Category Archives: Cognac

Review: Cognac Claude Chatelier XO

cognac claude chatelier xo extra b Review: Cognac Claude Chatelier XO

I recently encountered this Cognac for the first time on a trip. I wasn’t familiar with the brand at all, but was pleasantly surprised by what I found inside the bottle of its XO release. No age statement is provided.

Perfectly fruity nose, with notes of cherry, apricot, and a bit of ruby Port. Some woody notes give it an incense character, too. On the palate, again the fruit dominates, offering pretty citrus, touches of plum, vanilla, and more of that woodsy incense character. A touch of heat makes the finish a bit racy, just enough to give this Cognac some curiosity, keeping it from devolving into an an utter fruit bomb. An all-around excellent effort at a very affordable price level.

80 proof.

A- / $50 / claudechateliercognac.com

Review: Camus VSOP Elegance and VSOP Borderies Cognac

Here’s something you don’t see every day: A Borderies Cognac… that’s a youngish VSOP. Borderies, for those not in the know, is a small, very renowned grape-growing subregion of Cognac. Normally, Borderies bottlings are old XO expressions — which command even higher prices due to their regional pedigree. vsop camus borderies Review: Camus VSOP Elegance and VSOP Borderies CognacAnd while Camus does offer an XO Borderies, it has recently (and quietly) put out this VSOP Borderies expression, a rarity I’ve never seen before now.

It just so happens I had a fresh bottle of Camus VSOP (now known as Camus VSOP Elegance) to compare against this limited-edition Camus VSOP Borderies. Here’s how they shake out.

Camus VSOP Elegance – Recently cleaned up with strong “Elegance” labeling and more modern styling, the off-the-rack Camus VSOP bottling offers classic younger Cognac notes: oak, Christmas cake, and lingering citrus notes, tinged with cinnamon. It’s an easygoing sipper that doesn’t overly complicate things. B+ / $40

Camus VSOP Borderies – More fruit up front here, growing considerably as it gets some air to it. Cinnamon apple, apricots, even coconut and pineapple notes come across. You don’t get much of that with the standard VSOP, which keeps its cards closer to its vest. The finish only builds up the fruit component. 15,000 bottles made. A- / $57

camus.fr

Review: Hennessy Privilege VSOP Cognac

hennessy privilege Review: Hennessy Privilege VSOP CognacA new VSOP from Hennessy, meant to stand as an upgrade to the standard-grade Hennessy, and with a slightly higher price to match.

Privilege is a perfectly acceptable brandy, with easy fruit on the nose, some raisins, some spice, and a little raspberry tea. The palate is warm, with applesauce notes, oranges, honey, and baking spice on the back end. The finish has a bit of alcohol on it — with ample caramel (like caramel candies) evident as well.

Altogether there’s really nothing shocking here, but Privilege is perhaps priced too high for what it is… and not really a huge improvement over the regular Hennessy bottling. That said, I’d have no trouble using it in a cocktail.

80 proof. 

B / $65 / hennessy.com

Review: Camus Family Legacy Cognac

camus family legacy 525x328 Review: Camus Family Legacy Cognac

Camus Family Legacy arrived at Drinkhacker HQ with the most unfortunate typo. On our sample bottle, the price was listed as $12.99. That’s a mistake of two orders of magnitude. Camus’s latest is a full $1299 — the company’s entry into ultra-luxe spirits.

The production process sounds impressive — five crus involved in an eight-step maturation process that adheres to “ancestral rules of perfect blending”  – but is short on usable details. Given the price tag it’s safe to expect some truly old stock from Cognac’s greatest vineyards. It’s just not clear how old it is.

The nose is surprising in its initial level of heat, a blazer that eventually blows off to reveal a quiet and understated brandy. On the body — as with the nose it needs some time and air to settle down — this Cognac eventually mellows out to reveal a surprisingly nuanced Cognac with light sherry notes, gentle floral notes, raisins, creme brulee, and a modest, sandalwood character on the finish. Restraint is the order of the day here. This is a Cognac that’s considerably dialed back, an elegant and easy spirit that is marred only by an initial rush of alcohol that is bafflingly out of place.

81.6 proof.

A- / $1299 / camus.fr

Review: Martell Caractere Cognac

martell charactere 206x300 Review: Martell Caractere CognacMartell recently launched this Cognac, a simple blend of brandies (in an admittedly snazzy bottle), with no age indication at all. In other words: This is entry-level Cognac, so let’s see how it tastes.

