These 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
We almost missed this release a few months back, but finally turned up a bottle in our to-review queue. Jim Beam Apple probably doesn’t need a whole lot of introduction: It’s Jim Beam whiskey flavored with apple liqueur (specifically green apple liqueur) — though the fine print on the bottle reads the other way around. Technically this is apple liqueur flavored with Jim Beam bourbon.
Either way, it’s essentially a heavily flavored whiskey, and Beam has not been shy with the apple flavor. Intense, fruity, and extremely sweet, it’s tart apple pushed to the breaking point — particularly on the uncomplicated nose. Subtle whiskey notes — vanilla and a touch of baking spice — emerge over time, but those are really understated. By and large this could sub in for Apple Pucker or any other super-sweet apple liqueur, provided you don’t mind sipping on a brown appletini.
C / $15 / jimbeam.com
Yes Virginia, they make wine in Virginia. Also New Jersey, where you’ll find Old York Cellars.
These wines make for an interesting introduction to the styles you’ll find on the other coast. We tasted along with the winery during a web-based event. Thoughts follow.
NV Old York Cellars Merlot – Nonvintage merlot, a distant cousin to anything you’d find coming from California. The curious nose seems vaguely eastern (or at least eastern European), with intense herbs, spearmint, and incense notes. The palate is fruitier than you’d expect, but very dry, its fresh fruits tempered with notes of bacon and barbecue. A bit of mothball comes along on the finish. Altogether, I can best describe it only as a very strange little wine. C / $18
2013 Old York Cellars Sweet Riesling – Some antiseptic notes kick things off in this semi-sweet riesling bottling, which eventually evokes some layers of orange blossoms and watery honey. The body is far less sweet than you might expect, coming across as herbal and sometimes vegetal. The very thin body cuts into what fruit is there — though the honey and apple notes at the core give it at least something to hold on to for a time. C / $17
Is mead going to be a thing again, for the first time since the 1200s?
Maine’s HoneyMaker is the latest company making a go at making honey-based wine, and this Dry Mead is just one of nearly a dozen offerings. “Dry” meaning exactly that: almost no residual sugar makes this a much different experience than you’re likely familiar with if you’ve tried mead in the past.
That said, it’s still not exactly to my tastes. The nose has vague honey notes that play over a damply earthy, mushroomy core. The body has just the lightest touch of honey sweetness, though it pairs nicely with some florals on the nose that emerge as the mead warms up. So far so good, but the finish leans strongly toward notes of spinach and canned green beans, which aren’t the most engaging tastes to have cling to the palate.
C / $15 / mainemeadworks.com
Abhainn Dearg (pronounded: Aveen Jarræk) is located on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. It’s the only distillery located out here, and the malt whisky it produces is young and pungent. A brand new operation, the first whisky (new make) was released in 2010. Reviewed here is a limited release of a 2011 single malt, bottled after just three years and now quite difficult to find (and quite expensive).
The nose features moderate smoke, heavily charred grains, and some hospital character — all hallmarks of young malt. On the palate, there’s plenty of youth, with ample astringency, Band-Aid notes, simplistic smoke elements (no underlying sweetness or unusual overtones), and a short finish that resonates with notes of furniture oil. On the whole, there’s just not much going on here yet — not enough to warrant much more than a passing glance, anyway.
As an example of a work in progress, it’s a mildly interesting experiment, but on its own it doesn’t have the interest or excitement, say, of an early Kilchoman release.
C / $NA / abhainndearg.co.uk
“It’s time to hack the cocktail!” Now that’s a slogan I can get behind.
Unfortunately, Skyy Barcraft — essentially lower-proof flavored vodka designed to be mixed with your favorite mixer (soda, ginger, what-have-you) and consumed on the rocks — isn’t really hacking anything. Unless you consider water and those inimitable “natural flavors” to be a hack. Meh.
Each of the three expressions is 60 proof. All were tasted with a splash of club soda. (Skyy suggests a 2:1 mix of soda to spirit, which I don’t recommend at all.)
Skyy Barcraft White Sangria – Fresh, with lots of peach overtones, followed by citrus. Doesn’t exactly scream sangria — as there’s no wine element on the palate to speak of — but it does come off as a capable rendition of a lower-cal peach vodka. B
Skyy Barcraft Margarita Lime – Makes for an ugly margarita. Starts off with piney, evergreen notes, then segues into hospital overtones. The finish is drying and medicinal, not at all like any margarita I’ve ever had (possibly because you make a margarita with tequila, not vodka). D-
Skyy Barcraft Watermelon Fresca – About what you’re expecting — Jolly Ranchers dipped into vodka for a slightly astringent, slightly candied complexion. Some bitter notes emerge on the finish, likely driven by the vodka. Relatively harmless, but unless you’ve got a serious thing for watermelon, it’s probably not going to be your go-to beverage. C
each $x / campariamerica.com
Two more white spirits from Minnesota-based Far North Spirits, both sporting the company’s exotic Nordic naming scheme. Thoughts follow.
Far North Spirits Syva Vodka – Distilled from rye. Immediately odd nose, with heavy, malty grain notes, some hospital notes, and a nutty, almond character that seems to come out of nowhere. On the palate, the hospital character wins out, but the body has a kind of fruit-driven sweetness to it that mutes what might otherwise offer a fresh and bracing character. Instead, Syva ultimately comes across more like a confused white whiskey instead of a clean and fresh vodka. 90 proof. C / $30
Far North Spirits Gustaf Navy Strength Gin – This is not merely a stronger version of Solveig, but is a different style of gin, particularly a higher-proof London Dry style gin. Distilled from rye, botanicals include Meyer lemon peel, grains of paradise, fennel, cucumber, and meadowsweet (among others). It’s more newfangled than the London Dry moniker would indicate, offering a nose that runs to citrus, some marshmallow, and fennel evident. The body has very little juniper to speak of, including some initial earthy notes that are backed up by sweet citrus, wintry florals, and a lingering perfume character. The finish is long and aromatic, again not at all London Dry in style but rather far more western. 114 proof. B / $40