Laird’s Single Cask, Comrade Brandy selection #2, Shelter in Place

Maker: Laird’s, Scobeyville, New Jersey/North Garden, Virginia, USA.

Age: 7 y/o (84 mos)

Barrel: 13J24-30

Notes: Bottled Oct 29, 2020, bottle 81(80?)/144.

ABV: 65%

Purchased for $65 (Comrade Brandy selection).

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Big dessert apple aroma. Apple sauce, cut crimson crisp. Water brings out vanilla.

Palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Cider, then burn. With water: White chocolate candy apple.

Finish: Long. Hot apple pie. With water: cleaner with a little heat.

Parting words: Comrade Brandy is one of two private barrel selection groups I’m a part of. I joined for the inaugural selection (reviewed here) back in 2019. Coming right at the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic, this second selection took a while to come out, but it finally arrived in members’ hands early this spring. It’s not quite as good as the first edition, but it’s close and still a very strong selection that I have no complaints about. It’s made in a classic American apple brandy style, but it does start to take on some Calvados characteristics when watered down.

$65 is a fair price for a cask strength private selection, so no complaints there either! Want to get in on the next selection? Hop onto Facebook and join the club! Laird’s Single Cask, Comrade Brandy selection #2, Shelter in Place is recommended.

Fontan XO

Maker: Vignobles Fontan, Noulens, Gers, Gascony, France.

I had a better picture at one time, I promise.

Region: Bas Armagnac

Grape: Ugni Blanc (100%)

Age category: XO (6-10 y/o). Website lists age as 10 y/o.

ABV: 42%

Purchased for $43 at The Party Source

Appearance: Dark caramel.

Nose: Leather, anise, lavender, old oak, velvet, violets.

Palate: Full-bodied. Grape hard candy, leather, clove, burn.

Finish: Horehound, anise, eucalyptus, alcohol.

Parting words: I’m still very much a French brandy newbie, but I really enjoyed this Armagnac. It’s pretty complex with some very nice spice balanced with the perfect amount of oak and sweetness. Maybe a little too perfect. It seems too dark to be natural, even if it is an XO. If caramel was added, then I suspect sugar and other additives were used as well. In the end, though, this isn’t very expensive for an XO Armagnac and it tastes good. Although I prefer additive-free spirits, that’s what really matters. Fontan XO is recommended.

Domain du Tertre, PM Spirits/Seelbach’s selection

Maker: Domaine du Terte, Mahéru, Orne, Normandy, France.

Apples: 30 or so different French cider apple varieties, possibly pear as well.

Place of origin: Calvados AOC, Normandy, France.

Age: 16 y/o (distilled 2004, bottled 2020, XO status)

ABV: 55% (cask strength)

Notes: No additives or chill filtering. Estate grown apples. 80 bottles produced. Fermented using native yeast. For more information see the Seelbach’s website.

Price: $250 (Seelbach’s exclusive)

Thanks to Blake from Seelbach’s for the complementary bottle I used for this review!

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Oak, Norman cider, apple cores, cut Granny Smith apples.

Palate: Light bodied and delicate. Session cider, apple tannin, maple sugar candy. A little sweeter with water, but a lot of the other flavors are lost.

Finish: Swimming pool (this is not a bad note!), oak, dessert apple, burn, maple syrup.

Parting words: I will never doubt the power of whining again. When friend of the blog Sku posted tasting notes to this Calvados in the Serious Brandy Facebook group and thanked Blake Riber of Bourbonr and Seelbach’s for the sample, I commented that I also accepted samples. Blake took my jokey whine seriously and got me my own bottle so I could pass along my thoughts on it. I am very thankful that he did too.

Domaine du Tertre is a small operation in a small village in Orne. The closest city (such as it is) is Alenço(u)n, the capital of the department. The majority of the Domaine’s production is cider, perry, and juice, but it does make a small amount of Calvados every year. It’s been operated by the Havard family since the 19th century, and has been making Calvados since the 1870s. It is currently owned and operated by brothers Michel and Oliver. The farm is currently 50 hectares in area and the current orchards date from 1991.