On first blush it’s a clearly young spirit, somewhat brash on the nose, but tempered with notes of incense and, curiously, sawdust. On the body, there’s plenty of heat, along with some more raw grapeseed notes. Again, secondary notes save the day from driving Caractere into forgetability. Prune/raisin, some orange oil, and chewy caramel provide interest, although there’s no real sense of balance or cohesion in the end. Ultimately this would work for a mixing brandy (Martell’s cocktail ideas including mixing it into a blend of pineapple juice and cola), but it just doesn’t have the austerity for drinking straight.

80 proof. Exclusively available in California.

B- / $35 / martell.com

Review: Aga Vie Esprit D’Agave

aga vie 143x300 Review: Aga Vie Esprit DAgaveWhat is it about the French and tequila? First Given blends tequila with lime juice and grape juice in Cognac, France, and now there’s Aga Vie, a commingling of blanco tequila and Cognac that have been (re-)distilled together into one oddball spirit. (This distillation removes whatever color is left behind, namely from the Cognac.)

Describing Aga Vie leads terms that are exactly as you’d expect: The nose is sweet like tequila, and the body offers an agave punch plus some of that brandied sweetness. To dig into the details, when you first get a whiff of Aga Vie, imagine not blanco but reposado tequila (there’s some wood in there), with a little honey thrown into the mix. On the palate, things get weird. The tequila’s there — though it’s not particularly definable beyond indistinct agave notes — but it’s considerably overpowered by the sweetness of the Cognac. Aga Vie doesn’t delineate the proportions of tequila to brandy in this spirit, and it’s hard to tell whether a little expensive Cognac goes a long way in a lot of cheaper tequila or whether it’s the other way around, but either way the mixture will be confusing to anyone who’s accustomed to drinking either of the two. The vanilla notes from the Cognac make you feel like you’re drinking an older tequila stock at first, but the impression soon fades as a hefty sweetness takes hold on your throat. The spirit ends with a mouth-coating candy-like character that is hard to shake and which, all things considered, is the only part of the experience that isn’t particularly satisfying.

The natural question you might ask next is: But why? Why would you take perfectly good tequila and Cognac and blend them together? The official story on the Aga Vie website evokes the French occupation of Mexico (a brief period in the country’s history), but I doubt anyone was mixing up tequila and Cognac during those years. Whether we should be doing that now is left as an exercise for the reader.

B- / $45 / agavie.com

Review: Louis Royer Cognac XO

louis royer xo cognac 228x300 Review: Louis Royer Cognac XOLouis Royer has been producing Cognac since 1853, but it’s relatively obscure on U.S. shores. This XO, like most, doesn’t offer much information by way of production or aging notes (Royer uses grapes from the six big growing regions of Cognac), but I wouldn’t fret over it. This is quality Cognac that is worth visiting, and a bargain for a spirit of this quality.

Immediate dark chocolate and coffee notes on the nose and on the first sips. This is a much darker, burlier Cognac than most other brands, particularly XOs, which tend to run fruitier, with more of a baking spice note. Alongside the above, the Louis Royer XO offers more incense, burnt orange, and root beer notes — backed by a heavy vanilla extract finish — making for an altogether intriguing, complex spirit. There’s so much going on here that it invites continued discovery. I keep going back to it, finding something a little different every time out.

80 proof.

A / $140 / louis-royer.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Tasting the Liqueurs and C2 Cognac/Liqueur Blends of Merlet

Merlet C2 Citron 101x300 Tasting the Liqueurs and C2 Cognac/Liqueur Blends of MerletWe covered Merlet’s new Cognac a few weeks ago, but the company is arguably best known for its fruit liqueurs, which we’re finally getting around to covering them. All of them, actually. Thoughts on these high-end liqueurs and two unique Cognac/liqueur blends follow.

Merlet Triple Sec – Triple sec is perhaps the toughest liqueur there is to mess up, and Merlet’s, made with bitter orange, blood orange, and lemon, is perfectly solid and is at times a bit exotic with its melange of interrelated fruit flavors. A very pale yellow in color, the lemon is a touch more to the forefront than I’d like, lending this liqueur a slight sourness, but on the whole it’s a perfectly worthwhile and usable triple sec that I have no trouble recommending. 80 proof. A- / $30

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Review: Merlet Cognac Brothers Blend

merlet cognac Brothers Blend bottle 133x300 Review: Merlet Cognac Brothers BlendFormerly a private label distiller of Cognac for the major houses, Merlet (pronounced mer-lay) has launched its own label, under its own name. (The company also makes a variety of fruit liqueurs, which we’ll be reviewing soon.) The first product, launching now in the U.S., is called Merlet Brothers Blend, a marriage of eaux-de-vies ranging in age from four to 12 years old.

