Monday, October 31, 2016

Brandy Law: What is Straight Applejack?

During my Apple Brandy week tasting, I noticed that Laird's and Arkansas Black make something called "straight applejack" or "straight apple brandy," but what is that? To find out, it's time to open up the TTB Regulations, the federal regulations that govern distilled spirits.

Applejack is simply another name for apple brandy. 27 CFR § 5.22(d)(1). There is also something called "blended applejack" which, much like blended whiskey, is a blend of at least 20% apple brandy with grain neutral spirits. 27 CFR § 5.22(e).

It appears that, similar to the way it is used in whiskey, the applejack producers are using "straight applejack" to mean "not blended." Here's the curious thing though, as used in the regulations, the term "straight" only applies to whiskey. There is no definition of "straight brandy" or straight anything other than whiskey for that matter.

With regard to whiskey, "straight" means that it must be at least two years old and is prohibited from having any added coloring or flavoring. There is no similar requirement for straight brandy, so technically, straight brandy could be younger than two years old and have additives (just as other brandy can).

There are also some bottled in bond apple brandies on the market. Unlike the term "straight," which is only defined with regard to whiskey, the term "bottled in bond" applies to any distilled spirit, so you know that any bottled in bond brandy has no additives, is at least four years old and was distilled in a single season by a single distiller.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Loch Lomond & Glen Scotia

Loch Lomond Group is launching a new portfolio for the United States. The company owns two distilleries: Glen Scotia in Campletown and Loch Lomond in the Highlands as well as the stocks of  the former Littlemill Distillery. The Loch Lomond Distillery is the only Scotch distillery that makes both malt and grain whiskeys, which they sell under the Loch Lomond and Inchmurrin labels.

The folks at Loch Lomond Group sent me three whiskeys to try.

Loch Lomond Blended Scotch Reserve, 40% ($18)

The nose has a light malt followed by vanilla and grassy notes. On the palate it's light and malty with some grainy notes. The finish is malty on the nose with citrus on the palate. This stuff isn't complex but there aren't any off notes. It's a solid workhorse blend with a light character. For $18 you could do a lot worse. 

Loch Lomond Single Grain, 46% abv ($25)

The nose has intense notes of artificially flavored fruit candy or fruit stripe gum. The palate is very sweet with some of those same fruit notes. Mid-way through it develops a bitterness which grows into a fairly bitter finish. This stuff is pretty terrible.

Glen Scotia Double Cask, 46% abv ($54)

The Glen Scotia Double Cask is a vatting of American Oak and Pedro Ximenez casks. True to form, the nose has a strong, sweet sherry note. On the palate it's got a nice, sweet sherry with malt in the background which winds into a sweet sherry finish. It's Pedro Ximenez through and through, sherry with a sweet tooth. Again, not complex but an easy drinker.

Hey, two out of three ain't bad.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Tasting Notes Through the Years

I read a lot of whiskey reviews and spend a lot of time evaluating whiskey with friends, and one thing I've noticed is that as a whiskey drinker gains experience, the nature of their tasting notes changes.  Here's a general example of how whiskey tasting notes tend to change through the years.

Novice - One Year Experience
This is good whiskey.

Intermediate - Four Years Experience
Nose: Caramel and butterscotch.
Palate: Soft caramel notes, molasses, maple syrup.
Finish: A nice caramel note with some mint and spices.

Advanced - Eight Years Experience
The nose opens with Gaviota strawberries, green figs and a light alfalfa note in the background, after which it picks up soft tobacco, leather and Meyer lemon rind with the heft of a midnight fog that lifts gently off the ocean surface in a coastal town in Northern Maine. The palate shows seaweed, sponge cake, candied oranges and preserved lemons, with water bringing out allspice, Malaysian vanilla and spearmint. The mouthfeel is velvety with an oily residue akin to that of Ardbeg circa 1972-78. The finish is medium-long with traces of gooseberry, Blenheim apricot pit and anise.

Veteran - Over Ten Years Experience
This is good whiskey.

