CB: More middle-aged Calvados. Chocolate-covered candy apple, vanilla, honey.
GB: Sweet apples, alcohol, a bit of oak.
CB: Richer and leatherier. Dark chocolate, cider, burn.
Thanks to John Creek and Bhavik Patel for getting Comrade Brandy together.
Parting words: Laird’s is the bourbon-lovers’ apple brandy and I, a bourbon lover, love Laird’s. I was excited when it was announced that Laird’s was going to be releasing a high-proof single barrel edition, so as soon as it hit the stores and went out and bought a barrel. A few weeks later, I found myself in a Facebook group for a private barrel pick of that very same product. So I took the opportunity to write up another one of my beloved head to head tasting reviews.
I enjoyed both of these but Comrade Brandy had more Calvados-like depth and complexity than the off-the-shelf model. I’m very glad I decided to buy two bottles but I kind of wish I had purchased more. I was sent two I didn’t order accidentally, but I can’t just keep them, right? Right? Laird’s Single Cask selection is recommended.
Palate: White chocolate apple, vanilla custard, burn.
Finish: Butterscotch hard candy, ginger, kiss of oak.
Parting words: Roger Groult is a family-owned Calvados producer in the Pays d’Auge, in the eastern half of the Calvados AOC. Groult produces a full line of apple brandies that often show up on the shelves of large liquor stores in the US.
I haven’t tried any of the other Groult brandies so I can’t comment on how this one compares to the others, but I did enjoy it. There’s nothing too distictive but there’s also nothing unpleasant. At 8 years I did expect a bit more oak, but I’m not big on oaky apple brandies, so that was fine with me. I just wish that there was a little more depth. $60 isn’t terrible for an age-stated Calvados so Roger Groult 8 year old Calvados is recommended.
Note: The tour of Copper & Kings was complimentary for my party and me.
On my last few trips to Kentucky, my crew and I have not done much in the way of activities. When you’ve been going for ten years or so, you’ve done all the tours and seen pretty much all the sites so my inclination is to just kick around town or the hotel and not do a bunch of driving here and there. In other words, we fell into a rut.
This April I decided to do more. I scheduled two day trips for us. The first was to Frankfort (more on that later), and the second was to Louisville. In the latter, I scheduled a tour of the Old Forester Distilling Company (Brown-Forman’s excellent answer to the Evan Williams Experience), a lunch with award-winning bourbon journalist Maggie Kimberl, and then a tour of Copper & Kings distillery.
For the second year in a row I had forgotten that the Louisville Marathon is that Saturday morning and as a result many of the streets downtown are closed off to vehicular traffic. Despite this we managed to sucessfully navigate through the streets of downtown Louisville by car and then by foot to make our way to Old Forester Distilling Co ahead of schedule.
Lunch was a different story. I had neglected to call ahead to our chosen lunch meeting
place and when we met Maggie there, the wait was forty-five minutes. That wouldn’t work, so Maggie told us to all jump into her minivan and she took us to a popular restaurant near Copper & Kings called Butchertown Grocery. Their wait was even longer but they told us to go down the street to a newer, smaller place called Naive. They had seats and good food, drinks, and service.
After that, we bid farewell to Maggie and walked to Copper & Kings. A winding path through repurposed shipping containers (containing a gift shop and restrooms) runs from the front of the property into a courtyard that occupies the space in front of the main building. The space is set up for outdoor events and includes a bar, a firepit and a large tent (in case of rain, I assume). Just about everything is orange.
Our tour group assembled in the large tent (it was raining) and we got a brief opening talk from our tour guide Margaret. She gave us the basics about what brandy is and told us a little about the According to Margaret, before prohibition there were 400 or so brandy distilleries in the US. Very few survived and many of those that did, make sweet, dessert brandies. That is not what Copper & Kings makes. They aim to make brandy for bourbon-drinkers. The distillery began operations in 2009 and opened to the public in 2014.