My first encounter with Brothers Blend was a little off-putting. I found it hot and young, typical of a pre-teen Cognac. On further tasting, after letting the bottle simmer down for a few weeks with a little air in the headspace, things have interestingly improved.

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Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2012

Another sold-out show this year for WhiskyFest San Francisco, and yet it didn’t feel overly crowded. I missed out on some of the whispered highlights by arriving late, when the rarities were all gone. (John Hansell has some coverage, which I hope to catch up with in coming months.) Otherwise, good times all around. While the absence of a few standbys – Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection, Compass Box – was grumbled about, I don’t think you can raise a complaint about the quality of spirits on tap.

Brief notes follow (made more difficult by the fact that my pen simply would not write on the glossy brochure provided this year). I made sure to sample some more widely available whiskeys I hadn’t tried in years (Elijah Craig 12, Balvenie 12), for comparative purposes.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2012

Scotch

Gordon & MacPhail Glenburgie 21 Years Old / B+ / huge nose, lots of grain, chew finish
Gordon & MacPhail Glenlivet 21 Years Old / A / apple pie, with both the crust and cinnamon/spice notes
Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice Clynelish 1993 / A- / unique, lots of malt, big body
Gordon & MacPhail Benromach Organic / B+ / heavy on the grassiness
Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice Tormore 1996 15 Years Old / B+ / big banana notes, apple character
Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Years Old / A- / tasted as a comparative to the new 17 year old DoubleWood; a perfect everyday Scotch
Oban 18 Years Old / A- / wonderful peat/sweet balance
Old Pulteney 17 Years Old / A- / drinking well, very rich
Old Pulteney 30 Years Old / B+ / showing more grain character, oddly
Chieftain’s Glenturret 21 Year Old Cask Strength / A / brisk
GlenDronach 18 Years Old Allardice / B+ / raisin notes
GlenDronach 21 Years Old Parliament / B+ / similar, with a toffee character; bitter edge
BenRiach 1995 Pedro Ximinez Cask #2045 / A- / lots of peat at work
Bruichladdich Black Art 3 / A / cherry, nougat, lots of depth; very different than other Black Art bottling
Samaroli Glenlivet 1977 / A / absolutely gorgeous, wood and nougat in balance
Samaroli Caol Ila 1980 / B+
Samaroli Linkwood 1983 / A / peat, sweet, great combo
Samaroli Glenburgie 1989 / A-
Samaroli Bunnahabhain 1990 / A / dusky earthiness
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve / C / an ultra-young Scotch, lots of brash, cooked cereal notes
Glen Grant 16 Years Old / B / basic, simple

United States

St. George Spirits Barrel Strength Bourbon / A / 62.5 percent abv, distilled in 2005; burly and big, delicious
Lost Spirits Leviathan 1 Cast 7 / B+ / fire and brimstone
Lost Spirits Paradiso / A- / a brutally peated version of Leviathan, with a hint of absinthe in the finish; entire stock has been sold to Germany
Redemption Rye / A / lovely mix of spice and wood (3 years old)
Redemption Rye 14 Years Old (private barrel) / B+ / from private stock; the wood punches out the rye
Koval Organic 47th Ward / B / cereal finish
Koval Organic Raksi Dark Millet / B+ / smoldering and chewy
Hudson Baby Bourbon / A- / lots of wood, drinking well despite a corniness
Elijah Craig 12 Years Old Small Batch Bourbon / A- / lots of wood, but drinking nicely
Four Roses Yellow Label / B- / very hot and tight
Four Roses Single Barrel / A
Four Roses Small Batch / A-

Other World Whiskies

Sullivan’s Cove Small Batch Single Cask / B- / aged in ex-Beam barrels; lots of heat, tight
Sullivan’s Cove Small Batch Double Cask / B / lots of grain, big field notes
Canadian Club Sherry Cask / A- / very sweet, pretty
Nikka Taketsuru 12 Years Old / A / two offerings from Japan, coming soon to the U.S.; a vatted malt; quite sweet
Nikka Yoichi 15 Years Old / A / more smoke here, very rich, outstanding

