Kilchoman 2008 Vintage – Review

kilchoman_2008vintage*Thanks to SF and all the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.

2008…it’s hard to know what to write about that year. On the one hand, we had what then seemed like an intense, crazy presidential election featuring a fantastically inspiring though politically middle-of-the-road man, his worthy running mate, a genuine war hero who was in a little over his head (and who has since turned into an incompetent coward), and a genuine crackpot who was out of her freaking skull. Thinking back on it now, that election seemed sane, civil, and almost a little quaint compared to the embarrassing, dangerous shit show we’re in the middle of now.

On the other hand, 2008 was the year that I met my wife, let’s call her Sherry Butts. I could easily wax poetic on that subject because it was a life-changing, dream-fulfilling time, but instead I’ll just relate a brief tale about how one guy with kind of crazy hair played a small part in convincing two people that spending the rest of their lives together was probably the right way to go. Perhaps just two or three weeks after we met, she invited me to see a screening of Young Frankenstein at the beautiful Castro theater in our then home of San Francisco. Along with the movie itself, the big draw of the evening was Gene Wilder himself being in attendance and talking with the audience after the film. For a couple of people who had only spent a handful of hours together, it was a somewhat bold move to invite me to an event several weeks away. I took the invitation as a good sign, and she took my excited acceptance as a good sign, too, though I think she was perhaps surprised by my enthusiasm. So more than a month later, we watched that pillar of American cinema and listened to that hilarious, gentle, talented man talk about his life. I revelled in the knowledge that Mr. Wilder was a fellow Milwaukeean, and my wife reveled in the knowledge that if I came from the same place Mr. Wilder did, perhaps I was worth holding on to. So, in a roundabout way, I suppose this is also a way to somehow squeeze in a little homage to the recently dearly departed Gene Wilder into a post that has nothing to do with Gene Wilder. We love Gene Wilder. We miss Gene Wilder. We still watch a lot of Gene Wilder movies together.

Totally lost my train of thought. So…Kilchoman’s 2008 Vintage. At the time of its release (Fall of 2015) this was the oldest expression yet from the young Islay distillery. It’s a continuation of their Vintage series which sees consecutive distillation years released every two years (a 2006 vintage was released in 2011, a 2007 in 2013.) The 2008 Vintage was matured in a first-fill ex-bourbon barrel for just over seven years, and was bottled without chill-filtering or any added coloring.

The Nose:  Appropriately Fall-like with vibrant fruit and Islay peat. There’s tart lemon curd and caramel apples along with honey and a little true butterscotch. Behind that there’s a bit of warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream. The peat is lightly tarry and phenolic, but quite briny with a nice breath of beach bonfire smoke. There are light oak notes in the background with vanilla bean, clove, licorice candy, and white pepper.

The Palate:  The fruit is less prominent on the palate, the peat and smoke more so. Juicy citrus and apple cider, along with brown sugar and honey are quickly joined by baker’s chocolate and roasted nuts. The peat is a bit more diesel-y here, a little more medicinal, and definitely more savory. The smoke is thicker, dry and a little ashy. The oak, while still taking a back seat to the peat, is more strongly grippy, as are the coarse vanilla bean, clove and pepper notes.

The Finish:  Longish with continued smoke, and briny and ashy peat, with little of the fruit-tinged sweetness coming through. A bit of vanilla bean and clove come through as well.

Thoughts:  So, 2008 was a very good year and Kilchoman’s 2008 Vintage is a very good whisky.  The all bourbon barrel maturation helps keep this straightforward, keeping the house style well-defined. On the nose, there’s an excellent balance between the sweeter notes and the peat and smoke. On the palate, the peat and smoke surprisingly take over a bit, making the progression between the two a little steep. Personally, I prefer Kilchomans that have some sherry cask matured whiskies in them, but the 2008 Vintage does show off nicely the distillery’s ability to produce whisky that feels more mature than its age. Recommended.

