Review: Mulberry Club Fruit Brandies

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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

Review: Gonzalez Byass Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva P.X.

Lepanto px

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.

72 proof.

A- / $60 / gonzalezbyass.com

Review: Spirit of India Feni

feni

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.

85 proof.

B / $30 / fenidrink.com

Tasting Report: Hardy Cognac

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I recently had the good fortune to taste Cognac with one of its grande dames, Benedicte Hardy, one of the proprietor’s of the Cognac Hardy house in France.

Benedicte recently visited San Francisco and treated a number of media and trade professionals to a deep dive into Hardy’s “Anniversary Series” lineup at the city’s legendary seafood palace, Scoma’s. Five different spirits were tasted, along with savory bites, cheeses, and chocolates from Michael Recchiuti.

Thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Hardy XO Cognac – Hardy ages its XO for a minimum of 20 years, a long time in this business. This is a blend of grand champagne and petit champagne eaux de vie, which exhibits spicy notes up front, with butterscotch and loads of baking spices on the body. A touch of astringency leads to a nutty finish, with notes of chocolate backing it up. Clean but quite rich. A- / $100  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Hardy Noces de Perle “Pearl” – This cognac carries no age statement but is blended solely from barrels that are 30 years old (“no more, no less”) — very unusual in Cognac. Pure grande champagne eau de vie, from here on out. Feminine and delicate at first, the Cognac presents increasing notes of vanilla and butterscotch as it develops. Floral elements emerge on the finish, making for a very pretty and engaging spirit. (Price may be high.) A / $900

Hardy Noces d’Or – “Gold” for the 50 year anniversary — though it’s the only bottling in this series that doesn’t have a formal English nickname. Much like the Rosebud, this is made entirely from 50 year old spirit. Richer and nuttier, with stronger notes of citrus peel, red berries, and some leather and tobacco notes. A more powerful expression that has a lot in common with the XO. A- / $225

Hardy Noces de Diamant “Diamond” – 60 years old. More fruit here, particularly up front, though the back end is a bit dulled by a significant wood influence, which overpowers some of the sweeter caramel and vanilla notes at the core. Still a lovely expression. A- / $700

Hardy Noces d’Albatre “Rosebud” – This is a slight departure from the above, a blend of Cognacs aged between 75 and 100 years; an extreme rarity, only 500 bottles have been sold to date worldwide. The nose starts with sultry incense, grapefruit, and golden raisins. The body takes all the sunshine and elevates it with beautiful bursts of citrus, light sandalwood, and some strawberry. The finish holds the brightness, offering a touch of toffee and a hint of pie crust. Perfect spirits are hard to come by, but Rosebud is clearly one of them. I guess Charles Foster Kane knew what he was talking about. A+ / $2250

hardycognac.fr

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2016

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The 17th annual Whiskies of the World event wrapped this March in San Francisco, and it was as fun and chaotic as ever to wander three stories of the San Francisco Belle paddleboat, moored in the San Francisco Bay.

This year I focused my attention primarily on independent bottlers of Scotch whiskies, with Alexander Murray and Gordon & MacPhail both in attendance, along with veterans like the Exclusive Malts and Chieftain’s collections. Also highly worthwhile: A new distillery, Mosswood, which ages light whiskey in a variety of oddball barrels to produce the most exotic and interesting “flavored” whiskey you’ve ever tried. As for my favorite spirit of the night? Arran’s delightful “Smugglers’ Illicit Stills” offering, which comes complete in a fake book (see photo).

Thoughts on everything sampled follow.