Friday, October 21, 2016

New Whiskey Labels

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Edrington cleared a label for Macallan 1991, a cask strength, 25 year old whiskey aged in a sherry seasoned American oak cask.

Bacardi cleared a label for Craigellachie Double Cask, a 21 year old cask strength whiskey distilled in 1994.

Many whiskeys are blended from different types of casks, but why do that when you could just make one cask using many woods?  Amrut Spectrum is a single malt finished in a custom made cask made from American oak, French oak, Spanish oak, Oloroso sherry cask, PX sherry cask

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Constellation Brands' Yippee Ki-Yay

There was big news a few weeks ago when Constellation Brand purchased High West. Constellation Brand formerly owned the Barton Distillery, but since selling it in 2009, they haven't had any American whiskey in their profile. High West, located in Utah, has been one of the break-out companies of the new whiskey boom. While they do distill, most of what they have released, and the whiskeys that have made a name for them, are blends of sourced whiskey, some of which, ironically, was distilled at the Barton Distillery.

With all this news, I thought it would be a good time to try one of High West's more recent offerings. Yippee Ki-Yay is High West's Double Rye (a mix of Barton and MGP rye) finished in Syrah and Vermouth casks.

High West Yippee Ki-Yay, 46% abv

The nose has a strong rye profile with lots of spice. On the palate it starts with rye but then the wine comes in and gives a really nice balance to the rye. Soon after that, boom, it's all vermouth.  Those botanical vermouth notes are big and stay with you through the finish, which pretty much tastes like you've been drinking a Manhattan.

This is a fun rye, but the vermouth notes are a bit overwhelming. I would have liked to taste the portion that was only finished in Syrah casks.

Thanks to Florin for the sample.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Parker's Heritage Collection 2016

This is the tenth year of Heaven Hill's Parker's Heritage Collection (If you don't know the history, I recently recapped all of the Parker's Heritage Collection bottlings). This year's bottling is a 24 year old bottled in bond bourbon distilled at the pre-fire Heaven Hill distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky.

There are two releases of this year's bourbon: one was distilled in the Fall 1990 and the other in the Spring of 1991. I will be tasting the Fall 1990 release.

Parker's Heritage Collection 2016, 24 years old, 50% abv ($250)

The nose starts with light caramel and honey, Evan Williams like, and then develops nice oaky/leather notes. The palate comes on strong and oaky with a nice caramel in the back. The finish is strongly bitter.

The nose and palate on this bourbon are very strong and hearken back to the good old days of Parker's. The only flaw is in the finish which is too bitter. The good news is that even with the bitter finish, this is tasty stuff and the best Parker's Heritage release in years. The bad news is the price.

Thanks to Chris Dion for the sample.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Apple Brandy Week: Arkansas Black 21

I'm wrapping up Apple Brandy Week with Arkansas Black, a sourced apple brandy bottled by a Northern California company. Their regular applejack is made from Arkansas Black apples and is distilled at Clear Creek in Oregon. Today, I'm tasting the 21 year old. I don't know if that also comes from Clear Creek or is from elsewhere. UPDATE: Drinkhacker reports that the source of this brandy was a "California brandy family."

Arkansas Black 21 yo Straight Applejack, 46% abv ($110)

The nose has apples, oak and light butterscotch bourbon notes. It smells sort of like Evan Williams. On the palate, it's got a strong canned pineapple note. The finish is dominated by bourbon notes. This is a curious one, fruity on the palate with a bourbon-like finish.

I wasn't a huge fan of this one. It was indistinct without much in the way of apple flavor. It would be interesting to know what type of cask it was aged in.

Thanks for joining me for Apple Brandy Week. If you've enjoyed all this brandy talk, check out the new Facebook Group Serious Brandy, for people interested in reviewing and discussing brandies of all types.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Apple Brandy Week: Somerset 20 Year Old Cider Brandy

Did you know they make apple brandy in the UK? In fact, since 2011, there has been an AOC for Somerset Cider Brandy, even though there only appears to be one producer. The Somerset Cider Brandy Company bottles a wide range of expressions of their apple brandy, including 3, 5, 10, 15 and 20 year old expressions which are aged in a variety of oak casks. Today, I will try the 20 year old.