Kilchoman 2008 Vintage, OB, Islay, +/-2015

46% ABV

Score:  85

Kilchoman PX Sherry Cask Finish, Impex Single Cask #680 – Review

kilchoman_impexpxfinish_680*Thanks to SF and all the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
The PX in this Kilchoman PX Sherry Cask Finish stands for Pedro Ximénez, which is a type of grape used to produce the wonderful, dark, viscous, sticky-sweet sherry by the same name. The Pedro Ximénez (pronounced PEHD-roh hee-MEH-nehth) grape seems to have its roots in Southern Spain, having been grown there since the early 1600’s, and can trace its ancestry back to a table grape from Arabia named Gibi. If you’re anything like me, the most pressing question on your mind at this very moment is, “who was Pedro Ximénez?” Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a very clear answer. There are stories of a grape vine-bearing person – a bishop named Ximenès, or a soldier named Pedro Ximen, or even a Dutch or German guy named Pieter Siemens – bringing the varietal to Spain, but seemingly all of these don’t hold up under much scrutiny. And since I don’t have much time for this kind of scrutiny right now, the identity, or lack thereof, of the person responsible for this particular grape will just have to wait for another time.
Instead, how about a few fascinating words about the sherry named Pedro Ximénez? As I mentioned before, PX sherry is incredibly sweet stuff. The main grape used in most sherry varieties, the Palamino Fino is harvested when the sugar levels reach around 11-12.5%. In contrast, Pedro Ximenèz grapes are harvested with around 13.5-14.5%. And it doesn’t stop there. After harvesting, PX grapes are dried in the sun, turning them raisin-like and concentrating the sugars even more. In her excellent book, Sherry, author Talia Baiocchi states that Pedro Ximenèx sherries can reach over 450 grams of residual sugar, almost twice as sweet as Aunt Jemima syrup, and more than twice as sweet as most other dessert wines out there. Most PX sherry is aged in the Solera process, where a system of batching and re-filling casks as they are partially emptied provides producers with a way to maintain very consistent quality. Unlike most other sherries, PX actually loses alcohol during maturation. The weight and sugar content are less easily absorbed by the oak, and therefore the alcohol evaporates faster than the water does. This is significant because it means that to meet regulations, PX often needs to have more fortification to reach the minimum requirement of 15% alcohol.
With all that in mind, how does a PX cask affect a whisky? Well, obviously a layer of sweetness will be added, but there may also be a relatively greater influence from the wood itself. Since PX doesn’t penetrate as deeply, perhaps there is more “active” wood available to influence the spirit compared to other ex-wine casks. The Kilchoman PX Sherry Cask Finish, Impex Single Cask #680 was initially aged for four years in an ex-bourbon cask before being finished in a PX cask for four months. This particular expression, cask #680, was distilled in 2010 and bottled in 2015 as an exclusive for Kilchoman’s U.S. importer and distributor, Impex Beverages.
The Nose:  Surprisingly lighthearted, I was expecting a darker sweet-smoky challenge. There’s complex fruit notes of apple cider, tangerine juice, brandied cherries…maybe raisins, too, and a hint of himbeersaft, that raspberry syrup I’d pour over ice cream as a kid. The peat is present throughout but is lightly phenolic, not overly strong, and a little brine-y with green-ish woodsmoke. The spice from the wood is subdued and a little fruitcake-y; vanilla, cinnamon, and faint touches of clove and star anise. Adding a little water brings out more raisin-y notes and amplifies the wood and spice but quiets the complex fruit and the peat.
The Palate:  Uh, whoa. A surprising but pleasant jumble of flavors. The fruit notes are front and center initially with vibrant citrus notes of juicy orange and lemon curd, and bruised apples and baked berries. Hints of fruit-infused chocolate and a little marzipan make a brief appearance before being submerged by the peat and smoke. Along with some hot cinnamon, ground black pepper and raw ginger, there are some sharp, oaky tannins here. Couple all that with the slightly ashy peat smoke and things get a little rough towards the end. The addition of water really helps settle the palate down. Some of the fruity complexity disappears, but water gives things a bit more room to breathe and takes the edge off the wood and peat.
The Finish:  Slightly odd in that it’s shortish with simple sugars and vanilla, and then longish with its smoky, ashy peat, hot cinnamon, and peppery oak tannins.
Thoughts:  Interesting, slightly challenging, slightly disjointed, and mostly satisfying. The PX influence is light but obvious as it adds a layer of fruit and subtle spice. At times though, it does feel like it’s influence is just laid over the top of everything. At strength, the nose was very, very nice, but the palate moved a bit too quickly to its sharper youthful demise. Water helped to integrate everything more, but it seemed a little bit of the PX complexity was lost. Still, like I said, an interesting, enjoyable Kilchoman, perhaps not a good starting point, but certainly something of interest for fans of the distillery.
57.2% ABV
Score:  84