Cognac

HINE Homage / B+ / a blend of 1984, 86, and 87 spirit; good balance
HINE H / B+ / traditional, lots of sugary notes
HINE Antique / A / lush, powerful, a great old Cognac
Frapin Cognac VS / B+
Frapin Cognac Chateau de Fontpinot XO / A-
Frapin Cognac VIP XO / A
Frapin Cognac Extra / A-

Review: Courvoisier Gold Cognac Liqueur

Courvoisier is at the forefront of the taking Cognac into new markets, with brandy-and-wine blends like Courvoisier Rose. Now the company is back at it with Courvoisier Gold, a blend of Cognac and Moscato wine.

This actually sounds like a great idea — the brisk orange of the Moscato enhancing the citrus notes in the Cognac. In theory, anyway.

Alas, the theory didn’t really pan out this time. The nose of Gold is mild and innocuous, and the body brings out the constituent components of the concoction. Unfortunately, those components just don’t work together. The Moscato wine is understated and doesn’t offer much flavor, just a vague sense of something fruity that approaches apple juice, straight out of the juice box. This is spiked with a touch of Cognac — at just 18% alcohol, there’s really not much brandy in the mix — but it’s not enough to do much to the wine. A hint of vanilla is really all you get — and it turns out to be not very complementary to the Moscato in the end.

If you do try this product, be sure to have it chilled (as the company recommends). Served at room temperature, it’s tepid and raw. Chilled or with ice, at least you can have your apple juice the way God intended.

36 proof.

D+ / $25 / courvoisier.com

courvoisier gold Review: Courvoisier Gold Cognac Liqueur

Review: Camus Ile de Re Cognacs

Most (myself included) think of Cognac hailing from a small region in France just north of Bordeaux. But did you know that you can make Cognac (legally) on an island off the coast of France? To be fair, Ile de Re isn’t far offshore — it’s connected to the mainland via a bridge — but it’s unique enough to merit more than a little curiosity.

Camus is the first company to bring a Cognac produced from grapes grown on this little island to market, with three Ile de Re Cognac expressions launching now. All are classic Cognac expressions, but you’ll find them infused with a little unique island spirit, giving them a slightly salty spin, much in the way that Islay malt whiskys can only be from one place. Thoughts follow.

None of these expressions include age statements. All are bottled at 80 proof.

Camus Ile de Re Fine Island Cognac – A young and fresh brandy, this spirit is easygoing with a modest fruit core, but with surprisingly little of the funky burn that you get with most “affordable” Cognacs. Very light citrus and persimmon notes on the nose, and these follow through to the palate. A briny finish offers some savory balance. There’s a bit of heat in the otherwise muted body, but not enough to make you race for the water pitcher. While it isn’t going to wow you, on the whole it’s a surprisingly drinkable Cognac, particularly at this price level. B+ / $49

Camus Ile de Re Double Matured Cognac – Aged in two stages, first in a high-humidity cellar, then in “toasted barrels.” Similar in tone to the Fine Island version, but with a distinct orange character that laces the finish. Less heat here than the Fine Island, too, perhaps more an indication of age than the double barreling conceit, but probably worth the price upgrade. A- / $69

Camus Ile de Re Cliffside Cellar Cognac – Aged in part in a special cellar said to be 10 meters away from the Atlantic Ocean, here the orange character is up front rather than hidden away in the finish. Well-rounded, with some saltiness in the finish, which comes together with more of a dessert-like, salted caramel character. A- / $99

camus.fr

Hennessy Releases Limited Edition Artists’ Bottling

Why is there primary color squiggling all over your Hennessy? Because the company hired street artist “Futura” to graffiti up their label for a limited edition run of the Henny. You can check out both the bottle and the artist below. Just 200,000 bottles are being produced. Ahem.

Inside it’s still the same Hennessy, VS-class Cognac, 80 proof, and pure crowd-pleaser all the way. Initially brash with alcohol due to its youth (reportedly five years or less in barrel), the vapor burns off after some time in the glass, revealing a lighter body, caramel notes, then plenty of fruit: oranges, apples, and vanilla on the finish. Designed as a mixer, it is still plenty drinkable on its own if you temper expectations. B / $32

neverstopneversettle.com

Review: D’usse Cognac VSOP

This new Cognac is being launched by Bacardi and endorsed by Jay-Z. The package is one of the snazziest I’ve seen in a long time, and the name, pronounced “dew-say,” is exotic enough to pique anyone’s interest.

