Wednesday, November 30, 2016

My Favorite French Brandies of the 2010s

Following up on the list of my favorite whiskeys of all time, I thought I would do something similar for brandy. Listed below are my ten favorite French brandies released in the last five years. As with the whiskey list, I made this without regard to price or current availability, though I limited it to brandies available at retail in the U.S. since 2010 (i.e., the Golden Age of Brandy). They are listed in alphabetical order by type of brandy.


Navarre Vieille Reserve, Grande Champagne, 45% abv
Paul-Marie & Fils Cognac, Borderies, Faultline Spirits, 61% abv
Paul-Marie & Fils Devant La Porte 1951, Grande Champagne, 51% abv


Domaine de Baraillon 1893, Bas-Armagnac, 40% abv
Domaine de Baraillon 1933, Bas-Armagnac, 40% abv
Domaine de Baraillon 1985, Bas-Armagnac 48% abv 
Chateau de Pellehaut 1996, Tenareze, 17 yo, 50.4% abv
Domaine de Pouchegu 1986, Tenzareze, 45% abv


Camut Privilege 18 yo, Pays D'Auge, 40%
Henri Bernard Beudin Calvados, Eric Bordelet Selection, 18 yo, 53% abv

Monday, November 28, 2016

Sku's All Time Favorite Whiskeys

I often get asked what my favorite whiskeys of all time are. It's a tough question and one I've mostly avoided answering, but given that my blog is approaching the ten year mark, I thought I would take a stab at my very favorite whiskeys of all time. This isn't a buyer's guide. Most of these aren't available anymore, but these are the very best whiskeys I've tasted without regard to price, availability or anything else, listed in alphabetical order:

  • Ardbeg Provenance. I've tried two of the four releases (the two for the U.S.) and they were Ardbeg at its peaty, oily best. It captures the absolute bets of Islay. 
  • Brora 30 2007 Official Release. Brora is one of my favorites and of all the official releases I've tried, the 2007 was my favorite - smoky yet balanced.
  • Brorageddon. This heavily sherried Brora bottled for the Plowed Society is just incredible - with its matching sherry and peat notes. This could be my number one whiskey of all time.
  • Charbay Pilsner. Something magical happened in Sonoma County back in 1999 when Marko Karakasevic distilled some pilsner from the Sonoma Mountain Brewery along with some added hops. The whiskeys that resulted were funky and magical and weedy. All of the releases are great, but I especially love releases I and IV and, probably most of all, the special release they did for the LA Whiskey Society.
  • Glendronach 1972 700 Series. These perennial Malt Maniac favorites are probably the best sherried whiskeys around...yes, that means better than Black Bowmore! I've tasted casks 702, 710, 711 and 712, and they are all fantastic.
  • Highland Park Bicentennary. More than any other, this was the malt that made me a whiskey geek. I can still remember my amazement at its complexity and balance when I tasted it in the early 2000s. Does it measure up all these many whiskeys later?  I don't know, and I don't know if I want to know. I haven't had the courage to try it again. I think I prefer the memory.
  • John Gibson's PA Rye. I've been lucky enough to try quite a few prohibition era whiskeys, and the best thing I've tasted by far from that era are Gibson's ryes. Made in Pennsylvania, they have a lovely sandalwood note that you don't find in today's ryes.
  • Lagavulin 16. It's had its ups and downs for sure, ranging from exquisite to just good, but is there any whiskey that's been more consistent over the past 15 years? Is there any whiskey that's been more responsible for creating malt fanatics, peatheads and Islay lovers? I think not. Ten years ago, it was $40; now it goes for around $70, but that's nothing in terms of whiskey inflation. 
  • Willett's Bernheim Ryes (Rathskeller Rye/Doug Philips Rye, etc.). The casks of old Bernheim rye from the mid-80s purchased by Willett are legendary for a reason. They are massive spice bombs, some of the fullest bodied rye ever made. Not all of them, though, are created equal. The very best are the Rathskeller Rye bottled for the Seelbach Hotel, the two casks of Willett bottled for Doug Philips, the bottles done for Bourbon DC (Iron Fist and Velvet Glove) and LeNell's Red Hook Rye.  
  • Very Very Old Fitzgerald 1952/1964. Stitzel-Weller bourbon is widely coveted for good reason. At its height, it was amazing stuff, subtle, creamy and sweet. My favorite of them all is this 12 year old distilled in 1952 which is probably the best bourbon I've ever tasted. 
Those are my all-time greatest whiskeys.  What are yours?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Plums and Pear Eau de Vie from Coppersea

Coppersea is a distillery in New York's Hudson Valley. I was a big fan of their Green Malt Rye, so I was excited to try these two eau de vie - plum and pear. The fruit comes from Dolan Orchards in Wallkill, New York.

The eau de vie are naturally fermented without additives and distilled in direct fire copper stills. They are then aged in steel for at least six months.

Coppersea Pear Eau de Vie, Batch PR-1, Distilled 2013, 45% abv ($55 for 375 ml)

This has a nice, crisp pear nose. The palate is mostly new make though, with the pear notes falling to the back ground. The taste is mostly spirit. The finish is raw and grainy.