  • Baiocchi, Talia. “Wines of The Sherry Spectrum.” Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-kept Secret, with Cocktails and Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2014. 64-65. Print.
  • “Pedro Ximénez.” SherryNotes. N.p., 2015. Web. Oct. 2016.
  • Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding, and Jose Vouillamoz. Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, including Their Origins and Flavours. New York: Ecco, 2012. Print.

Kilchoman Sanaig – Review

kilchoman_sanaig*Thanks to SF, JH, and all the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.

According to the Kilchoman literature, Sanaig (pronounced SAN-ig as far as I can tell) is the name of an inlet located near the distillery. There’s also a bay called Sanaigmore on Islay, about six miles north of the distillery. Is Sanaigmore and Sanaig one in the same place? After perusing several maps for a total of about 15 minutes, which then led me to some wishful-thinking perusal of Islay real estate listings for about 45 minutes, I find myself no closer to saying with any surety that the inlet named Sanaig is more or less the same place as the bay named Sanaigmore. But it probably is. It seems a reasonable assumption, right? Hell, the German wikipedia page for Sanaigmore links the two, perhaps that’s all the proof one needs these days.

Sanaigmore means “great sand harbor”, with the “more” part of Sanaigmore being the “great” part of “great sand harbor.” By clever deduction then, I deduce that Sanaig means…”sand harbor.” If it is the same place, I’m not sure why it goes by both names. Perhaps on the day it was named, one intrepid namer said, “man, what a great sand harbor!” and the other intrepid namer shrugged and said, “I don’t know, it’s not that great,” whereupon the first intrepid namer wrapped things up by saying, “well, you name it your way and I’ll name it mine.” Not likely, I guess, but possible.

In any event, the newest core expression in Kilchoman’s line is named Sanaig. This one is being touted as the sibling to the Machir Bay release and is similar in price. There’s a lot of contradictory info out there about these releases, and while some of it may be inaccurate, some may just be slightly out of date. These two releases don’t carry an age statement or dedicated “recipe” because it’s Kilchoman’s intent to have these expressions evolve over time as their stocks grow. In general, the Machir Bay is going to be matured primarily in first-fill bourbon casks with a bit of Oloroso shading. The Sanaig is going to be mostly first-fill Oloroso matured with some first-fill bourbon casks. The current Machir Bay is made up of five and six year old whiskies, with around 90% being first-fill bourbon, 10% Oloroso. In contrast, the Sanaig is matured in first-fill Oloroso hogsheads and first-fill bourbon barrels, with the bourbon cask whiskies then finished for an unspecified amount of time in Oloroso casks. The end result is reportedly 70% Oloroso, 30% bourbon matured. The Sanaig, like all official Kilchoman releases, is bottled non chill-filtered with no added color.

The Nose:  An upfront nose with a nice balance of fruity sweetness and peaty savory…ness. Lemon bars and apple cider, baked tart cherries and canned pineapple. Subtler hints of mincemeat pie, rum-ed raisins, vanilla bean and warm toffee. The peat is briny and barbecued with very pleasant beach bonfire smoke wrapped around it all. Spicier notes of oak, clove and faint peppercorns are more in the background.

The Palate:  This has a smooth, creamy mouthfeel that’s vibrant with early spice notes of pepper and a little grippy oak. The lemon and apple dessert notes carry over from the nose along with nice hints of warm fruitcake and salted nuts. The peat is slightly more medicinal here than barbecued, the smoke a bit ashy but there’s still that more-ish savory quality. Notes of vanilla bean, clove, and a bit of anise join the earlier peat and spice, and carry over to the finish.

The Finish:  Long, peaty, with continued sweetness and spice. Charred meat, honey, baked apples, a touch of tannic oak, and dry, slightly ashy woodsmoke at the end.