Somerset 20 Year Old Cider Brandy, Bottled 1/10/2015, 42% abv ($55 for 500ml)

This has a really beautiful nose with bold apple and oak notes. The palate is sweet and oaky. There's not much apple character on the palate; its tastes more like a Cognac or even a rum. It's quite sweet, making me wonder if there is added sugar. The finish is oaky, a bit bitter and it has a light sulfur like note, which may indicate some sherry cask aging.

This brandy reminds me of a standard Cognac. It's certainly sippable but not particularly interesting.

Somerset brandies are not currently available in the U.S. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Apple Brandy Week: Copper & Kings Apple Brandy

I've been a big fan of Kentucky brandy producer Copper & Kings, but so far, I've only reviewed their grape brandies and beer cask finished brandies. They also make apple brandy.

Like all Copper & Kings aged brandies, their apple brandy is sourced. The brandy is a blend of apple brandies distilled in a number of states and is aged in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. It contains no additives.

Today, I'll review three Copper & Kings apple brandies. Their original aged apple brandy, released last year, the new Floodwall Apple Brandy and their Tequila cask finished 3 Marlenas Apple Brandy.

Copper & Kings Apple Brandy, 50% abv ($40)

The nose starts with dry apple notes, like a good cider. It goes on to develop some herbal/botanical notes. The palate is distinctively spicy with baking spices. The finish is spicy/woody. This doesn't have a huge apple character, but I really liked the spice notes.

Floodwall Apple Brandy, 4 years old, 50% abv ($40)

This is similar to the original release, reviewed above, except that they used smaller sherry casks and it has a four year old age statement. The nose is apple and spice, like a mulled cider. The palate is dry and spicy with a distinct sherry note. The finish has sherry with a very slight apple note. This tastes like what it is: a more sherried version of the first apple brandy.

3 Marlenas Apple Brandy, 5 years old, 50% abv ($40 for 375 ml)

This five year old apple brandy spent its last two years in Tequila barrels. Sure enough, the nose on this has Tequila and apples like some kind of apple Margarita. On the palate it's got apple, oak and then a light Tequila note that lasts into the finish. I really like this one. It has pronounced Tequila notes but they work with rather than overshadowing the apple. It's a fun brandy.

Ever the innovators, Copper & Kings is the only producer I know of using whiskey style finishes with apple brandy. My favorite of these three was probably the standard apple brandy from last year which had a nice spicy character. I also enjoyed the Tequila/apple balance on the 3 Marlenas. The Floodwall was good, but it tasted much more of sherry than brandy, almost like a brandy de Jerez.

Thanks to Copper & Kings for samples of Floodwall and 3 Marlenas.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Apple Brandy Week: Laird's 12 Year Old

Last week, I drank Calvados. This week, I'll be drinking other apple brandies, and what better place to start than Laird's?

Laird's is the oldest name in American apple brandy. Based in New Jersey, the company claims roots going back to the seventeenth century. The actual brandy is distilled in Virginia. Their product line includes their standard applejack (a blend of apple brandy and neutral spirit), a bonded apple brandy, a 7 year old apple brandy and the 12 year old apple brandy I'll be reviewing today. According to Laird's marketing copy, the 12 year old "is a premium spirit and should be positioned among premium brandies from around the world like Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados." So there!

Laird's 12 yo Apple Brandy, Batch 19, Bottled 2014, 44% abv ($75)

The nose is sour apple Jolly Ranchers. It smells like liquid candy. On the palate, it's dry and oaky with bourbon notes but not much apple character – just a slight fruit note. The finish is oaky and a bit bitter. I found this one to be over-oaked, all I could taste was the wood. It tastes closer to a bourbon than a Calvados but not a bourbon I'd buy.

Friday, October 7, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Amrut, Bushmills and More

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Amrut cleared a label for Amrut Rye, a rye malt whiskey.

That Boutiquey Whisky Company cleared a number of interesting labels, including a 14 year old Port Charlotte and a 42 year old Invergordon single grain.

