, without only a hint of more harsh alcoholic overtones, so common in young brandy (or any spirit, really).
I haven’t encountered Croizet’s older expressions, but on the strength of this ultra-affordable VS, I can’t wait to give them a try.
A- / $30 / pierre.croizet.com
Regions like Albania and Azerbaijan are known primarily for their brandies — though few of these bottles ever make it to our shores. Two that did come from Mulberry Club, and Azerbaijani producer of fruit brandies. The company sent us two to sample, one made from local cherries and another, of course, from mulberries.
Both are 100 proof. Thoughts follow.
Mulberry Club Mulberry Brandy – Intense and funky on the nose, with notes of raw alcohol, fruit pits, and petrol. Give it some time to let the more astringent elements blow off — think pisco — and gentle fruit notes emerge. It’s slightly citrusy, with heavy herbal overtones, featuring notes of black tea, nutmeg, and cloves. The finish remains a bit rubbery, with hospital overtones. Heavy stuff. C-
Mulberry Club Cornelian Cherry Brandy – Similar aromas as described above — with young brandy there’s not much way around it — but the body offers significantly more fruit and less funk, right from the start. It isn’t particularly identifiable as cherry, but more as a vague berry salad by way of some hot, hot heat. Relatively clean on the finish with just a touch of cereal notes, though quite warming. B
prices $NA / website NA
We visited with Gonzalez Byass and two of its Spanish brandies (including one Lepanto brand) earlier this year. Now we’re back with higher end expression of Lepanto: affectionately abbreviated as Lepanto PX.
Lepanto PX is made from 100% palomino grapes and spends its first 12 years, solera style, in Tio Pepe Fino sherry casks, then does a tour of three years in much darker Pedro Ximenez sherry casks; all told, it is 15 years old.
The beautifully colored, coffee-brown spirit offers aromas of raisin, dried figs, and caramel-heavy banana flambe. On the palate it’s initially an intense spirit (despite the lower alcohol level), folding those dried fruit notes into lingering flavors of coffee, tea leaf, and cocoa powder. The body is ultimately gentle and quite sweet, but this sweetness is never overblown. The brandy takes on a lightly bitter edge as the finish develops, which adds both balance and nuance, its Port-like, raisiny notes lingering for ages.
A- / $60 / gonzalezbyass.com
There’s going to be a lot of education in this post, so hang in there.
First: Do you know what cashew nuts look like before they are harvested? Neither did I, but they look like this. That’s the cashew sticking out of the bottom of a bright orange fruit. That fruit is called a cashew apple, or just a cashew fruit.
Why aren’t we eating cashew apples? Apparently they are quite tasty, but they don’t travel well, so by the time they got to the U.S. from the places they grow cashews (mainly in the tropics), the fruit would have spoiled.
What you can do with it, though, is ferment and distill it into a brandy. In the region of Goa, India, this brandy (which can also be made from coconut palms) is known as feni. This particular spirit is triple distilled, all without the use of electricity.
The nose is tropical, heavy on the pineapple but also a bit astringent, with some medicinal overtones. In time, some chocolate character emerges. The body is a bit harsher than you expect, in the way that pisco, cachaca, or young brandy can often be. Here the fruit is closer to apple — think young applejack — though again its astringency tends to dominate any sweetness. The finish offers some vegetal character — carrot and bell pepper — and fades out fairly quickly, with a hospital callback.
This is a unique spirit that might not have mass appeal, but which isn’t without some charms. That said, it seems best utilized for mixing in place of one of the above white spirits.
B / $30 / fenidrink.com