Thoughts:  It’s Kilchoman. It’s very, very good. Like the Machir Bay, it’s put together well and exudes the lemon-y, apple-y, savory, slightly ashy peat house style. The sherry influence is really nicely integrated, and while it doesn’t brazenly stand up against the strong youthful peat, it adds a warm, consistent complexity throughout. At the moment, as the two core range offerings, I think the Sanaig and Machir Bay are perhaps a little too similar. But as Kilchoman let’s these two evolve, it will be fascinating to see them stand further apart from each other. As previously stated, I’m a big fan of sherried Kilchoman and this one only solidifies that notion. Definitely recommended.

Kilchoman Sanaig, OB, Islay +/-2016

46% ABV

Score:  87


  • “Isle of Islay Place Names – Meanings and Pronunciation.” Islay Info. N.p., n.d. Web. Oct. 2016.
  • Joshua Hatton, Impex Sales Exec., Single Cask Nation founder, bass player, silk underwear wearer.
  • “Sanaigmore.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. Oct. 2016.

Blood Oath Pact No. 2 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Review

img_1618*Sincere thanks to Common Ground PR and Luxco for the sample.

Off the top of my head, I can think of only three blood oaths, one historical, one cinematic, and one musical. Personally, I’ve not yet taken a blood oath, but while I’m pretty sure the opportunity won’t arise, one never says never. Perhaps the most famous historical blood oath is that of some 9th century Hungarians as recounted by an anonymous author known as Anonymous in the marginally reliable codex of Hungarian 9th and 10th century history, the Gesta Hungarorum. In this tome, six leaders of Hungarian tribes swore an oath of fealty to a seventh leader, a guy named Álmos, by filling a cup with their mingled blood, thereby theoretically creating a horrible curse on the one who breaks the oath. Aside from the rather shady naming of the unknown author, and the high prince’s name, Álmos, which is almost Álmost, this seems like a pretty decent blood oath.

Then there’s the blood oath taken by Josey Wales, the outlaw in the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Ten Bears, the leader of the Comanche tribe. By the slicing of their hands and the ensuing messy, possibly disease-transmitting handshake, both agree to live peacefully together. It’s hard to say that this blood oath meant anything as Josey Wales ended up barking at an empty chair at a Republican clown convention and the Native Americans have to suffer their agreements with the government being broken all the damn time.

Lastly, there’s the 2009 album Blood Oath by the seminal death metal band, Suffocation. Admittedly, as much as I enjoy some fairly extreme music, death metal’s just never really done it for me. Suffocation’s been around since the late 80’s so clearly they’re doing something right, I just happen to like my metal blackened, doomed, or drone-y. In any case, I think we can all agree that the term “blood oath” is pretty damn metal in general.

img_1620Which brings us to Blood Oath Pact No. 2 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Released in the Spring of 2016, this second chapter in Luxco’s Blood Oath series was created by John Rempe, the company’s creative head and Director of Corporate Research and Development. The blood oath taken in this particular instance is Rempe’s vow to not be bound by any one tradition, any one distillery, and to never divulge from whence the involved whiskeys sprang. No word on whether any actual blood was shed. While I applaud the commitment to creativity, I’m not sure this requires something as dramatic as a blood oath. I’m also not sure that taking such an oath about where your whiskeys come from is necessary. After all, there are only few suppliers to choose from when sourcing whiskey to make this kind of thing, and some of Luxco’s other bourbons might just provide a hint or two. Still, as brand name of a somewhat limited release, Blood Oath works pretty well. Better than calling a bourbon “rhetoric” or something like that, I suppose. The packaging for this one is admittedly quite good: a pine box with wood-burned lettering pinions the square bottle inside, a tax stamp-type seal over exposed cork and a label full of script and a faux-wax seal…it’s a pretty impressive display. Yes, Luxco is mining that retro/vintage/nostalgic vein that’s perhaps too popular right now, but they’re mining it well.