Produced by a 220-year-old Cognac house, Otard, D’usse is a premium-priced VSOP but is intended mainly as a mixer.

That’s a good idea, actually. There’s so much boozy alcohol on this that it takes quite a while to blow off. Once it does, D’usse’s VSOP leaves behind a relatively modest profile: Wood, raisins, orange, with a finish that recalls a few baking spices, particularly nutmeg.

That all sounds pretty tasty, but there’s just so much rawness in this spirit that the sweeter, more delicate notes have trouble muscling through. This is a brandy that needs much more time simmering down in cask to show its true promise. Until then, yeah, it’s a mixer.

80 proof.

C+ / $50 / dusse.com

dusse cognac Review: Dusse Cognac VSOP

Review: Camus Extra Elegance Cognac

We’ve been mega-fans of the Camus line of Cognac — currently rare in the U.S. but popular around the world (check out duty-free for some amazing deals on the stuff, btw) — for quite a while, and now the distillery is releasing a new expression to top its already high-end XO bottling: Camus Extra Elegance.

As with its other bottlings, Camus doesn’t indicate an age on this spirit, but it’s clearly on the aged side, I’m guessing at least 40 or more years in barrel.

Mild, and more balanced than Camus’ XO bottling (which I have on hand for head-to-head comparisons), this is a subtle Cognac (unlike many well-aged brandies) vs. its counterparts. Orange, peach, and lively floral notes are on the forefront here, along with hints of maple syrup. This is an extraordinarily fruity Cognac — no funky leather, mushroom, or earthy notes to serve as a distraction — and that’s both a plus and a minus. Seekers of ultra-smooth brandies will love the stuff. Those looking for a deep and complex experience may find this a bit simplistic given the price tag.

A- / $395 / camus.fr

camus extra elegance Review: Camus Extra Elegance Cognac

Review: C by Courvoisier Cognac

All brands must expand, and Courvoisier has been on a tear lately. First Courvoisier Rose, now C by Courvoisier.

Unlike the Rose, C is a full Cognac, blended from spirits produced from grapes from 50 winegrowers in the Fin Bois Cru, a somewhat lesser Cognac region surrounding Grand Champagne and Petite Champagne. That’s understandable: There are only so many grapes in Grande Champagne and they must cost a fair Euro these days, so Courvoisier can make a less expensive Cognac by stepping into nearby areas. The resulting spirit is double barreled in both young and mature barrels. No age statement is offered.

The results are unfortunately a bit tepid. The deep amber, almost burnt orange color is enticing, and the nose offers lots of citrus and apple fruit character, with a touch of floral element to it. On the body, lots of heat. In a vessel that curves in at the lip, this traps a lot of alcohol in the glass, and it quickly becomes overwhelming. Let it dissipate (or try a different drinking implement) and you’ll get lots more of that apple/orange fruit, plus a healthy slug of wood. Not a whole lot of balance here, as the fruit and wood notes just don’t mingle well. I think Courvoisier did this intentionally with those new wood barrels to produce a more flavorful and “brash” spirit, and there it succeeds — this is not a delicate Cognac — but it comes at the price of smoothness and complexity.

80 proof.

B- / $35 / courvoisier.com

C by Courvoisier cognac Review: C by Courvoisier Cognac

Review: Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac

Cognac Ferrand’s latest release says, “Out with the old, in with the… old?” Designed with the help of cocktail wunderkind David Wondrich, Ferrand’s 1840 Original Formula is a “Revival” Cognac, blended and aged in an attempt to emulate what a 19th century style spirit might have tasted like — hence the name. Wondrich and Ferrand’s Alexandre Gabriel worked from a well-preserved bottle of Pinet-Castillon Cognac produced in 1840. I obviously can’t judge how close they got, but either way, they were drinking pretty well back then, it seems.

If you’re expecting something rough and hoary, think again. This is a lively and fresh Cognac, easy drinking and full of fruit. One of the big differences between other Cognacs is that it is bottled at 90 proof instead of the usual 80. You won’t notice the change, but I think the extra alcohol smooths out the brandy’s rough spots, since this after all a relatively young, VS-class spirit, as you can probably tell by the very pale gold color.

