Review: Boardroom C Carrot Spirit

Ready for something completely different?

Boardroom Spirits, which makes a straight vodka and gin that we’ve reviewed previously, is out with a new white spirit made from 100%, well, carrots. The carrots (12.5 pounds per half-bottle) are cleaned, fermented, and distilled. Nothing is added to the finished distillate, effectively making this a kind of eau de vie (unaged brandy) — but made from a vegetable instead of a fruit.

This is actually the second release in the company’s “Periodic Table of Spirits” collection. B — distilled from beets — was a release we missed.

Let’s give carrot brandy a try!

Well, the good news is that it doesn’t smell or taste like carrots, not in any identifiable way, anyway. The nose is actually quite grain-heavy, similar to a corn-based white whiskey, funky with mushroomy earth, burlap, and some camphor. Water helps (a lot) to bring out sweetness on the palate, showing off some agave-like notes alongside a vaguely vegetal character that is the closest that C gets to tasting like carrots. Really, think parsnips, raw alcohol, and hints of petrol, leading to a finish that’s cleaner and, in its own way, more refreshing than you might expect.

That said, it mainly plays for novelty value.

92 proof.

C+ / $30 (375ml) / boardroomspirits.com

Review: Pierre Ferrand Reserve Double Cask Cognac

The latest from Pierre Ferrand is Reserve Double Cask — not to be confused with Pierre Ferrand Reserve Cognac — which is finished for a year in Banyuls wine casks, the fortified wine that is France’s answer to Port. Some additional detail from the distillery:

Long ago, Cognac producers used a variety of casks to create a fascinating range of taste and complexity. Crafted in the innovative but methodical manner that is Alexandre Gabriel’s hallmark, Pierre Ferrand Reserve Double Cask single-handedly revives one of the vanished traditions of Cognac: maturing the spirit in different types of casks to enrich flavor and deepen complexity. With this lost tradition in mind, Pierre Ferrand Reserve Double Cask is made of Cognac that has been matured 7 to 10 years in small oak barrels kept in seven different aging cellars (some dry, some humid), which is then blended with 20 year old Cognac. Once blended, the Cognac is placed in rare Banyuls casks and aged in one of Pierre Ferrand’s humid cellars for one year.

The brandy is extremely fruit forward on the nose, with some toasty wood notes alongside classic brandy notes of raisin and incense. The palate continues the theme, with an attack of fresh fruit, apricots, lemon, and green apple. Soon after the initial fruit rush comes the spicier and more savory notes — dusky wood, dried fig, cloves, and some licorice. The finish is heavy on baked apple notes, though there’s a bit of a camphor character that bubbles up here too. While none of this is particularly reminiscent of Banyuls (or any other sweet red dessert wine), it is nonetheless and engaging and approachable spirit that’s definitely worth exploring.

84.6 proof.

B+ / $80 / maisonferrand.com

Review: D’usse Cognac XO

I didn’t find much to love in D’usse’s inaugural Cognac, a VSOP, but this upscale update, an XO, has a whole lot more to recommend. All the eaux de vie in the finished product are at least 10 years old — and the black bottle is arguably even cooler than the one used for the VSOP.

The nose is incredibly sultry and aromatic, offering aromas of dark wood, cinnamon sticks, cloves, currants, and a sharp coffee note that lingers for awhile. Fruit is dialed back in favor of duskier notes, spices and toasty wood being the primary elements. On the palate, the coffee and cinnamon meld into a mocha character, quite chocolate-heavy with overtones of toffee, coconut, and a lingering note of burnt sugar and torched banana.

Well-rounded and full of character, this is a Cognac that plays down fruit in favor of more dessert-focused notes — emphasizing the more exotic elements of brandy instead of the lithe sweetness this spirit can often exhibit. It’s a change of pace from what most Cognac fans will be familiar with, but it’s definitively worth exploring.

80 proof.

A- / $230 / dusse.com

Review: Cooper River Petty’s Island Rums and Cooper & Vine Brandy

Cooper River Distillers is the first legal distillery in Camden, NJ — ever! This outfit produced its first product, a rum, in 2014, and since then it’s been adding more rum expressions, brandy, and whiskey. We received a variety pack from the company — three rums and its brandy — and put them all to the test in the writeups that follow.

