Review: Barking Irons Applejack

BarkingIrons_Bottle_ByGievesAnderson

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

Review: Mulberry Club Fruit Brandies

105

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: 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

Review: Big Bottom Pear Brandy and Oregon Gin Collection

big bottom PearBrandy-10-NEWIf you know Big Bottom, you probably know the company for its bourbons, most of which feature exotic finishes and impressive levels of quality.

Big Bottom also makes white spirits, though, including fruit brandies (pear now, apple is coming) and a collection of gins. Today we take a look at four of BB’s latest white offerings… well, three white spirits and one with a touch of age on it.

Thoughts follow.

Big Bottom Oregon Pear Brandy – Made from a blend of Oregon-grown Asian pears. Rather musty up front, the nose offers fruit restrained by astringent notes, a commonality of young fruit brandies. On the palate, significant earthy notes interplay with modest pear character — and you can indeed pick out that slightly citrus Asian character vs. the more traditional flavor of domestic pears. The finish, however, is a bit hot and indistinct. This is clearly a labor of love, but as with many pear brandies, it’s one that could benefit from some tempering by wood. 80 proof. B- / $45

Big Bottom Oregon Gin – 16 botanicals (none named) are used in the production of this New Western gin. It’s got a significant floral character, with a touch of black pepper adding spice. Juniper is present, but modest and restrained, as sweeter notes dominate. On the palate, it’s a gentle gin with ample sweetness enveloping the palate, those floral notes — honeysuckle and some white flowers — quite dominant. Citrus elements come on strong as well, with just a little kick of that pepper hitting on the back end. Fun stuff, and a nice change of pace from juniper-forward bruisers. 91 proof. A- / $30

Big Bottom Oregon Gin Navy Strength – Same gin as the above, but higher in proof. It offers similar notes to the lower-proof product, but it’s plenty racier if that’s your bag. As with many an overproof product, the higher-proof version will immediately fire up the palate, but it also offers a few surprises: a slightly fruitier character, and juniper that’s more immediately evident. Slight caramel notes offer a silky sweetness on the back end. All in all, it’s a solid Navy version of a juniper-restrained gin. 114 proof. A- / $46

Big Bottom Oregon Gin Finished in Oak Whiskey Barrels – Same gin as the first, aged (for 12 months in a new solera system) in used whiskey barrels outfit with new heads made from a mix of Oregon oak and Hungarian oak. The gin takes on a more dessert-like note here, with clear cinnamon notes and some mulled apple cider character. Sweet caramel on the finish takes this gin on a ride between a white spirit and a light, spiced whiskey, with notes of cloves and vanilla in lieu of any significant juniper or floral elements, which are washed away by the wood. Aged gins can be hit and miss, but this is surprisingly fun stuff, perfect for winter cocktails or even sipping straight with dessert. 91 proof. A / $38

bigbottomdistilling.com

Review: Domaine Dupont Calvados – Fine Reserve, Vieille Reserve, Hors d’Age

Calvados Dupont Hors d'ageThese Calvados bottlings hail from the Pays d’Auge, the primary production area for the classic apple brandy in France’s Normandy region.

The company produces over a dozen different expressions of Calvados (plus cider and other beverages). Today we look at three of the more common bottlings, all on the younger side of the company’s offerings. Let’s look at each in turn. (Note: Prices tend to vary widely, so shop around.)

Domaine Dupont Calvados Fine Reserve – Aged two years in barrel, half in new oak. A bright gold brandy, it features the classic mustiness you get with young apple brandies, followed by heavy notes of baked red apples. Light baking spices emerge on the end, then a lightly woody astringency takes hold. A very simplistic expression of Calvados, it is best regarded as a mixing alternative for vodka or even gin. 80 proof. C / $30

Domaine Dupont Calvados Vieille Reserve – Aged four years in barrel, 25% in new oak. Here the Calvados is settling down nicely, throwing off some of its medicinal and astringent notes and showcasing more of its apple core. A purer apple note — fruity and slightly sweet — is evident from the nose and follows as you work into the body. On the palate, it’s both surprisingly light and floral, with just a touch of nutmeg giving it a slightly wintry edge. The tougher, more industrial notes endure on the finish, but they aren’t as overpowering as in the Fine Reserve. 84 proof. B / $50

Domaine Dupont Calvados Hors d’Age – Aged six years in barrel, 25% in new oak. Further maturation gives this Calvados more austerity, though the upgrade isn’t as immediately evident as it is with the jump from Fine to Vieille. Again fresh apples dominate, with some baking spice and particularly nutmeg offering strong secondary notes. The finish feels hotter than both of the above, not due to industrial notes but more from the clearer presence of alcohol. This leads to more of a warming and cleaner finish that lets the more pure and fresh apple character shine through. B+ / $75

calvados-dupont.com

Review: Pere Magloire Calvados VSOP

magloireProduced from apple cider pressed in the small Pays d’Auge region of Normandy, this VSOP Calvados is double distilled and aged in oak barrels for at least four years.