The brandy is very mild and quite sweet, with lots of apple and vanilla flavor on the nose and body. The finish offers wood character, some cinnamon and caramel notes. This tastes both young and refined at the same time, without a hint of that raw alcohol flavor that is so pungent in many younger Cognacs. It doesn’t offer a ton of complexity, but overall it’s a bargain for a spirit of this quality.

A- / $45 / cognacferrand.com

Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac Review: Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2011

WhiskyFest remains the whiskey enthusiast’s festival to beat. With hundreds of whiskeys, it is a mad dash for all sorts of great stuff — if only you can find it in the scattered auditorium and muscle your way to the front of the line. Don’t worry, you can do it, and even though the 2011 installment of this awesome event had more than its share of no-shows from the advance whisky list — Isle of Jura Shackleton, Tomatin 30 Year Old, Pierre Ferrand Ancestrale Cognac, the entire Usqueabach table — there were so many amazing whiskeys here it is hard to complain.

Favorites were unilaterally from the private bottling companies, including Duncan Taylor’s killer 36 Year Old Lonach Blend, Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 21 Years Old — all that time in ex-sherry butts — and maybe by new favorite whisky ever, Samaroli Evolution 2011. Notes on all of these follow, plus comments (however brief) on everything else I sampled during the evening.

Thanks again to Whisky Advocate (nee Malt Advocate) for putting on such a terrific show (and inviting me).

Scotland

Samaroli Evolution 2011 / A+ / this Rome-based private whisky bottler was a fave at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, and this bottling was a revelation; a vatting of whisky stocks dating back to 1957, it is incredibly supple, complex, and impossible to put down

Samaroli Glenlivet Top Class 1977 / A- / amazing elegance

Samaroli Linkwood Top Class 1983 / B+ / bit tougher

Samaroli Glenburgie 1989 / B+ / rich and chewy

Samaroli Highland Park 1989 / B+ / has an edge to it

Samaroli Bunnahabhain 1990 / B+ / surprising sweetness

Auchentoshan Valinch / B / hard finish

Auchentoshan Bordeaux 1999 / B+ / sweetness up front leads to a rough finish

Auchentoshan 21 Year Old / B+ / my fave of the Auch line, better balance

Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve / B

Glen Garioch 1994 Vintage / B / big nougat notes lead to a strange, funky finish

Tomatin Highland Single Malt 25 Year Old / B+ / almost American in styling, sweet finish

Tomatin Highland Single Malt Decades / A- / a vatting of 5 decades’ worth of whisky; complex and lots of fun

Isle of Jura Superstition / A- / nice balance with the peat here

Isle of Jura 16 Year Old / B / big grain notes, exotic

Laphroaig Triple Wood / B+ / finished in sherry, which adds just a touch of citrus to standard Laphroaig’s peat and iodine; interesting but could go farther

Gordon & MacPhail Benromach 10 Year Old / B / young but charming

Gordon & MacPhail Caol Ila Port Finish 10 Year Old / B+ / nice mix of smoke and sweet, needs more aging

Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15 Year Old / A-

Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 21 Years Old / A / spends all 21 years in sherry casks, an amazing whisky, deep and rich (by far the darkest Scotch I saw all night)

Gordon & MacPhail Tamdhu 30 Years Old / B+ / a bit over the hill, wood-wise

Compass Box Great King Street / A- / a masterful blended whisky

Springbank 14 Year Old Manzanilla Cask / B+ / big olive notes

Springbank 18 Year Old / B+ / not feeling it tonight; too much of a coal character

Kilkerran WIP 3rd Release / B+ / like Kilbeggan, Kilkerran is doing releases as its whisky ages; at 3 years old it is young but exciting, lots of promise ahead

Duncan Taylor Banff 35 Year Rich and Rare / A / amazing fruit and wood here, lovely finish

Duncan Taylor Lonach Blend 36 Year / A / cinnamon and apple pie, all sorts of fun

GlenDronach 21 Year Old Parliament / B+ / curious wood and spice notes

GlenDronach 15 Year Old 1995 Pedro Ximenez Cask #2045 / B

Macallan 18 Year Old / A-

Highland Park 25 Year Old / A- / musky finish

Bruichladdich Black Art 2 / B+ / finish delves deep into grain character

Bruichladdich Octomore 3/152 / A- / the new “most peated” whisky in the world, actually quite pleasant and not the bowl-you-over dram I was expecting; more like a barbecue than a smoke bomb