Cooper River Petty’s Island Rum – Pot-distilled white rum (unaged) made from a “custom blend of molasses.” Funky and pungent, but with a distinct sweetness underneath the initial notes of leather and burlap. It’s not the usual tropical fruit character but rather a floral-driven note that evokes notes of hibiscus, grapefruit peel, and cinnamon-scented tapioca. Lots going on, with a somewhat muddy direction. 90 proof. B- / $25

Cooper River Petty’s Island Driftwood Dream Spiced Rum – Take the Petty’s Island white rum base, “then we age it on toasted applewood for a month, add all-natural cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, ginger, coffee, and allspice before finally sweetening Driftwood Dream just a tad with the same molasses we use as the base for all of our rums.” Incredibly dark color, and the molasses added comes through immediately. This, and some ginger notes, overwhelm all the other flavors, though a hint of coffee on the finish is both fun and quite unique spiced rum. Gingersnap in a bottle — that’s the gist — with a boozy edge. The more I sip on this, the more I fall in love with it. 80 proof. A / $32

Cooper River Petty’s Island Rum Rye Oak Reserve – Here’s the white rum aged for 13 to 16 months in charred, white oak barrels previously used for Cooper’s rye whiskey. Though amber in color, it’s still quite brash. Butterscotch notes hit the nose, along with hints of coconut and plenty of ethanol heat. On the palate, the raw alcohol notes tend to dominate, incompletely covering up the funky underpinnings of the white rum, thick with raw forest floor notes, pungent tobacco, and just a hint of spice — the only real indication of the rye whiskey barrel. 90 proof. B- / $39

Cooper River Cooper & Vine Garden State Brandy – Lastly, this is a brandy (made from New Jersey-sourced pinot grigio wine) that is aged for about 18 months in 15 gallon barrels — some new oak, some previously used for Cooper’s rum and rye — all blended together in the end. This is a rustic, very young brandy that is loaded with simplistic granary notes, raw alcohol, and blunt fruit notes, the finish offering heat and plenty of vegetal overtones. Nothing much to see at this young age. 85 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. C- / $37

cooperriverdistillers.com

Review: Copper & Kings Blue Sky Mining Brandy and Zmaj Absinthe

Two new releases, both limited editions, from Louisville-based craft distillers Copper & Kings — a muscat-based brandy and (another) absinthe. Let’s dig in!

Copper & Kings Blue Sky Mining Brandy – This is a limited edition “7-year-old pure muscat American brandy aged 30 months in a Kentucky hogshead barrel.” The first four and half years are spent in American oak wine barrels before moving to the hogshead. The brandy is bottled without any additional flavoring or color. The aromatic muscat is unmistakable on the nose, racy, floral, and a bit astringent. The palate is funky and, again, heavy on the muscat, though the sweetness is stripped down below where I’d like to see in a brandy, replacing that with notes of intense perfume, charred wood, and honeysuckle. There’s some charm here, but the muscat simply overpowers everything and dominates the experience from start to finish. That may be fine if muscat’s your jam, but it’s a bit too monochromatic for me. 600 half-bottles produced. 100 proof. B- / $40 (375ml)

Copper & Kings Zmaj Absinthe Superior – (Pronounced “zm-eye.”) This limited release absinthe starts from a double-distilled muscat brandy base, and it’s then matured 18 months in Serbian juniper wood barrels. The (unadulterated) nose has a strong fennel base, with some lemon underpinnings and hints of woodsy clove. The palate adds clear notes of ginger, stronger lemon, and a classic anise/fennel mix that lingers on the tongue. Water’s a must here. Sugar isn’t nearly as essential — it’s fairly sweet on its own — unless you want a solid (if rather yellow) louche; even then, I’d use a very light hand with it. What doesn’t much register in Zmaj is the muscat base, though a fleeting sense of rose petals on the finish may remind you from whence it all came. 130 proof. B / $60

copperandkings.com

Review: Martell VS Single Distillery Cognac

Ready for something new in the world of Cognac? Check out this new idea from the House of Martell. Allow them to explain:

The iconic House of Martell unveils Martell VS Single Distillery, a cognac from a sole distillation source, offering an exclusive new profile to the Martell family of expressions.  This innovative blend unites eaux-de-vie from a single distillery, drawing the same sensorial profile and flavor characteristics for a richer expression of the Martell style. The eaux-de-vie come together in perfect harmony, resulting in an even smoother cognac with an elegant, fruitier profile.