Of course, all the marketing and packaging in the world won’t get too far if what’s inside the bottle isn’t any good. So what’s inside this bottle? Seeing as this one is called Blood Oath Pact 2, it may surprise you to learn that there was a Pact 1. Blood Oath Pact 1 was a blend of three whiskeys; A 12 year old high rye bourbon, a 7 year old high rye bourbon, and a 6 year old wheated bourbon. For the Blood Oath Pact 2, they got a little older and a little funkier. This one’s made up of 11 year old high rye bourbon, 11 year old wheated bourbon, and 7 year old high rye bourbon that’s been finished for an unspecified amount of time in Port barrels. It’s been bottled at 49.3% ABV…or 98.6 proof, which also happens to be a bodily temperature blood likes very much. Clever, huh? The release is a fairly large limited edition as far as limited editions go – 22,500 bottles in all. Luxco has been definitely stepping up their bourbon game as of late with these Blood Oaths, as well as the Yellowstone Limited Edition series, and the Rebel Yell Single Barrel. While they’re proving to be high quality-focused and somewhat creative when it comes to their sourced bourbons, they’ve also been more than willing to test the current bourbon feeding frenzy in terms of price. The Blood Oath Pact 2 clocks in around $100-$120, is it worth it?

The Nose:  A complex yet somewhat compact nose. There are initial notes of cherry pie, blood oranges, and caramel apples with cinnamon along with dark honey, vanilla syrup, burnt caramel, and a touch of maple extract. That sweeter side is balanced by grain, wood and spice. There’s stoneground wheat crackers, fresh rye bread and a hint of corn oil along with rich, dusty cinnamon, cocoa nibs, subtle clove, vanilla bean, ginger, and bit of pepper.. It manages to have lots of wood notes and not be overly woody; polished oak and fresh sawn boards. A very faint, pleasant whorl of charcoal hovers over all

The Palate:  Vibrant, with a slightly creamy, oily mouthfeel. More baked cherries, a little cherry cough drop even, and continued juicy citrus. There’s more honey and burnt maple sugars, too, but the sweetness is leaner than on the nose. There’s also a spicy, toasted rye presence here as well, along with notes of dark chocolate, marzipan, and sticky vanilla bean. The oak comes on strong early with dusty tannins, lots of cinnamon, candied ginger, clove and pepper.

The Finish:  Long, woody, spicy, and mouth-watering. Charred, grippy oak, burnt popcorn, rye and coriander, cinnamon and pepper.

Thoughts:  Really pretty excellent. The sum seems greater than its parts. The influence of each type of whiskey is present; the smooth wheated, the woody, spicy older rye, and the vibrant younger rye that perhaps brings an interesting red fruit and chocolate shading thanks to its port barrel finishing. Each of these elements is integrated and complimentary without one dominating overly much. I found both the nose and palate to be very compact, almost tightly bound. While it was very good and drinkable at strength, I thought a little water opened things up a bit and gave the different elements room to breath. So, an excellent whiskey in a beautiful package…is it worth the $100-$120 price tag? So hard to say these days, on the one hand it is a higher proof, limited edition expression. On the other hand, it’s an 11 year old whiskey at most, there are quality bourbons out there, around the same age, for at least half the price. As impressed as I am with the whiskey and the design, I have to say I think it’s pricey. Still, the bourbon itself…recommended.

Blood Oath Pact No. 2 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, +/-2016

49.3% ABV

Score:  87



Brenne 10 Year Old French Single Malt Whisky – Review

brenneten_2015Last fall, Brenne released a very limited 10 year old whisky. Based on the success and relative uniqueness of the Brenne Estate Cask, this new expression understandably generated a fair amount of excitement. I was excited about this one myself, but thanks to a “lifestyle” that tends to put exciting adult things on the back burner, I’m only getting around to it now…a year later. Just you wait, perhaps in a few years I’ll uncork my excitement about that Highland Park Viking series and Robin Yount’s 1982 MVP season.

For an insightful read on the process that lead up to this release, I’d recommend visiting The Coopered Tot’s interview with Brenne founder Allison Patel. For even further reading, in my review of the Brenne Estate Cask, I delved a little into the Cognac-specific process which makes this whisky somewhat unique. If you want to skip all that heady stuff, just keep keeping on right here. The important distinction between these two expressions is the maturation…and not just the difference in time. The Estate Cask is more or less a single barrel expression, made up of a whisky that’s been aged for five years in new French oak casks and then finished in ex-Cognac casks for two to three years before bottling. The Brenne 10 Year Old French Single Malt Whisky is a vatting of four distinct casks: one 10 year old matured only in new French oak, one 10 year old matured only in an ex-Cognac cask, and two barrels that received the combination treatment – 10 years total in both new casks and ex-Cognac casks. The 10 Year Old has also been bottled at a higher proof, 96 versus 80, than the Estate Cask. This first release of Brenne 10 was limited to 290 cases and was exclusive to the USA.

