In all of my Brandy Fridays, I have never reviewed an apple brandy. Apple brandy is probably the most popular brandy variety after grape. The French apple brandy Calvados has long been well known and loved, but of late, American apple brandies have been making a comeback.
Apple brandy, and more specifically applejack, was one of America's original spirits. You may remember the legendary Johnny Appleseed whose apple planting exploits are a staple of American elementary school curricula. Let's just say that there is a good reason that Johnny was so beloved, and it's not because people were excited to have more apple pie.
Germain-Robin, the Ukiah based microdistiller known for their fantastic California brandies (see reviews here and here) now has an apple brandy. It's made from a variety of apples from the nearby Anderson Valley and rounded out with some pear. The fruit is crushed into cider and then distilled (it isn't frozen first as with applejack).
Germain-Robin apple brandy sells for around $65, but there is also an XO that goes for $95, and they are working on a series of heirloom apple brandies using more obscure varieties of apple. According to Germain-Robin's production director Joe Thomas Corley, the trick of apple brandy is balancing the fresh apple flavor with those good, aged brandy characteristics. The standard apple brandy includes brandies ranging from five to seven years old with some older spirit added to give it some age. Corley says that the older XO includes some much older brandies but, consequently, less of that fresh apple flavor. I tried the standard apple brandy.
Germain-Robin Apple Brandy, 40% alcohol ($65).
The nose on this is of Cognac and fresh apples. Talk about fresh apple; close you eyes and see the orchard. On tasting it, I find it surprisingly dry. The first taste is a burst of apple flavor but without the sweetness you might expect. Instead it is soft and dry and has many commonalities with Germain-Robin's Cognac style brandies, but with a hint of apple. The apple, itself, which is big in the nose and first taste, recedes some and takes its place with some vanilla and caramel notes and, yes, some sweetness at the end. The finish is sweet and delicate with only the slightest hint of apple.
I've only had a few Calvados, so I'm no expert on apple brandy, but this certainly ranks among the best I've had. I'll be excited to try more of our American apple brandies both from Germain-Robin and elsewhere.