So, in a nutshell, it brings the single malt whisky idea to France, with all the brandy in the bottle coming from a single distillery.

I feel like this experiment would be more intriguing if the brandy was allowed to age a bit more. The nose initially shows the hallmarks of youthful brandy — too much alcohol, some granary character, a little too much wood. The palate finds things softening up, with ample fruit — apple and some citrus — showing itself, along with some traditional raisin and gingerbread notes. That said, it still feels rustic, its various flavors never coming together quite perfectly.

That said, there’s still a lot to like here, and as it opens up with air time, its charms start to deepen, revealing some interesting pineapple and gingerbread notes — but only after awhile. It’s a brandy that merits taking the time required to show itself more clearly, though it never approaches the complexity you’ll find in an older Cognac.

Impatient? Give it a try in a brandy julep.

B+ / $32 / martell.com

Life in a Post-Bourbon World: Predicting the Next Big Thing in Booze

It’s no secret that bourbon has been the It Spirit for a good few years now. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is how pretty much no one saw it coming. One needs to only look at the vast amount of supply shortages today to see just how unprepared most of the market was. Here’s a fun exercise. Go into your local store and ask them if they have any Weller, Eagle Rare, or even Very Old Barton. Their thousand yard stare, coupled with the nervous tick in the corner of their eye will tell you all you need to know about the current state of things.

Reports and predictions of the “bourbon bubble” bursting have so far been premature. It seems that—at least for now—for every one person who tires of the hunt, there are ten more ready and willing to take their place in line for the latest limited release. I’m not here to predict when that will end, because it’s already proven to be a pointless exercise. However, what can be a fun prediction is guessing what will follow bourbon as the almighty “next big thing.” So let’s take a look at a few spirits, and the reasons why they will — or won’t — usurp bourbon’s place at the top of the hype pedestal. For each of these four, we’re also including the all-important “Van Winkle Factor” — wherein we ask whether there is a singular product which will drive said hype train and become the bane of existence to liquor store employees everywhere.

1. Rum

For years now, rum has been talked about over and over again as being the next big spirit.

Why it Will Succeed:

Rum has a lot of crossover appeal to the bourbon fan. Many rums share a lot of the same flavor components with bourbon — vanilla, caramel, and good old-fashioned barrel spice — though with a slightly softer and sweeter side rum has the potential to appeal to an even broader audience. I have myself, and have heard many others refer to it as “summertime whiskey,” a product which delivers a lot of the same flavor notes but without the warming heat of whiskey. It’s easy and delicious. Plus, the rebirth of tiki drinks and island culture has pushed the importance of specific rum types into the minds of consumers everywhere.

Why it Won’t:

First and foremost, rum has an issue with age statements. Countries like Jamaica and Barbados require an age statement consistent with what most U.S. consumers understand, the age on the label is representative of the youngest spirit in the blend. But rum comes from so many places beyond those two countries, and in those countries age stating is much more vague. Two brands that represent this better than most are Ron Zacapa and Zaya. Ron Zacapa uses a solera aging system which puts a vague average of “23” on their entry level bottle. Zaya recently changed their bottles from saying “12 years” to now indicating that it is now a blend of 12 aged rums. It’s a clever switch of phrasing that makes marketing departments proud but makes many consumers roll their eyes. Also, and here is the obvious, rum has been talked about as the next big thing for quite a while and hasn’t really taken off. Maybe rum’s popularity as it is now is just where it is going to be. Maybe we have already reached peak rum and we are just fooling ourselves that it is going to keep growing.

Van Winkle Effect:

Does rum have that one big bottle? The one which people will wait in line for, the one which will inspire countless Instagram posts with jealous responses? It just might. The Caroni Rum Distillery has been closed or 15 years. Bottles still pop up from time to time from independent bottlers. This may be more of a correlation to a bottle of A.H. Hirsch than a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle, but bottles of this rum seem to pop up and disappear quite quickly.

