Review: Copper & Kings American Brandy (2017) and Destillare Orange Curacao

Louisville’s Copper & Kings continues to push the craft distilling envelope, this time venturing into the world of triple sec. Today we look at the new product, Destillare, while taking a fresh spin through the company’s flagship brandy.

Copper & Kings American Brandy – This is the same spirit as the old C&K Craft Distilled Brandy, which we last encountered under its old name in 2015. Brandy seems always to be in flux, so let’s take a fresh taste of this spirit. This one still has no formal age info (it’s at least two years old), but it’s aged in approximately 90% Kentucky Bourbon barrels and 10% new American oak. Quite gentle on the nose, there are significant mint notes here, plus raisins, bourbon-soaked vanilla, and an ample wood character. The palate showcases cherries, spice-laden apple pie, and some coconut, leading to a rustic, scorched-sugar finish. Looking at my older notes, I see some departures, but I think the overall profile remains about the same. Basically, I (still) think it’s just fine. 90 proof. B / $33

Copper & Kings Destillare Intense Orange Curacao – The product of a complex process: “Orange peels and spices are macerated for 12 hours in apple brandy low wine. Macerated peels with addition of honey is then double distilled. Additional peels & lavender petals are also vapor distilled at the same time. Vapor basket botanicals (in a bag) are then macerated in the double-distilled apple brandy for 30 minutes for additional citrus extraction, and some color. Distillate is then aged in a Copper & Kings American Brandy Barrel for an additional 3-6 months to add color and polish and soften the spirit. This process harks back to more original, traditional antique curaçaos. Orange Blossom Honey is infused in to the distillate pre-bottling as a back-sweetener as opposed to typical sugar.”

Whew! In the spectrum of orange liqueurs, Destillare lands somewhere between a super-sweet triple sec and a brooding Grand Marnier. Its apple brandy base is immediately evident, offering enticing aromas of apple butter, almonds, and some wet wool alongside sharp citrus — orange, but grapefruit too. The palate is again brandy-forward, with the orange coming along later. There’s a lot more almond here, along with a significant earthiness that you won’t find in a typical triple sec. The finish winds up a bit astringent (from the brandy) and a bit muddy (from the orange), but overall it’s a decent success. I wouldn’t hesitate to experiment with it as part of any modern cocktail. 90 proof. B / $35

copperandkings.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2017

San Francisco’s WhiskyFest seemed as popular as ever this year, kicked off with the stampede to the Pappy Van Winkle booth that always marks the start of the show.

As always, there was plenty to enjoy at this year’s event — both new expressions and classic old friends ready for tasting. Here’s a full rundown on everything I tried.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2017

Scotch

Alexander Murray & Co. The Monumental Blend 18 Years Old / B+ / a touch hot for a blend
Alexander Murray & Co. Braes of Glenlivet Distillery 1994 21 Years Old / B+ / bold, spicy, with lots of oak
Alexander Murray & Co. Strathmill Distillery 1992 24 Years Old / B+ / lots of nougat, more granary note than expected; citrus on the back end
Alexander Murray & Co. Bunnahabhain Distillery 1990 26 Years Old / B+ / earthy and unusual, big wet mineral notes
Alexander Murray & Co. Linkwood Distillery 1997 19 Years Old Cask Strength / B / a bit simple
Alexander Murray & Co. Glenlossie Distillery 1997 19 Years Old Cask Strength / B / old bread notes dominate
Alexander Murray & Co. Bunnahabhain Distillery 1988 28 Years Old Cask Strength / B+ / overpowering sherry, but ample fruit
Bruichladdich Black Art 5 / B / sugar cookie dough, lots of vegetation
Laphroaig 25 Years Old / A+ / drinking absolutely gorgeously today, smoke and sweetness in perfect proportions
Tomatin 1986 / A- / bold cereal and malt notes, challah bread; cherry on the back
The Macallan Classic Cut / A- / the first cask strength Macallan in the U.S. in four years; bold and punchy; honeyed
Compass Box Phenomenology / A- / a mystery blend of five whiskeys; Compass Box will reveal their identity at the end of the year; this is a soft, lightly grainy whiskey with ample honey notes
Compass Box No Name / A- / this one is 75% Ardbeg, but the peat is light and quite floral; a really fun one
Highland Park Fire Edition / B / heavy grain and punchy alcohol today, not my favorite tonight
Highland Park Ice Edition / A / a massive step up, gently minty and cereal-infused; soothing
BenRiach 25 Years Old / A- / lemon is heavy on this light bodied 25
Shackleton Blended Malt (2017) / B+ / the third edition of the Shackleton is unrelated to the bottlings that Richard Paterson pulled together; this is a much cheaper blend in simpler packaging; for what it’s worth, it’s soft and simple inside, too, without much complexity but easy to enjoy
Glenlivet 21 Years Old / A / fully firing, lush with fruit and toast notes
Auchentoshan 1988 Wine Cask Finish / B / 25 years old; 17 of those years in Bordeaux casks; bold and spicy, but the finish is off
Bowmore 25 Years Old / B / lots of potpourri and perfume here, overly floral on the finish