Coppersea Plum Eau de Vie, Batch PL-1, Distilled 2013, 45% abv ($55 for 375 ml)

On the nose I get cherries and cherry candy. The palate is much fruitier than the pear with cherry and raspberry notes. A distinct plum note doesn't come into play until the finish where juicy, red plum mingles with dried apricots and a slight bitterness that ads complexity and balance.  This one is nice, the finish being the strongest element.

Between these two, I definitely preferred the plum.

Thanks to Chris Dion for the samples.

Friday, November 18, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Crafty BIBs and More

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

Craft distilleries are increasingly releasing bottled in bond whiskeys. Pittsburgh Distilling Company cleared a label for a bonded version of their Wigle Rye Whiskey. Meanwhile, Few Spirits cleared a label for a BIB single malt. This may be the first bonded single malt.

This cinnamon flavored whiskey is called Fire Starter and the label is  covered in flames, but the disclaimer makes it clear that you shouldn't start fires with it. Oh, and keep out of reach of children.

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, November 16, 2016

Delord 25 Armagnac

Delord is one of the larger houses in the Bas Armagnac. They both source brandy and make their own, and unlike many smaller produces, they have a distillery on site.

Delord 25 year old, 40% abv ($70)

The nose is spicy with some dry raisin notes. The palate starts spicy, then turns quite sweet and then bitter. The mouthfeel is watery. The finish has caramel and is slightly fruity.

I was not a fan of this brandy. The sweet and bitter notes lacked depth - no fruit or earthiness, just pure sweet and bitter, and it didn't have much else going on. Overall, it lacked complexity.

Thanks to Florin for the sample.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Dudognon Napoleon II Cognac

Today I'm tasting a K&L excluisve Cognac from Dudognon in the Grande Champagne region. It's a blend of portions of two Cognac casks distilled in 2006, one made from Ugni Blanc and the other from Montils, one of the lesser known Cognac grapes.

Dudognon Napoleon II, 40% abv ($50)

This has a really nice nose with a good balance of fruit and mild spices. It starts sweet on the palate and then develops some mineral notes which wind into a long, mineral finish.

This is nice and I really like the flavor composition of fruit, spice and mineral notes. It's a bit light though. I would love to taste a higher proof version because with a bit more alcohol, I think there would be a real depth and intensity to it.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Hennessy Master Blender's No. 1

There is a new Cognac out from Hennessy, of all places, that sounded intriguing when I read about it on the K&L blog.  I generally stay away from the big Cognac houses with their liberal use of caramel and sugar, but these houses have access to a huge number of producers who they have exclusive contracts with. One can only imagine the amazing casks they have access to that get poured willy nilly into their mass market brandies.

This is supposed to be a less sweet, more complex Cognac for the serious brandy drinker. Let's see.

Hennessy Master Blender's Selection No. 1, 43% abv ($80)

The nose is spicy with baking spices and fresh cut oak. The palate is spicy with a light sweetness that turns just slightly fruity. It packs a punch that feels stronger than its abv. The finish is mostly spicy at first, then turns to sweet grape juice notes followed by an artificial sweetener taste, as in diet cola.

As promised, this is more interesting than anything I've tasted from the standard Hennessy line. It's drier with more spice, better balance and more depth. That being said, it's still definitively Hennessy with the same general flavor profile. It's like how Knob Creek is better than Jim Beam Black, but it's still Beam.

All in all, this is drinkable and certainly a step up from standard Hennessy, but it's hard to recommend when there are so many great, complex Armagnacs available for the same price (or cheaper). Still, this is definitely a step in the right direction that I'd love to see more concentration on quality from the big Cognac houses.

Friday, November 4, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Walker, Crown and Jameson

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

Diageo cleared a label for a new Johnnie Walker Blender's Batch, this is a ten year old that uses three grains - barley, wheat and corn - in its grain whiskey component and is aged in American oak.

They also cleared a label for the latest release from Crown Royal's Noble Collection which is wine barrel finished.

Pernod Ricard cleared labels for the Jameson Deconstructed Series which, so far, has been available only at global travel retail. The three Irish Whiskeys are Round, Lively and Bold.

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, November 2, 2016

Enough with the Apples: Spirit of Pear Brandy

Brandy Peak Distillery in Brookings, Oregon has been distilling since 1994, which make them craft distillery pioneers. Today I'm sampling their pear eau de vie, an unaged brandy made from 100% Barlett Pears and no additives. It's only available in and around Oregon.

Spirit of Pear Brandy, 40% abv ($23 for 375 ml).

The entire experience of this brandy is like biting into a ripe pear. Apple brandies can have lots of apple notes on the nose, but the palate tastes like brandy. Not so this one. It's like virtual pear. It even mimics that slightly grainy texture of fresh pear. If you love pears, you need to drink this.

This is really remarkable stuff and at 40%, it's easy to drink.  They also make an aged version; I'm very intrigued to see how barrel aging affects the freshness of this eau de vie.