Review: Copper & Kings Apple Brandies – Deep Hearts Cut and Floodwall

Copper & Kings, purveyors of some of the most interesting grape brandies made in America, has spread out to that other classic brandy-making fruit, the apple. The company recently launched two apple-based bottlings, an unaged expression (unusual ’round these parts) and a more traditional barrel-aged bottling called Floodwall.

Thoughts follow.

Copper & Kings Un-Aged Apple Brandy Deep Hearts Cut – Pure copper pot-distilled unaged apple brandy, with no additives, natural or otherwise. Rustic on the nose, as expected, with hospital notes, some astringency, ample florals, and just a hint of apple that pushes through all of that. On the palate you’ll find the apples make more of an impact, mingling with notes of peppermint and, surprisingly, caramel, a flavor normally associated with barrel aging. It’s a simple little white brandy, but it does showcase in a surprisingly pure way the essence of apple. 90 proof. B+ / $36

Copper & Kings Floodwall Apple Brandy – This is a blend of copper pot-distilled apple brandy aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels and 250-liter Oloroso sherry casks, at least four years old. The nose is typical of a younger apple brandy, somewhat pungent (but less rustic than the Deep Hearts Cut) with intense notes of cloves and nutmeg, and a smattering of Indian spices. The fruit is more evident on the tongue, here showing as well-caramelized apples, pie spices, dark chocolate, and molasses — though a somewhat vegetal note that builds on the finish is a bit of a distraction. Nice effort, though. 100 proof. B+ / $36

copperandkings.com

How Is Brandy Made?

“Claret is liquor for boys; port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy.” – Samuel Johnson

So you understand what different kinds of whiskey are called and why, and you can name the aromatics used in gin without a second thought, but brandy is still a spirit that eludes you. You know that there are brandy-based cocktails, like a sidecar, but if asked you couldn’t tell someone what brandy exactly is, let alone what it’s made out of. If you’re a brandy novice, please follow along, as we drink deep of this lesser-understood spirit, and attempt to suss out just what makes brandy, brandy.

To start: What exactly is brandy? The term can be traced back to our old friends the Dutch, who started making brandewijn, or “burnt wine,” in the 12th century. Distillation, instead of fermentation, had just began to take off as an industry, and so the Dutch began making liquor distilled from wine. Like India Pale Ale, this wine liquor was originally created to better survive the Dutch merchant ship voyages to the many colonies under the country’s control, and it was only with time that liquor began to be appreciated on its own merits. So as we can see, wine or grape brandy was the first form that brandy took. The most famous brandies in the world, like Cognac and Armagnac, are distilled from wine, and there are many traditionalists that would scoff at the notion of brandy being made from anything else. Napoleon was a famous advocate for Cognac; the legend goes that in 1811, the then-Emperor Napoleon I visited the Courvoisier warehouses and was so taken with the product that he decreed French troops would receive a measure of Cognac in their field rations. Another grape brandy you might recognize is pisco, a South American product made in Peru and Chile that has carved out its own little niche of late in the world of cocktails. But most brandy cocktails are made with grape brandy: famous examples include the Sidecar and the Brandy Alexander, and adding a half ounce of Cognac to a glass of Champagne is a painless and delicious,= simple drink.

Another, much lesser-known, style of brandy is pomace brandy. Unlike grape brandy, which is made from wine, pomace brandy is perhaps best described as brandy made from every part of the grape except for the fruit itself. Pomace brandy is typically made with the grape’s skins and seeds, and sometimes they even include the stems. As you can imagine, pomace brandy is a very different beast than grape brandy is, having a more bitter, vegetal, and funky quality that is probably a more acquired taste. You won’t see any pomace brandies being advertised as such; the most famous brandy in this style is undoubtedly Italian grappa, and since there’s a chance you’ve never even heard of grappa, it shows how much smaller of a market there is for pomace brandy.

Outside of grape and pomace brandies, there is the general, broad term fruit brandy to denotate brandy made with pretty much anything else. Fruit brandies are wide-ranging and come in many different styles all over the world: some of the most famous are French apple brandy called Calvados, German cherry brandy called Kirschwasser, American apple brandy called Applejack, and Slivovitz, a plum brandy made in many Eastern European countries like Croatia and Slovakia. This is only a small sampling of the fruit brandies of the world, of course, and you can make brandy out of pretty much anything that ferments, including apricots, raspberries, pears, even unexpected items like walnuts or juniper berries.

As you can see, brandy has a long and storied history, and though these days it’s not as popular as, say, bourbon or rum, it’s an incredibly versatile liquor that can find a place in almost any situation. Let us know in the comments how you like your brandy! Grape or fruit? Are you a grappa aficionado? What brandy cocktails do you prefer?

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

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