Scotch

Alexander Murray Bladnoch 25 Years Old – Notes of roasted nuts, grains, a touch of lychee / B
Alexander Murray Monumental Blended Scotch 30 Years Old – Very grainy — a surprise — notes of hay / B
Alexander Murray Speyside 40 Years Old – Quite gentle, malty, quiet citrus; surprising that this is 40 years old / A
The Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso – A bit overblown, with big toffee notes / B+
Aberlour Scapa Skiren – Simple; easygoing, with gentle grain structure / B+
Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15 Years Old – Big molasses notes, scorched caramel, nice stuff / A-
Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 25 Years Old – Ginger is fun, but granary notes surprise / B+
Gordon & MacPhail Old Pulteney 21 Years Old – Quite maritime, gentle peat and salt spray / A-
Lagavulin 12 Years Old – The classic; nothing new to report / B+
Lagavulin Distillers Edition Double Matured – Gorgeous, big mouthfeel and better balanced than the standard Lag 12 / A-
Glenmorangie Signet – Sweet chocolate notes, coffee, almost overblown with dessert notes / A-
The Balvenie 17 Years Old DoubleWood – Classic; light sherry, nougat, well balanced / A-
Macallan Rare Cask / Rounded and well sherried; still drinking lovely / A-
Chieftain’s Glen Grant 20 Years Old – Slightly racy, with heavy cereal notes / B
Chieftain’s Linkwood 17 Years Old – Chewy, with cherry notes, gentle finish / A-
Exclusive Malts Glenrothes 2002 – A big crowd pleaser, but it didn’t resonate with me; big cereal notes, yeasty, slightly astringent / B
Exclusive Malts Girvan 1988 Single Grain – Butterfinger candies, buttery body, surprising for a single grain / B+
Arran Amarone Finish – Starts off hot; leads to raisin and chocolate notes, a bit scattered / B+
Arran Smugglers’ Illicit Stills – Quietly spicy, with tons of malt, honey, and a touch of smoke; really compelling / A

022Bourbon

PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Eagle Rare – The first of five single barrel releases on tap from SF’s PlumpJack; big butterscotch notes, but quite woody / B
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OBSV 8 years, 8 months – Lovely, with some pepper to it / A-
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OBSO 10 years, 6 months – Lots of heat; a bit astringent; peppermint notes / B+
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OBSF 11 years, 7 months – Honeyed with baking spices and cinnamon / A-
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OESQ 10 years, 5 months – Popcorn and malt, rather plain / B
Healthy Spirits Old Scout 9 Years Old – Another private bottling; big caramel, chocolate, cinnamon… but a touch grainy / B+

Other

Brenne 10 Years Old – The 10 year old expression of this French malt; enduring grain, notes of gingersnaps / B+
J. Seeds Apple Cider Whiskey – Unpalatable, incredible bite / C-
Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey Special Reserve 110 Proof – Lovely apple and caramel, with a drying finish / A-
Mosswood Apple Brandy Barrel Aged – Mosswood makes light whiskey and ages it in different barrels, giving it a really unique structure; this one has beautiful fruit, with gentle, cider-like character / A-
Mosswood Espresso Barrel Aged – Slightly smoky, earthy, and nutty – not the heavy coffee bomb you might expect / A-
Mosswood Umeshu Single Barrel Aged – An Asian plum wine barrel gives this a curious notes; on the palate the fruit really emerges alongside spice and a sweet backbone; quite a revelation in “flavored” whiskey / A
Germain-Robin Old Havana Brandy – A touch of tobacco, lingering raisin, very soft / A-
Germain-Robin Single Barrel Brandy – Bigger body, heavy raisin and spice elements / B+
Low Gap Wheat Whiskey 4 Years Old – Heavy pear notes, very fruity / B+
Roundstone Rye – 100% rye; youthful, earthy, mouth-filling / B-
Roundstone Rye 92 Proof – More rounded; heavy cloves / B+
Roundstone Rye Cask Proof – Aged in maple syrup casks and it shows; a bit cloying / B
Seven Stills of San Francisco Whipnose – 7 Stills makes whiskey from different styles of beer; this one’s an IPA base. Classic IPA notes add density and ample hops / B+
Seven Stills of San Francisco Fluxuate – Coffee porter base with a touch of espresso added on the back end; clear coffee notes, slight caramel; lingering coffee finish / A-
Seven Stills of San Francisco Dogpatch – Sour beer based, finished in a sour beer barrel. Some funk, a little cherry and raisin character; a bit crazy as whiskey goes. Need to spend more time with this one / B+

Review: Copper & Kings CR&FTWERK American Brandies

Craftwerk Bottle Lineup

American brandymaker Copper & Kings is up to something wild with this line of four new brandies, each of which is aged not in old bourbon barrels or new oak but rather barrels that come from craft beer companies. Each of these four bottlings spends 12 months in a different beer barrel; the resulting brandy bears the name of the brewery on its label.