This is young Calvados, but well made and quite drinkable. Some aeration is recommended to coax out the fruitier notes and allow some of the earthier character to dissipate. From there, this VSOP develops nicely, with mature apple notes, caramel, pie crust, and vanilla. The finish offers some notes of root beer and cloves, plus some of the rustic lumber character that tends to come with young brandies.

All told it comes together pretty well, offering ample apple flavor at its core, plus a smattering of components that work as nice little companions. A starter Calvados, for sure, but not a bad way to get started with an exploration of apple brandy.

B+ / $35 / calvados-pere-magloire.com

Review: Arkansas Black Applejack 21 Years Old

arkansas black 21

Earlier this year we brought you coverage of Arkansas Black Applejack, an artisan apple brandy that happens to be made in my own adopted community in Marin County, California.

Now the husband and wife duo have put out a monster of an upgrade: Arkansas Black 21 Years Old. Now Arkansas Black is a youngish operation, so how is it making a 21 year old expression? Here’s the scoop from the company:

We sourced the product from a California brandy family who made a one-off batch of apple brandy in the early ’90s. They put the 100% California-grown apple distillate in seasoned french oak and let it ride, never bottling it or bringing it to market. Earlier this year they made the decision that they didn’t really have a plan for the stuff and made it available. We bought it, brought the proof to 92, and bottled it with no additional processing. There will be 600 cases bottled and that will be that.

This 21 year old applejack squarely lives somewhere between brandy and whiskey, with loads of vanilla and caramel on the nose, plus some barrel char, but balanced by gratings of cinnamon and — at last — a strong apple aroma that comes wafting to the fore. Unlike the NAS version, this expression keeps the apple in check, saving it to layer onto the palate as it evolves on the tongue. Notes of toasted meringue, coconut, and some sherry notes all make an appearance, with ample apple pie notes washing over everything. The finish is long, minimal in the boozy after-effect that’s so common with fruit brandies, and both inviting and enduring.

As apple-based spirits go, you’re looking at one of the best produced anywhere.

92 proof.

A / $125 / via facebook

Review: Arkansas Black Applejack

arkansas HI-RES

As far as local spirits go, for me, there’s nothing more local than Arkansas Black Applejack. It’s made by a husband and wife that live right around the corner from me, from Arkansas Black apples (hence the name) plus some Golden Delicious. The applejack is actually produced in Oregon at Clear Creek, after which it is aged in a mix of French Cognac and American Bourbon barrels.

Each bottle is a limited-cask bottling; the sample I tried came from a 2014 batch of just 2 barrels. (In 2015, 10 barrels are on tap for bottling.)

This is about as pure an expression of applejack as you’re likely to find in America today. The nose if immediately filled with baked apples — and a little bit of the funkiness you expect to see in a craft apple brandy. Bittersweet but authentic, the body is powerful with chewy apple notes, vanilla caramels, and baking spices. Initially quite sweet, almost like a grape brandy, it edges toward bitter as the palate takes hold, with the wood influence becoming more expressive. The finish balances these elements, offering a sugary zing tempered by notes of apple cider, root beer, licorice, and some savory herbs.

98 proof. Reviewed: Batch A, barrel TL-1, bottle #273.

A- / $50 / via facebook

Review: Boulard Calvados Pays d’Auge VSOP

Boulard VSOP 70 CL-1Boulard is one of the pre-eminent producers of Calvados. This VSOP is just one step up from Boulard’s entry-level bottling, composed of a blend of brandies aged 4 to 10 years old, but it shows nonetheless how one company can do wonders with the simple apple.

Crisp, classic apple notes are fresh on the nose, touched with lively menthol, cocoa powder, and gentle astringency. The body is lush with the essence of a boozy apple pie — fresh and baked apples, vanilla, toffee, cinnamon, and a gingery finish. Straightforward but sophisticated and well-crafted, it’s a near-perfect expression of a younger apple brandy.

80 proof.

A- / $50 / calvados-boulard.com

Review: Spirits of Santa Fe Spirits

santa fe apple brandy

Santa Fe Spirits is based, you guessed it, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Founded by Colin Keegan in 2010, the company now offers a range of five spirits, all with a southwestern bent and primarily column-distilled. We tasted four of them (all but the aged, single malt whiskey). Thoughts follow.