Ardbeg Corryvreckan / A

Ardbeg Alligator / A- / Ardbeg’s latest, aged in ultra-charred oak barrels; the wood really does battle with the peat here, giving it a curious but less enthralling character, I think

Ireland

Redbreast 12 Years Old / B+ / really woody kick; the reputation exceeds the whisky

Redbreast 15 Years Old / B+ / not terribly different

United States

Bardstown Riverboat Rye Whiskey / B / a younger version of Redemption Rye

Bardstown Temptation Bourbon / A- / good sweetness, balance

Bardstown Barrel Proof High Rye Bourbon / A / intensely rye-focused, and intensely alcoholic; not released (the company is hoping for 2012)

Koval Lion’s Pride Spelt Whiskey / B+ / aged 2 years; not bad, lots of grain character

Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve 10 Years Old / A- / love the rye kick; probably better since it was poured by Jimmy Russell himself (picture below!)

George Dickel Barrel Select / A- / nice rye going on here

Not Whiskey

Frapin Cognac VS / A- / 4 years old; surprisingly clean for a $49 Cognac

Frapin Cognaac Chateau de Fontpinot XO / A- / big nose on it, great citrus and sherry finish

Frapin Cognac  VIP XO / A- / quite similar to the Fontpinot

Frapin Cognac Extra / A / 75 years old, extremely complex, mellow, and lingering

Pierre Ferrand Cognac Selection des Anges / A- / beautiful, smooth

Pierre Ferrand Cognac Cigare / A / not smoky, and in fact not as big a body as you’d expect with a name like that; very well crafted and lush; drink with or without a cigar

Tequila Corrido Extra Anejo Barrel #2 / A / a killer, and the only tequila here; lovely chocolate finish

chris null and jimmy russell Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2011

Review: Hardy Vanille Cognac & Vanilla

Flavored cognac is not exactly a big market, but let’s run with it (particularly since a reader requested coverage of this very spirit): A. Hardy blends authentic, French, 8-year old Hardy VSOP Cognac with natural vanilla (plus caramel color) to come up with, well, a vanilla-flavored Cognac. Bottled at 80 proof, if nothing else it sure does look enticing in its frosted glass.

Initially mild, as the cognac character is at the forefront of the spirit. But give it just a couple of minutes and, wham, the vanilla takes hold. It’s hugely sweet and dessert-like, almost like a big vanilla milkshake. While reasonably authentic in flavor, it’s ultimately just too much. As any baker knows, a little vanilla goes a very long way in a dish, especially in liquid form. Here it completely overpowers the cognac character, especially on the finish, where the vanilla becomes cloying and uninviting. One is not encouraged to take sip after sip but rather to switch to a straight, unflavored brandy in short order. Likely better as a mixer or, come to think of it, as a substitute for vanilla in your favorite baking recipes.

C+ / $22 / ahardyusa.com

hardy vanille Review: Hardy Vanille Cognac & Vanilla

Review: Paul-Marie & Fils Pineau des Charentes, Tres Vieux Fut #3

You may be looking at that headline and saying, damn that’s a lot of French. What the hell is Pineau des Charentes, and what is a tres vieux fut?

The easy one is the latter part: Tres Vieux Fut is “Very Old Cask,” and this is the third release from Paul-Marie & Fils of this Pineau.

So, what is Pineau? Pineau is a sweet, fortified dessert wine from the Charentes area of France, which encompasses the Cognac region. Grapes that would normally go into Cognac are crushed and left as unfermented juice: To turn it into alcohol, Cognac is added until it hits about 40 proof, then the mixture is left to age in barrels in a cellar.

This Pineau has spent more than 20 years in cask. (It’s actually a blend of two casks of Pineau, one 20 and one 21 years old, but that’s probably more information than you need.) 1,285 bottles were produced, and the vast majority are available here in the U.S. (And good luck to you in finding one.)

The resulting “wine” (which is intended to be drunk chilled) is somewhere between a sherry and a Port in character, but almost rose-wine like in color, a sort of pale orange -pink. It offers dried fruits on the nose, and a dessert character that’s like candied oranges. The finish is very sweet and the most sherry-like part of the experience. Very intriguing, it keeps calling you back to try it again and again.

17.5% alcohol by volume.

A- / $90 / pmspirits.com

paul marie et fils pineau no 3 Review: Paul Marie & Fils Pineau des Charentes, Tres Vieux Fut #3