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

Review: Van Ryn’s Brandy 10, 12, 15, and 20 Years Old

Van Ryns 12 yearI say brandy. You say… Stellenbosch, South Africa?

The Van Ryn’s brand dates back to 1845, when it was founded in Cape Town. It’s been producing brandy from chenin blanc and colombar (same as colombard) grapes in its current facility since 1905.

Today the company produces a surprisingly delicious line of four brandies, all bottled with an age statement. Below we look at the complete Van Ryn’s lineup, from bottom to top. I have not seen these marketed in the U.S., but persistence at your local booze merchant may pay off.

Take note: All of these expressions are bottled at 76 proof.

Van Ryn’s Vintage Brandy 10 Years Old – Pretty, with notes of brown sugar, caramel, golden raisins, and a dusting of baking spice. Classic brandy, with no trace of alcoholic burn (courtesy of the lower proof, I think) but with gentle chocolate notes emerging on the increasingly nutty, spicy finish. Perfectly fine as a simple digestif. B+ / $48

Van Ryn’s Distillers Reserve Brandy 12 Years Old – Aged in small French oak casks, which makes it much more “old world” in style than the other brandies in this family. The nose is more intense, with a slight astringency driven by the wood. Still strong with raisin, well-baked apple, and spice notes, the wood notes grow heavier to the point of overpowering the spirit’s gentle fruit core. With time, the body offers up surprisingly tough notes of leather and furniture polish, with a slightly bitter bite on the finish. B / $61

Van Ryn’s Fine Cask Reserve Brandy 15 Years Old – Immediately more austere, with a distinct, but slight leathery character on the nose along with heavier notes of cloves, chocolate, and dark raisins. On the palate, it surprises with more sweetness than you’d think, again sticking with the chocolate and raisin theme before offering up some notes of cherry, Port wine, and ample vanilla. Well balanced, with enduring baking spice on the finish. A- / $72

Van Ryn’s Collectors Reserve Brandy 20 Years Old – Definitely reaching a more elevated maturity level, with a restrained nose that starts off a bit hot before running to notes of wood, spice, honey, and a touch of chocolate. On the body, things really pick up: dried fruits galore, chocolate milk, tea leaf, coffee, some leather, and a lengthy, honey-sweet finish with echoes of raisin, cherries, and dried plum. You can definitely feel the family resemblance flowing through these brandies (the 12 year old is a bit of an outlier), culminating in an impressively satisfying conclusion here at the 20 year old expression. A- / $97

vanryn.co.za

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: Gonzalez Byass Soberano and Lepanto Spanish Brandy

Lepanto Gran ReservaGonzalez Byass is one of Spain’s leading sherry bodegas — but the company also produces a wide range of spirits, including gin and whiskey. Brandy is the more natural fit, however, as Spain has a long history of producing exotic brandies that don’t much resemble what you’ll find next door in France.

Recently the company sent us two bottlings to sample. Thoughts follow.

Gonzalez Byass Soberano Brandy – Made from Airen grapes and aged, solera-style, in sherry casks. It’s immediately intense on the nose, with notes of roasted — almost burnt — nuts, petrol, green vegetable, and raisins. The body is just as exotic, but more cohesive and user-friendly. On the palate emerge notes of cloves, anise, and lots of coffee. Eventually some smoky, toasted marshmallow — still quite sweet — emerges, leading to a slightly chocolatey, coffee-laden finish. Like a lot of Spanish brandies, all of this doesn’t quite gel the way perhaps it should in the end. Occasionally interesting, but it’s largely a curiosity. 80 proof. C+ / $29

Gonzalez Byass Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva – Made from Palomino grapes, this brandy is aged 15 years in solera in former Fino sherry casks. Lighter on its feet than the Soberano, this brandy offers a nose of more nuts and raisins (trail mix?) but layers on moderate floral elements to add some intrigue. On the palate, initial sweetness drives both fruit and flowers together, with some citrus mingling with a darker hazelnut character. A cappuccino note closes out a comparatively delicate and nicely balanced brandy. 80 proof. B+ / $46

gonzalezbyass.com

Revew: Chateau du Tariquet Armagnacs – Blanche, VS Classique, VSOP, XO, and 1993 Vintage

Tariquet XONo longer using the “Domaine du Tariquet” name (see earlier coverage here under the old identifier), Tariquet now produces both wines and spirits under the “Chateau du Tariquet” moniker.

Recently we received a monster shipment of the Tariquet lineup, from the unaged blanche to a vintage offering distilled 22 years ago.

Away we go!

Chateau du Tariquet Blanche Armagnac – Made from 100% folle blanche grapes, and bottled unaged as an eau de vie. Floral and fruity on the nose, with medicinal overtones. On the palate, it offers notes of honeysuckle, lavender, and the essence of canned peaches and pears. A musty, green character emerges with time, tempering the up-front sweetness with a finish that veers into vegetal character. Think of a white whiskey that’s lighter on its feet and more balanced and you have an idea where this white brandy is headed. 92 proof. B- / $50

Chateau du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac VS Classique – 60% ugni blanc and 40% baco, aged 3 years at least. Reviewed last year here, this entry level brandy offers a nose of raisin and spice, citrus fruit, and sweet vanilla. The body is simple but plenty enjoyable, with nutty notes compounding the above fruitier notes, all mixed with a rustic brush that evokes some ethanol and hospital notes from time to time. I like it somewhat less today than my prior rave would indicate, but for a daily brandy at a solid price, it’s still worth a look. 80 proof. B / $35

Chateau du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac VSOP – Same grape breakdown as the above, but this bottling is at least 7 years old. Here we see the Tariquet house style pushing harder on its deeper, nuttier characteristics. Brown butter, sweet pastries, and stronger vanilla notes give this brandy a more rounded and fully-formed character, with touches of roasted marshmallows, marzipan, and banana bread coming to the fore. There’s lots to enjoy here, with the racy finish giving it an edge (and some fruit) that keeps the experience alive. 80 proof. A- / $46

Chateau du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac XO – Same grapes, at least 15 years in barrel. Again, the level of depth gets pushed further, and deeper, with intense notes of nuts, plus chocolate and coffee. The fruit is darker, restrained, and more brooding, heavy with plum and cassis, and dusted with cloves and ground ginger. Dark chocolate rules on the finish. I usually prefer my older Cognac showing a bit more fruit, but this expression offers its own enjoyable, though different, drinking experience. 80 proof. A- / $70

Chateau du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac 1993 Vintage – Again the same grapes, all harvested in 1993. Bottled in 2010, making this a 17 year old spirit. There’s more heat on the nose, which might make you fear for a heavy, alcoholic bomb. Push through to the body, where you’ll find a lush brandy awaits you. Dense caramel and huge raisin notes start things off, followed by chocolate, lighter coffee, vanilla, and a mix of baking spices. The finish is lengthy and sweet, with orange Dreamsicle notes and a touch of black pepper. In need of a touch more balance, but lovely nonetheless. 90.4 proof. A- / $100

tariquet.com