Bourbon

Elijah Craig 23 Years Old / A- / drinking well, lots of wood and baking spice folded together
Stagg Jr. / B / over-wooded, with licorice and cloves; really blown out (don’t know the release number)
W.L. Weller 12 Years Old / A / a classic wheater, with ample butterscotch and toffee; really worthy of its praise
Calumet Farm Single Barrel / B+ / a big undercooked for a single barrel, somewhat thin
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Cherry Wood Smoked Barley 2017 / B+ / corn and barley only; very gentle with the smoke, understated but with a true, fruity complexity; full review in the works
Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition “Al Young” / A / gorgeous, a vanilla powerhouse; a favorite of the night

Other Whiskey

John & Allisa’s 2 Month Aged Tennessee Whiskey / NR / this is a preview from the as-yet-unnamed Tennessee distillery that Sazerac got when it purchased the assets of Popcorn Sutton; it’s always fun to taste near new-make, but today it’s all corn, all the time; try us again in 4-6 years
Westland Distillery Peat Week 2017 / B+ / soft for a “peat bomb,” with minty notes on the back end and some stewed prunes
WhistlePig Boss Hog IV: The Black Prince / B / way overoaked, antiseptic at times; full review of this is coming soon
Bushmills 21 Years Old Single Malt / A- / very heavy maltiness, big body, lots of heather and a lovely depth

Cognac

Hennessy Cognac Master Blender’s Selection No. 2 / A- / 18 months in virgin oak, then 10-20 years in used casks; a wood-forward, domineering blend with tons of dried fruit to fill the palate

Review: Odessa Brandy VSOP

The former Soviet block does such wonders with vodka that I had perhaps overly inflated hopes for Odessa brandy, which is made in the Ukraine and carries a VSOP designation.

The producer offers some details:

Odessa is produced from spirits distilled from white grape varietals including Rkatsiteli, Aligoté and Pinot varieties. The Rkatsiteli is an ancient pale-skinned grape variety from the Republic of Georgia – one of the oldest (if not the oldest) wine-producing regions on earth. Aligoté is a white grape used to make dry white wines in the Burgundy region of France, but it is also cultivated in many Eastern Europe countries.

Odessa is distilled using the traditional French “Charentais” – or double fractional distillation – in copper pot stills.  The heart of the distillate is then carefully selected to be bottled and aged, enhancing the delicate and refined aroma that is the signature of its white grape varietals.  The spirit then ages in oak barrels for at least five years.

The bad news is that none of that really matters. It’s hard to put it delicately, but Odessa is tough to choke down.

The nose is equal parts new wood and old Butterfingers. There’s a playful eastern spice note that gives one hope, but it really can’t hold up against the bolder and less enthralling notes underlying the brandy. The palate is rough and tumble, highly astringent with notes of cleaning fluid atop butterscotch and heavy pours of maple syrup. Those eastern spice notes don’t make an appearance here, leaving you to ponder a finish of melted gummy bears mingling with sawdust.

80 proof.

D+ / $10 / globalspiritsus.com

Review: Merlet Cognac XO and Soeurs Cerises Cherry Brandy Liqueur

Two new releases from Merlet, which makes both cognac and a selection of liqueurs. Today we look at the new XO cognac release, and a brandy-based liqueur infused with cherries. Let’s dive in!

Merlet Cognac XO – This XO is a multi-cru blend with components at least six years old (and likely much more). A bit thin on the nose, without the massive depth of flavor one expects from an XO cognac. What is there is studded with chocolate, some cola, and a modest hit of dried fruit. The palate is equally delicate, almost floral with backing notes of cocoa powder, vanilla cookies, and spice, layered atop that gentle, lightly raisiny core. It’s altogether one of the quietest XO cognacs I’ve encountered, and while that’s not a put-down, it is missing the bold body that I’d normally like to see from this style. 80 proof. B / $125

Merlet Soeurs Cerises Cherry Brandy Liqueur – This spirit is a liqueur made from multiple types of cherries (primarily Morello) macerated in neutral alcohol, then blended with “a touch” of Merlet’s cognac. Beautiful black cherry — almost blueberry at times — fills the aroma of this heavily fragrant and fruity concoction, which is ultra-sweet to the point of pushiness on the palate. There’s no real sense of the cognac here — perhaps a little vanilla and a touch of raisin if you go searching for it — but that’s no big loss. The cherries are the star of the show, showcased here with a touch of violets on the back end, so keep a bottle on hand for when a Singapore Sling or a Blood and Sand is in order. 48 proof. B+ / $25

distillerie-merlet.com

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

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