The Nose:   A more traditional feeling, and more balanced nose than the heavily ester-ed Brenne Estate Cask. The sweetness is certainly still there, but tempered; dark floral honey, caramelized apricots, juicy orange, passion fruit, and a bit of cotton candy. Behind that there’s malt syrup, vanilla bean, and toasted bread with pithy marmalade. Nicely integrated oak notes with cinnamon butter, candied ginger, and a bit of clove.

The Palate:  More oily, less airy seeming than the Estate Cask. The fruit is downplayed here comparatively. There are nice hints of orange and stewed stone fruits, but more dark sugars emerge – orange blossom honey, caramel and brûlée-d crème brûlée. Some faintly nutty chocolate and/or vanilla fudge leads to sturdy, mouth-watering, tannic oak notes with clove, cinnamon, peppercorns, and a hint of ginger.

The Finish:  Much fuller and longer, with caramel, burnt orange, tannic oak, and a bit of fine ground pepper.

Thoughts:  Oh the ravages of age! While I found the Brenne 10 Year Old to be a more solid, more balanced whisky, I also found it to be less distinctive and more akin to “traditional” Scotch malt whisky in comparison to the Estate Cask. The complex sweetness of both does help establish the “house style”. This one’s sweetness echoes its predecessor, but it’s now darker, richer, and more integrated. In general, this is a more muscular, less delicate whisky, but the trade-off is the oak has overshadowed some of that softer, estery, unique fruit-filled complexity. Still, this is good stuff…pricey, but good. The influence of the cognac process and casks makes for an interesting alternative to the more expected, stereotypical single malt style.

Brenne 10 Year Old French Single Malt Whisky, +/-2015                          

48% ABV

Score:  84



Brenne Estate Cask French Single Malt Whisky – Review

*Thank you to Allison Patel and Brenne Whisky for the sample. 

brenne-estate-caskBrenne Estate Cask French Single Malt Whisky was first launched in the fall of 2012. This whisky was the brainchild of whisky connoisseur turned astute whisky-making pro, Allison Patel. In a market where the more novel whiskies are often a relegated, small minority, Brenne has succeeded with its terroir-driven ingredients and its decidedly non-traditional whisky making process. While reading up on what makes this whisky rather unique, I realized that I knew very little about the booze that it has roots in. So while it may not be the most exciting thing to read, here’s what I hope is an adequately accurate glimpse into the process which makes Brenne stand out.

In searching for a producer to help realize her vision, Patel looked to France, specifically the Charente region which is of course the home of France’s most famous homegrown spirit, Cognac. Certainly an interesting place to seek out a whisky-maker. While the country is a leading consumer of the stuff, whisky-making has never really been a popular sport there. There are some areas where it’s becoming a bigger deal, mostly in the north where there’s more of an embedded tradition of growing, brewing and distilling grain, but in the Charente, Cognac is still king by a long shot. Nonetheless, Patel found a Cognac producer that had recently begun making a whisky, and working closely with them, carved out a plan for the Brenne brand.

Charentais Alembic Still
Charentais Alembic Still

The Brenne Estate Cask is distilled from two types of organic barley grown on the producer’s estate but milled and malted elsewhere. The rather chalky soil of the region, which helps cultivate the meager grapes that end up producing France’s most famous spirit, also produces a somewhat different grain. Other than the use of barley, Brenne’s whisky has much more in common with Cognac than it does Scotch whisky. Using a yeast more common to Cognac production, the wort undergoes a relatively long fermentation process, and is distilled in traditional Charentais alembic stills. These all-copper pot stills differ from Scottish stills in that there’s established rules dictating the shape and function. Alembics have an onion/bulb-shaped head atop the main boiler, and the condensing arm is much thinner than the Lyne arms on Scottish stills. While I’m not sure the Brenne process includes this, one interesting aspect of the Charentais still setup the “chauffe-vin,” a large, copper, bulb-shaped, energy-saving container that holds the wine prior to it going into the still. The condensing arm from the still passes through the chauffe-vin, and the residual heat from the distillate pre-warms the wine.