Bushmills cleared new labels for Red Bush and The Causeway Collection Single Malt

Luxco cleared a new label for a 25 year old expression of Hammerhead Czech Single Malt.

The Old Pogue Distillery cleared a label for Old Maysville Club, a BIB rye malt whiskey.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Calvados Week: Domaine Hubert

Domaine Hubert is in the Pays D'Auge subregion of Calvados. There is no age statement on this bottle, but K&L, who brought it in, tells us it is around six years old, and it goes for a price that's pretty unusual for any French brandy.

Hubert Calvados, 42% abv ($30)

The nose has crisp, ripe apples. The palate is dry with oak and apple notes. The dry oak gives it a whiskey like quality. The finish is dry and woody, then it picks up a bit more apple and some bitterness.

This has a very different character than the Camut Calvados I reviewed on Tuesday. Whereas those are big and fruity, this one is dry and oaky. It's well balanced and complex. At $30, this stuff is an amazing deal, and I liked it better than the Camut 6 year old at double the price.

Get ready for more apple brandy next week but not from France.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Calvados Week: Camut 6 and 18

I'll kick off Calvados Week with a couple from Camut. Located in the Pays D'Auge Region, Camut is one of the biggest names in Calvados. I've been a fan of nearly everything I've tried from Camut, but I've missed some of the standard lineup, so I thought I'd start with these.

Camut 6 year old, 40% abv ($65)

The nose has massive, bold apple notes. The palate is light with some acidic apple notes and trails off with apples and a touch of oak. It's a bit watery on the palate. Overall, I thought this one was a bit disappointing; it's just not that full-flavored.

Camut Privilege, 18 year old, 40% abv ($150)

All the Camut I've had have big, round, beautiful fruity noses with a huge apple punch, and this one is no exception. On the palate it starts with big apple then develops some herbal/mint notes, trailing off with some oak and a touch of pepper. The finish is spiced apples. This is a great, delicious, drinkable brandy that has a great transition from nose to finish and comes together really well.

What a difference a dozen years makes. There's a real transition in this brandy from the one-note, somewhat watery six year old to the full-flavored and delicious 18 year old. Unfortunately, there's also a big price difference.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Calvados Week

I've been continuing my love affair with brandy, and for the next two weeks, I'll be reviewing apple brandies. This week, I'll taste three Calvados and next week, a number of other apple brandies. To prepare, I thought I'd start with a brief summary of Calvados.

Calvados is the world's foremost apple brandy. Produced in Normandy, France, Calvados is distilled cider made from apples and/or pears. The cider is often aged in oak casks prior to distillation, sometimes for years. Calvados must leave the still at no more than 72% abv. After distillation, the brandy must be aged in oak for at least two years and must be bottled at a minimum of 40% abv.  As with other French brandies, coloring, sugar and wood chips are permissible additives.

Within Calvados, there are two legally recognized sub-appellations (though they do not cover the entire Calvados region, so some producers are not in either sub-region and are just part of the general Calvados Appellation):

The Pays d'Auge Region is the most prominent region of Calvados, similar to Grand Champagne in Coganc or Bas-Armagnac in Armagnac. Brandy labeled as Pays d'Auge must have no more than 30% pear, and many use 100% apple. Pays d'Auge Calvados is required to be double distilled in a pot still.

The Domfrontais Region requires that the Calvados be made from at least 30% pear up to as much as 100% pear. The Calvados must be distilled once in a column still. As in Armagnac, many Calvados producers do not have their own stills but distill their brandy in a traveling column still.

From what I understand, producers in these sub-regions do not have to follow the requirements listed above, but they can only use the regional designation on their label if they do. 

Those are the basics, but I left out a lot of detail. There are tons of regulations in Calvados governing nearly every element of production from barrel size to permissible orchard irrigation.  If you really want a deep dive, pick up a copy of Calvados: The Spirit of Normandy, Charles Neal's 700 plus page tome that examines every facet of Calvados production. Neal also keeps up a nice website with basic descriptions of Calvados production.

Tomorrow I start tasting.