We sampled all four of these unique spirits. Thoughts on each follow.

Each is bottled at 111 proof.

Copper & Kings CR&FTWERK 3 Floyds “Dark Lord” Russian Imperial Stout – Munster, Indiana’s 3 Floyds provides stout barrels for this experiment. Immediate notes of chocolate and cloves arrive on the nose — there’s definitively the essence of a stout here — along with a significant and dusty wood influence. This expands on the palate, eventually becoming almost overwhelming. I like the slightly smoky, sweet-and-savory notes on the nose considerably more than the palate, but both make for an interesting spin on brandy — something that feels like what Kentucky would come up with if you gave them a pot of molasses to work with. B

Copper & Kings CR&FTWERK Sierra Nevada Smoked Imperial Porter – Straight outta Chico, California, C&K uses a smoked porter from Sierra Nevada instead of the expected IPA. This brandy exudes a strong nuttiness alongside some chocolate notes. Although the nose is restrained, the body showcases more flavor, a stronger focus, and a better balance than most of this field. Cocoa-dusted walnuts, some juicy raisin notes, and a hint of baking spice give this brandy some real staying power — and a character that feels closer to a real brandy than some of the other expressions here. A-

Copper & Kings CR&FTWERK Oskar Blues “G’Knight” and “Deviant Dale’s” Imperial IPA – This brandy spends time in two different types of IPA barrels from Oskar Blues’ Brevard, NC facility. I was skeptical that a bitter, hoppy beer like an Oskar Blues’ IPA would be a good companion to brandy, and I was right. This combination doesn’t work all that well, kicking things off with a sweet and spicy attack that is almost immediately dampened by a hugely bitter, earthy element. As it evolves on the tongue, that bitterness becomes overwhelming and enduring, sticking to the back of the throat with a fiery and vegetal character that comes together with a character akin to fresh cigarette ash. Water is an absolute must with this one.. C-

Copper & Kings CR&FTWERK Against the Grain “Mac Fanny Baw” Peated Scottish Ale – Finally, it’s a peated Scottish ale from Louisville, Kentucky whose barrel is the final vessel for this brandy. Peat and brandy didn’t sound like a natural fit, but on the nose this brandy gives up few clues about how it will all come together. The aroma is at first hard to place, offering a variety of herbal notes that evoke an aged gin more than a brandy. The body is a bit whiskeylike, but unlike the more bourbon-like Dark Lord expression above this one is by way of Islay as you might expect (and hope). That doesn’t entirely correspond to a perfectly balanced body, the smokiness of the peat playing somewhat unhappily with the base spirit, giving the ultimate combination something closer to an essence of rotting fruit and some raw vegetal notes. C+

each $50 / copperandkings.com

Review: Singani 63

singani 63The story goes that when Steven Soderbergh was shooting the movie Che in Bolivia, he tasted a traditional Bolivian spirit and fell in love with it. So much so that he decided to import it into the U.S. and market it on our shores.

What’s Singani 63? Distilled from Muscat of Alexandria grapes, it is classified as a brandy by the U.S. but it more closely resembles Pisco, which is common right next door in Peru and Chile. (Also of note, it is bottled at 80 proof, not 63.) What did Soderbergh see in all of this? Let’s find out.

If you’re familiar with quality Pisco, you’ve got a head start on everyone else. The nose is fragrant and aromatic, racy with heady perfume notes, lemongrass, a touch of almond, and incense character. On the palate, again it’s quite brisk with buzzy perfume character, a squeeze of citrus, and some sandalwood. The finish features just a touch of mushroom and a wisp of menthol, but otherwise winds things up nice and clean, with a surprisingly refreshing finish.

Pisco isn’t something I use with any regularity, and Singani 63 will likely meet the same fate in my home bar. That said, if Pisco’s your bag, this is a fun spin on a spirit that’s rising in popularity as an alternative to vodka and gin. Wholly affordable, too.

80 proof.

A- / $30 / singani63.com