Santa Fe Spirits Apple Brandy – This was Santa Fe’s first product, made from New Mexico-grown Mountain West apples, including some from Keegan’s own orchard. Barrel aged “for years.” Big, punchy nose. It’s got mashed apples, sure, but lots of wood, and some coal fire character to it. The body is on the oily side, burly with overpowering wood notes and a big, tannic finish. Overall: A curiosity that never quite pulls it all together. C+ / $45

Santa Fe Spirits Wheeler’s Western Dry Gin – A newfangled infusion and the most avant garde of the bunch. This gun includes only botanicals that are sourced from within 30 miles of the distillery: white desert sage, Cholla cactus blossoms, osha root, Cascade hops, and local juniper. My first cactus-infused gin! The nose is a delight. Quite citrusy, like Meyer lemon, with distinct sage notes. On the body, those hops come through right away, while the sage and citrus character lingers. All of these things balance quite well, though the hops tend to dominate a bit too heavily. 80 proof (it could have stood to be 86, in my opinion). B+ / $32

Santa Fe Spirits Silver Coyote Pure Malt Whiskey – Made from 100% malted barley and bottled as unaged white dog. A lighter style of white dog, relatively restrained (comparatively) with a curious mix of grain and slate notes on the nose. The body isn’t overly complex, wearing its maltiness and youthful barley notes on its sleeve, with a lightly vegetal finish. Think green beans and sweet potatoes. Or competently made white lightning, anyway. 92 proof. B+ / $30

Santa Fe Spirits Expedition American West Vodka – 6 times distilled from a corn base. Interesting nose here, supple and sweet but not overdone. It’s not at all “corny,” but the aroma is almost like a nice bit of cotton candy or marshmallow. On the body, similar notes prevail, with a subtle fruitiness that recalls apples and banana. The finish has a touch of medicinal burn, but by and large it’s a smooth operator that offers a modern profile balanced by a restrained and refined backbone. 80 proof. A / $25

Note: This quartet is available in a four-pack of 200ml bottles. Total price: $55.

santafespirits.com

Review: Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Complete Lineup

Calvados XO AprevalDon’t call it apple brandy: It’s Calvados, the most exclusive of apple-based spirits and the only fruit brandy with a serious pedigree. Created by a family-owned estate of 25 hectares of apple trees (17 varieties are grown here) in France’s Pays d’Auge, on the banks of the Seine River, this French classic is making its way to the U.S. for the first time, with a staggering selection of expressions available… suitable for any price point. Apreval’s Calvados brandies are double-distilled, then aged in French oak barrels.

We got to to try them all… nine expressions of Calvados in total, ranging from a two-year old youngster to varieties aged nearly half a century (and priced as you’d expect). So, how do they acquit themselves? Thoughts follow, ordered from youngest to oldest.

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Blanche – Aged 2-3 years. Crisp apple aroma, but there’s plenty of heat here as well. The body offers tart apple (think Granny Smith), lemon peel, some floral elements, and a touch of wood on the back end. Rustic, almost pastoral. This is clearly young stuff, particularly on the slightly rubbery and lightly vegetal finish, but it still drinks well. I’d consider it primarily for cocktailing, sipping neat in a pinch. 80 proof. B / $55

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Reserve – Aged 4-6 years. Slightly nutty, almost Amaretto-like, on the nose, with clear apple cider coming through behind. A clearly stronger wood influence lends this Calvados a bigger and bolder body, with a rounded mouthfeel and stronger vanilla notes on the palate. The finish is still a little tough, though the more vegetal notes have started to balance out with the sweet ones. 84 proof. B+ / $67

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Grande Reserve – Aged 10-12 years. The nose is mellowing out here, with more of an applesauce and gentle honey character to it. The body offers strong apple flavors, balanced by hazelnuts, chocolate, and a light herbal quality. Good balance, with a bit heat on the back end. It’s definitely a Calvados I’d have no trouble sipping on, offering the best of both the orchard and the world of brandy. 84 proof. A- / $92

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados XO – Aged 15-20 years, noticeably darker in color (from here on out). Becoming increasingly Cognac-like on the nose, with sweet caramel, gingerbread, and incense notes… but still those unmistakable apples shining through beautifully. Robust on the body, with thick cinnamon-apple notes and a big Christmas cake character that lasts for a long while. The finish builds dramatically to something that is both sweet with notes of cake frosting, and savory, with a woody, almost earthy conclusion. Lots going on here, and probably my favorite expression in this lineup. 84 proof. A- / $134

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados 1980 – Single-vintage (harvest?) brandy from 1980, 33 years old. Just imagine, when these apples were picked, Jimmy Carter was President. Sultry nose, with a slight licorice note to it, along with ample wood. The body is vast, with the wood notes taking center stage.There’s even a touch of astringency here, as the deep oak character muscles aside the fruity apple cider core from time to time. Intriguing but a much different animal than the XO. Try the two side by side for a real mindbender. 84 proof. A- / $230