Brenne is twice-distilled using this Charentais process, and then heads for the barrels, which also differ from the nearly ubiquitous American white oak (Quercus Alba) casks used pretty much around the world. For cognac to be legally called Cognac, it must be aged a minimum of two years in barrels made from “French oak” that comes from either the Limousin or Tronçais forests. Predominantly, the oak species used from these forests is Quercus Robur and Quercus Petraea. These European white oaks, particularly Quercus Robur, differ from American white oak by having higher amounts of tannins and lignins, which adds a more complex, less vanilla-oriented spice to whatever they are maturing. The cooperage of Cognac casks differs from that of American-made bourbon barrels as well. The wood is “cured” outdoors for up to three years before reaching the cooper’s hands. Instead of the heavy charring done to finished bourbon barrels, Cognac coopering bends the staves by repeated dampening and heating during the construction process. This repeated toasting eventually creates what is more or less a light char, but nowhere near that of bourbon barrels.

So with all that in mind, here’s a look at the brand’s flagship, the Brenne Estate Cask. This one is aged for five years in new French Oak barrels, then finished in ex-Cognac barrels for approximately two to three years. There is no age statement on this expression because the period of the ex-cognac finishing can be variable depending on when Patel feels the whisky is ready to go. Initially, Brenne had very limited distribution, occasionally done by Patel herself via bicycle. These days, Brenne is distributed by Classic Imports and is available in 29 states as well as in its home country of France, and is available through many online retailers.

The Nose:  As whisky goes, this is a fruity, floral, quite sweet, fairly unique nose. Notes of ripe apricot, floral honey, tangerine and bruised apples join candied tones of gummi bears, orange push-ups, and butter mints. Nice grain notes of toasted barley and perhaps even banana bread.  More depth is added with hints of soft white flower petals, the burnt top of crème brûlée, and candied fennel. The wood influence more subtle than expected, a bit of vanilla syrup, cinnamon-candied almonds, a touch of oaked chardonnay, and just a hint of sawn boards.

The Palate:  An almost barely-there, creamy mouthfeel, with that eiswein-like sweetness from the nose carrying right through to the palate. Initially there’s more apricot and orange, more gummi, and more honey. As evidence of the new french oak and cognac finishing slowly creep in, there are notes of butter cookies, marzipan, and cinnamon frosting. Towards the end, more woody spice notes appear: drying clove, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, and a tannic bit of polished oak.

The Finish:  On the shorter side with nice touches of sweetness and spice mixing with a mouth-watering, slightly herbaceous dryness.

Thoughts:  A delicate, yet fairly elegant and distinctive whisky. My initial impression of Brenne’s Estate Cask was that its sweetness was too much, but in the span of a single glass, much more was revealed and I found myself enjoying it more than I initially thought I would. This is a sweet, almost ethereal whisky, no doubt about it, but it manages an interesting complexity (the nose, especially) within that sweetness. While palate and finish show more evidence of the unique maturation, and they hold on to enough from the nose to give it some progression and balance, they’re perhaps a little timid and thin compared to the nose. Brenne is nice to sip on its own, and I can imagine it being interesting to use in a wide variety of cocktails and pleasant over ice in the warmer months. As this is a single cask whisky prone to expected variation, I have to say I found this one lacking depth and strength compared to the other two Estate Casks I’ve tried. Still, certainly a creatively different whisky, and perhaps for that reason alone it’s worth trying.

Brenne Estate Cask French Single Malt Whisky, +/~ 2015

40% ABV

Score:  81


SMWSA Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza – Fall 2016

ExtravaganzaLogo2015If you’re a fan of Scotch whisky or looking to become a fan of Scotch whisky, the traveling road show of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America, The Whisky Extravaganza, is a large-scale show I definitely recommend attending. Held in often elegant venues, with its focused program and pour list, The Extravaganza is a great opportunity to try many of the single malts being bottled today.

To that end, The Casks is happy to offer a discount code that The Whisky Extravaganza has provided for their 2016 Fall Tour which visits Chicago, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, and Fort Lauderdale. When ordering tickets, simply enter EXTD2016″ in the promotional code box and receive 10% off the ticket price.


Tickets available here.