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: 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