2. Mezcal

Why It Will Succeed:

Tequila’s funky, and smoky, compadre has been king of the mixology world for a couple years now. Not since the concept of “pre-Prohibition” have we seen such an obvious inspiration for so many new bars. In one Chicago neighborhood alone, I can count at least three new mezcal specific bars that have opened up in the last year. Yet it persists. A few weeks ago my social media feed was full of one friend’s picture of a mezcal flight, another drinking a mezcal old fashioned, and another commenting on the addition of a new bar a block from their apartment. All of this is without mentioning that mezcal has sotol and raicilla, new Mexican spirits, to bolster its rise in the same way that rye whiskey did for bourbon.

Why It Won’t:

The barrier of entry to mezcal knowledge is quite difficult for even the more advanced drinker. The variation on types of plants mezcal can use and the 8 different regions where they can all come from can create a dizzying combination of recipes and styles. While this is a wonderful thing for adventurous drinkers, it limits the amount of direct bottle to bottle comparison and debate over what is the best, which was a key component to the rise of bourbon. While mezcal may be the current king of the cocktail world, that hasn’t quite yet translated over into bottle sales.

Van Winkle Effect:

Del Maguey’s Single Village series seems to be the obvious choice here. They were among the first to push mezcal as something more than just the thing with the worm or scorpion in the bottom of the bottle. Also they fully embraced the extra funk that is the pechuga style of hanging a chicken carcass in the still for some extra gameyness. To be honest though, mezcal is the current and future king of the cocktail world, but it will have a hard time transitioning into actual off-premise consumer sales.

3. Armagnac

Why It Will Succeed:

There is an old adage which states that all old punk singers become country singers. In the same way, all old whiskey drinkers become Armagnac drinkers. It turns out that while Cognac has been all the rage, it has had a southern neighbor which has offered more value for the money all along. While both Cognac and Armagnac are grape brandies, the big difference lies in the use of the Baco and Colombard grapes. Baco is a big deal in terms of difference, it is a grape variety which can only be grown in the Armagnac region and can only be used for distillation. Also, Cognac opts for double distillation while Armagnac goes for single. Just think of Armagnac as Cognac’s rustic cousin. Only in this regard “rustic” means that bottles can be packed with complex and wonderful flavor.

Why It Won’t:

It certainly doesn’t help that the average consumer still has a hard time understanding what Armagnac is. Couple that with the fact that the TV. show Chopped recently referred to Armagnac as an “apple brandy” and you get the idea of the hill this delightful spirit needs to climb.

Van Winkle Effect:

There are stores you can walk into where you can buy a Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac which was distilled in 1865. Those types of stocks are extremely rare and should instantly spark the attention of any collector. Outside of that you have producers like Chateau de Laubade and Darroze, which have lots to offer that will happily turn heads.

4. Irish Whiskey

Why It Will Succeed:

Irish whiskey has been one of the fastest growing spirit categories in the world over the last few years — mainly because its sales started off so small. What has been a predominantly homogenized category is currently exploding with new offerings. Look no further than the style of single pot still Irish whiskey for a style of whiskey that is unique to the country that started it all. As well, there is no shortage of Jameson drinkers that are looking for something more premium and more unique. For ages all of your Irish whiskey came from one of four distilleries: Midleton, Cooley, Bushmills, and Kilbeggan. Since 2014 there are now 32 running and proposed distilleries in Ireland.

Why It Won’t:

Irish whiskey has a slight image problem. There are many consumers who have for very long looked at it as predominantly for shots. To many whiskey drinkers it can be seen as plain and boring. The heavy influx of new distilleries and producers putting out new and varying products is already starting to combat these attitudes, but it remains more a question of when change will take place.

Van Winkle Effect:

One need look no further than the relative disappearance from shelves of the Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve to see how stocks of older Irish whiskey are becoming squeezed. Releases like the Redbreast Lustau Edition and the Midleton Barry Crocket Edition are helping keep the hype chatter up.

In Conclusion:

Here is the thing with bourbon. Seemingly every major bourbon distillery is expanding in some form, be it actual distilling space or simply just more warehouses to store more barrels. According to some reports, companies like Beam-Suntory are filling almost 500,000 barrels a year, which to us means only one important thing, the big producers don’t see an immediate end in Bourbon’s expansion. In fact they are looking forward to numbers that only continue to grow. And as younger distilleries across the country are able to start bringing new and more mature products to the market the demand will be there.

So yes, maybe it is poor form to say that the next big thing after bourbon is bourbon. But I’m OK with that. Because if it’s something else it will probably be mezcal, or rum, or Armagnac, or Irish whiskey.

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