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Cuvee Victor – A blend of brandies, each at least 30 years old. Coffee and licorice notes on the nose lend this a Spanish brandy feel. There’s lots of dried fruit — not just apples but raisins, too — on the palate, but the finish takes things toward a winey character, almost like a Marsala, with some balsamic touches. Quite the curiosity — rich and austere. 82 proof. A- / $283

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Cuvee Gustave – A blend of brandies, each at least 40 years old. Dense coffee, mixed nuts, and dark chocolate notes. You won’t catch much more than a bare whiff of apple character on the nose, but it comes across on the body — dried, baked, then chocolate-covered and baked into an almond torte. Another intriguing, hoary, and unexpected spirit. 82 proof. A- / $356

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Brut de Fut 1974 – Single-vintage Calvados from 1974, 39 years old.  Stronger apple character here than in some of the other old expressions, with a distinct vegetal note on the nose. Spicy on the palate, with some cinnamon notes, but also a tougher, more rubbery finish. Not as successful as the blends. This is no longer in production. 84 proof. B / $NA

Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Brut de Fut 1967 – Single-vintage Calvados from 1967, 44 years old (bottled 2011). This is a bit of an anomaly. This is a 44-year old 1967, bottled two years ago. It’s no longer on the market, but a 46-year-old version of the same spirit, bottled 2013, is available. Since this version spent 2 years less in cask, it’s not going to be identical to the new bottling, but it should be in the vicinity (the proof level may differ, also). A much hotter spirit, it’s got a more alcoholic nose that mutes some of the fruit from the start. The palate offers heavily woody notes with touches of mint, with a big lush apple in the core (ahem) of the brandy. But that that tough and tannic finish creeps in as the body begins to fade, dulling the fruit. 102 proof. B+ / $650 (current version)

apreval.com

Review: Harvest Spirits Core Vodkas, Liqueurs, and Brandies

harvest spirits farm distilleryHarvest Spirits Farm Distillery, in Valatie, New York, focuses like so many other operations in this region on using local fruits to produce artisinal, farm-to-bottle spirits. The lineup below represents a full farmers’ market of goodies. Thoughts on the bulk of Harvest Spirits’ production follow.

Harvest Spirits Core Vodka – Another vodka distilled from New York apples, these grown in the company’s own orchards and triple distilled (leaving only the “core” of the spirit… get it?). Clean on the nose, with a caramel note. Slightly sweet, somewhat nutty on the body, with a surprisingly grain-focused finish. Apple character is evident on the nose, but only in passing, as the spirit opens up in glass. Intriguing and unique. 80 proof. B+ / $34

Harvest Spirits Rare Pear Brandy – Double distilled from Hudson Valley pears and aged for two years in American oak. Wood and pear — always a tricky combination — don’t come together well on the nose, here. It’s got a huge medicinal quality to it, vaguely fruity but knocked around by astringency and pungency, redolent of mothballs. The body is less palatable, more of that mothball character with a hint of pear on the finish. Just not drinkable. 80 proof. D- / $35 (375ml)

Harvest Spirits Cornelius Applejack – Named after a veteran cider presser from the company farm, this apple brandy is rested in oak barrels for an unstated length of time before bottling. On the nose: Apples? Sure, but less present than you think: This is surprisingly far more whiskey-like than any applejack I’ve had. The body backs that up, with clear vanilla notes, wood, and a smooth cocoa finish. In a world where you’d probably never dream of drinking rustic applejack unless it was the last bottle left on the back bar, Cornelius challenges what this spirit can be and proves it belongs on the top shelf. 80 proof. A- / $50  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Harvest Spirits Core Black Raspberry Vodka – A flavored vodka, distilled from apples and black raspberries (both local), with a small amount of black raspberry juice added back in afterward, giving it an impossible (yet natural) pink color. Incredibly fruity nose, a perfect complement to that incredible hue. Unlike the unflavored vodka, it has distinct apple notes underneath that big berry character. The body is immensely sweet (though there’s no added sugar), loaded with that raspberry — almost blackberry — character. Toss in some triple sec and you have an instant Cosmo, sans cranberry juice. 80 proof. B+ / $NA

Harvest Spirits Peach Jack – Not what you think. Fresh peaches are pitted and soaked in Cornelius Applejack, then the mix is strained and aged a second time in oak barrels. There’s a lot going on here, maybe too much. The peach is overwhelming in an old school peach brandy sort of way, and combined with the apples it all gets a bit cloying on the palate. The finish feels authentic, but rough to sip on even at a relatively modest 60 proof. I can see how some folks would be fans, though. C+ / $33

harvestspirits.com [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]