I haven’t tasted a lot of old Calvados, but many of the ones I have tasted had lost their distinctive character in the barrel and tasted more like a Cognac of the same age than an apple brandy. This Domaine du Tertre does not have that problem. It took me a little time to wrap my head around it, but it tastes what it actually is: a kicked up Norman cider. There’s a lot of tannin and a little funk with some delicious cut apple aromas and flavors. It works very well as a special occasion aperitif or summer patio sipper for when old friends come to visit. A little water cools off some of the burn but too much kills all the interesting things going on here. Go easy.

I am so glad I was able to taste this wonderful brandy, and big thanks again to Blake for sending it my way. $250 is a lot of money, to be sure, but if it’s in your budget, Seelbach’s Domaine du Tertre 2004 selection is recommended!

Claque Pépin Vieille Réserve Organic

Maker: Claque Pépin, Écouché-les-Vallées (formery Serans), Orne, France. (Benoit Louvet, owner)

Region: Calvados AOC, Normandy, France.

Age: NAS (around 6 y/o according to the Heavenly Spirits website)

ABV: 40%

Purchased for $41 (Vine & Table)

Michigan state minimum: $47

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Caramel apple, bouquet garni.

Palate: Full bodied and silky. Caramel, apple juice, wood, cassia.

Finish: Spicy and juicy.

Parting words: Claque Pépin Vieille Réserve is, according to the aforementioned Heavenly Spirits website, the first certified organic Calvados available in the US. Claque Pépin, named after a French heirloom apple variety, is not a very old company by Calvados standards, but owner Benoit Louvet worked in the industry for many years before starting his own cidery and distillery in 2005, and his family has roots in the area.

Overall this is a very pleasant Calvados. It’s simultaneously full-bodied and delicate, bold and elegant. It lacks the depth of older brandies, but there’s more than enough flavor to make up for that. It stands out vs the big VSOPs like Bushnel and Coquerel and the price is competitive. The fact that it’s organic and from a small producer are added bonuses. I really like this Calavados.

Claque Pépin Vieille Réserve Organic is recommended.

Jean-Luc Pasquet Cognac, Lot 62, Serious Brandy selection, cask #2

Maker: Sarl Domaine Pasquet, Bellevigne, Cognac, Charente, France.

Distiller: Undisclosed small distiller in Petite Champagne.

Region: Petite Champagne, Cognac, Charente, France.

Grape: Ugni Blanc (100%)

Vintage: 1962

Age: 58 y/o (100% in oak)

Note: No chill filtering or additives.

Purchased for $244/700 ml (200€) via Cognatheque.

Appearance: Bright oxblood.

Nose: Dried figs, dates, old oak, lavender, chamomile.

Palate: Full-bodied and dry, but with a little fruit. Dried cherry, oak, walnut.

Finish: Big. Anise candy, horehound, oak.

Parting words: I think is bottle is both the most expensive and oldest (longest time in oak) spirit I’ve ever purchased. I’ve tasted bourbons distilled in the 1960s and earlier (I even tried one from the 1860s once), and 30+ y/o Scotch, but never a brandy this old. Truth be told, I’m not generally not a fan of ultra-aged spirits. I find most of them unbalanced and overpriced. Why should I pay three or four figures for a whiskey that is so woody, only a beaver would enjoy it.

Despite all that, I was very excited when the administrator of a Facebook group I’m a member of, Serious Brandy, decided to do a group buy of two casks of Cognac from the cellars of Jean-Luc Pasquet. Domaine Pasquet is currently owned by Jean-Luc’s son Jean and his wife Amy, who is a frequent poster in the group. Serious Brandy’s founder, Steve (aka retired whiskey blogger Sku) is someone whose palate and knowledge of brandy I trust, and in the grand scheme of things $244 is not a huge sum for a 58 year old spirit. Single Malt Scotch in that age range sells for 5 figures or more. Be that as it may, I only bought one bottle from the second cask selected due to budgetary constraints (i.e. my wife’s strong desire to pay off all our student loans at the end of this year).

So when I opened it for the first time, I was a little disappointed. It was very intense, and the experience of drinking it was like having old fashioned licorice shoved up every orifice. I was a little sad after that so I let it sit in my cabinet for a couple weeks. Then I tried it again, and it was better. Then a tried it again after another week or two and it was even better. Now, a few months after I opened it, it’s become very good.

The finish is still intense, but the nose and palate are much more balanced. It’s still clearly an old spirit, but it’s now more spry than senile. After a few months of enjoying it I’m putting it back into my cellar and I will put it back into rotation after I finish the next French brandy I have waiting in the wings, as it were.

Anyway, big thanks to Steve and the Pasquets for giving me the opportunity to own such a rare and interesting Cognac! Jean-Luc Pasquet Cognac, Lot 62, First Serious Brandy selection, cask #2 is recommended.

St. Julian Michigan Grappa

Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA

Grape: Traminette

Style: Pomace Brandy

ABV: 40%

Price: $20/375 ml (only available at St. Julian tasting rooms)

Appearance: Clear.

Nose: Alcohol, grape stems, white pepper, ginger, violets.

Palate: Full-bodied, semi-dry. Yellow cayenne, pepper melange, lavender.

Finish: Fresh, clean, more lavender.

It’s much drier and spicier than the other grappa

Parting words: One of my common social media rants about the state of craft spirits in Michigan is frustration at the lack of brandy being produced in a state that makes quite a bit of quality wine. Along with Black Star Farms, St. Julian is one of the few wineries in the state actually making brandy. This “grappa” (Italian for pomace brandy) is the best brandy I’ve had from them.

It’s much drier and spicier than the other grappa I currently have open, one from Moscato grapes. It’s good, but Traminette’s spice does wonderful things to this spirit. I like it a lot. It’s my favorite brandy in my current rotation. At $20, it’s an easy buy, too. St. Julian Michigan Grappa is highly recommended.

Busnel VSOP

Maker: Busnel, Cormeilles, Eure, Normany, France

Region: AOC Pays d’Auge, Calvados.

Age: VSOP (at least 4 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $50

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Caramel, parsley, leather, English lavender.

Palate: Mild. Sage, French oak, pecans, toffee.

Finish: Caramel apple, eucalyptus.

Parting words: Pays d’Auge is the most prestigious apellation in Calvados. Its brandies are required to be distilled twice in pot stills (unlike the column stills used elsewhere), and the fruit (mostly apples) that goes into it must all come from the region of the same name in east-central Calvados (duh). Pears are allowed into the mix, but unlike the neighboring AOC Domfrontais, there is no minimum percetage that must be used. My understanding is that very few pears are used in Pays d’Auge anymore.

At any rate, Busnel is one of the leasing producers of Calvados, or at least one of the most commonly seen brands in the US. They’ve been distilling since the early 19th century, although brandy has been made in Calvados since at least the 17th, and probably earlier than that. They produce a full line of all the age categories, although VSOP is the only expression available in Michigan.

From my tasting notes, it may seem like this brandy is a bit cattywampus, but it really is integrated into a seemless whole. Busnel VSOP is the perfect example of a spirit that is elegant without being dull. It’s worth all $50 I paid for it, and maybe even a little more. Busnel VSOP is highly recommended.

Dartigalongue 1996, Seelbach’s selection

Maker: Maison Dartigalongue, Nogaro, Gers, France.wp-1581044510102.jpg

Region: Bas Armagnac, Gers, France

Age: 23 y/o (distilled 1996)

ABV: 45.4%

Price: $85 (Seelbach’s)

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Strong. Old French oak, star anise, grape soda, chipotle chili.

Palate: Full bodied and semi-dry. Blackberry jam, jalapeno jelly.

Finish: Licorice, burn.

Parting words: I don’t usually pay over $100 for spirits, but I did for this bottle. It was highly recommended by pals from the Serious Brandy Facebook group. I can say that, unlike recent rye and bourbon purchases in that range, I have never once suffered from buyers remorse brought on by this bottle. It’s complex and mature but not overoaked at all. It’s also even cheaper now than it was when I bought a bottle. I just might buy another one, even at $85. I can’t say more about this brandy because I’ve said it all and it’s getting late. Dartigalongue 1996, Seelbach’s selection is highly recommended.