Margaret then led us through the courtyard into the first floor of the main building by the stills. They had three steam-heated alembic stills at the time, with one on the way, all manufactured by Vendome. The smallest is Sara (50 gallons), followed by Magdalena (750 gal), and Isis (1,000 gal). Their newest still, Rosemary (2,000 gal), had not yet been delivered when we were there. In case you were wondering, all the stills are named after women whose names appear in Bob Dylan songs, mostly in songs from his 1976 album Desire. Rosemary appears on the prior album Blood on the Tracks. I would have gone with Patty Valentine, but what do I know? According to Margaret, the stills are currently run around the clock but vary according to the phase of the moon. Distillation takes shortest during a full moon, longest during a new moon. I know that sounds like baloney, but it’s based on data compiled over the years by former C & K employee Alan Bishop. The difference is not great but it does exist, especially during a “super moon”. Alan is currently master distiller at Spirits of French Lick in French Lick, Indiana.*
No fermentation takes place at the distillery. All the wine, cider or whatever that is destined for the stills is feremnted elsewhere and taken to the distillery. The grapes (Columbard, Muscat Alexander, and Chenin Blanc) are sourced from California and the apples from Michigan. Yeast strains are chosen on a year to year basis.
After looking the stills over, Margaret took us down to the cellar in which brandies were
aging in a bewildering variety of cooperage. The brandy destined for C & K’s core line are aged in ex-bourbon casks originally from Heaven Hill, makers of Evan Williams, Elijah Craig and many more. The rest were aging in ex-sherry, ex-Cognac, mead, beer, wine, cider and many many more. There were even a few barrels of oddball spirits that C & K has acquired over the years, presumably for future releases. The barrels are obtained through Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville.
Copper & Kings practices something they call sonic aging. This has nothing to do with an elderly hedgehog. It’s the practice of placing speakers (20 total including five sub-woofers) in the cellar and cranking the volume up to get the spirit moving and increase the amount of contact between the spirit and the barrel. Appropriately enough, they were playing My Morning Jacket while we were there.
We then moved upstairs to a large, lounge-like
space to sit down and do some sampling. I tried their 5th anniversary brandy, called A Song for You, a high-powered gin and a delicious barrel-finished absinthe. We all tasted each other’s samples as well, and the biggest standout of those was an unusual distillery-only pear brandy. I didn’t end up going home with that but I kind of wish I had.
After the sampling, we all headed to the rooftop bar for a cocktail and a good view of Louisville and the solar panels on the roof. Sustainability is a big concern for Copper & Kings. In addition to the solar panels, they have planted a monarch butterfly garden that doubles as run-off mitigation and offer anyone who rides a bicycle to the distillery 50% off the price of a tour.
The rooftop bar.
Solar panels and the skyline.
That was the end. Our guide Margaret was wonderful, and if I have any complaint, it was that everything was a little too orange. Don’t get me wrong, as a graduate of Broad Ripple High School and Anderson University I have great affection for the color, but it got to be too much. Anyhow, a tour of Copper & Kings is recommended.
I also recommend stopping at Butchertown Market after your tour for some light souvenir and candy shopping. We did and got some good stuff. Check it out!
*Big thanks to Alan for answering my question via FB messenger and to Maggie Kimberl and Steve Beam for connecting me with him!
Maker: Domaine Dupont, Victot-Pontfol, Normandy, France
Style: Calvados-barrel-aged cider.
Apples: 67% bittersweet, 33% acidic
Place of origin: (Pays d’Auge) Normandy, France.
Vintage: 2016 (bottled 2017)
Notes: Unpasteurized, wild yeast fermented. Aged in Calvados barrels for six months.
Purchased for $25/750 ml (Vine & Table, Carmel, Indiana)
Parting words: Domaine Dupont is one of the big cheeses of Calvados and like many other Calvados houses, they make cider and pommeau as well. The domaine has been owned by the Dupont family since 1917. Current patriarch Éitienne Dupont modernized the estate when he took over from his father Jules in the 1980s. He handed the business over to his son Jérôme and daughter Ann-Pamy in 2002. Sadly, Jérôme was killed in an accident in August of 2018. Éitienne has come out of retirement to help Ann-Pamy and the management team to lead the company.
Dupont’s line of ciders consists of the entry-level Cidre Bouche (reviewed in 2014), an organic cider, Triple (triple fermented from 100% bittersweets), Cuvée Colette (champagne method), and this one, the Calvados-barrel aged Reserve. I didn’t care for the Cidre Bouche when I tried it (too dry and funky) but I really enjoy this cider. The barrel aging adds a wonderful creamy sweetness that balances out the chalky funk. The result is a well-rounded, complex but easy-drinking cider that anyone can enjoy.
That doesn’t come cheap, but Dupont Reserve is easily worth the price. Dupont Reserve is highly recommended.
Palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Sweet sherry, old oak, toffee.
Finish: Rubber, oak, alcohol
Parting words: Copper & Kings is one of the few microdistillers that is taking brandy seriously. In fact, they do more than take it seriously, it’s the heart of their business. They have six brandies on Michigan shelves, including an unaged apple brandy and the aged Floodwall.
Floodwall has a lot of things going for it. It’s 100 proof, a rarity for brandy (although Laird’s does make a bonded apple brandy), is under $50 (a rarity for aged craft spirits), mixes well and tastes a little like an old Calvados.
That last item is also its greatest weakness, though. My favorite apple brandies are ones that are mature but still retain some apple character to balance out the cask characteristics. Old Calvados is usually all cask and Floodwall is too. In Floodwall’s case, the cause is not age, but heavy handed use of sherry cask. There are some interesting things in the nose and on the front end of the palate but it all quickly turns one dimensional. If you like big sherry finishes, you’ll probably like Floodwall, but I wasn’t very keen on it. Floodwall is not recommended.
Maker: Christian Drouin, Gonneville-le-Theil, Manche, Normandy, France (Drouin family).
Place of origin: Pays d’Auge AOC, Calvados, Normandy, France.
VSOP: at least four years old
XO: at least six years old
VSOP: $67(Party source)
XO: $80? (From memory. Not listed on the websites of Binny’s, TPS or anywhere else I looked.)
Thanks to Amy & Pete for picking the XO up for me!
VSOP: Bright orange.
XO: A little darker, burnt orange.
VSOP: Cut apple, alcohol, leather.
XO: Oak, sweet apple cider.
VSOP: Full-bodied. Caramel apple (no nuts)
XO: Full-bodied. White chocolate-covered apple.
VSOP: Fruity and chewy. Pinch of celery leaf.
XO: Bitter oak, a little caramel.
Parting words: Christian Drouin (not to be confused with Joseph Drouhin, the Burgundian négociant) has not been in business very long for the producer of a spirit that’s been around for five hundred years or more. It was founded in 1960 when Rouen industrialist Christian Drouin (the elder) purchased a farm in Gonneville, Manche, near Cherbourg. Since then, the brand has expanded rapidly and is one of the most widely distributed lines of Calvados in the world. It is currently run by Christian Drouin the younger with the elder’s grandchildren also working at the family business. Drouin currently produces (in ascending order of age) an unaged apple/pear eau de vie (Blanche de Normandie), Sélection (reviewed back in April), Réserve, VSOP, XO, Hors d’Age, 25 y/o, and a range of vintage Calvados.
I purchased the VSOP in Indianapolis and when FotBs Pete and Amy stopped off at The Party Source last spring, I asked them to pick up a bottle of the Réserve. The Réserve was not in stock but the XO was, so they picked that one up instead. I was surprised but not disappointed.
Both of these brandies are delicious. If I had to pick one over the other, I would pick the VSOP. It retains more apple aroma and flavor than the XO does and makes a refreshing, but still somplex summertime sip. The XO does retain some spple character but it takes a back seat to the rich, dessert flavors that come with age and use of different types of cooperage, a point of emphasis for Drouin. It is said that as Calvados ages it slowly loses its apple character and moves closer the flavor of aged grape brandies like Cognac. The XO seems to exemplify that phenomenon.
Christian Drouin VSOP and XO are both recommended.
Maker: Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery, St. John’s, Michigan, USA
Distiller: Red Cedar, East Lansing, Michigan, USA (From Uncle John’s own cider)
Age: NAS (2-6 y/o)
Price: Don’t remember/375 ml. Only available at the winery. Complimentary bottle.
Appearance: Bright copper.
Nose: Apple cider, cola, caramel, leather.
Palate: Sweet and medium bodied. Salted caramel, candy apple, alcohol.
Finish: Lavender, raisins, toasted oak. Long.
Mixed: I tried this brandy in two cocktails, both of which put the brandy front and center. The first was the classic Jack Rose (with lime juice and grenadine). It was good. The second was the Marconi Wireless (basically an apple brandy Manhattan). It was just OK. The pungent sweet vermouth I used overwhelmed the brandy.
Parting words: From my “A Visit to Uncle John’s“: “We then moved on to the really good stuff, apple brandy. They have twelve barrels aging at the Cider Mill. They have two different types of barrels to age their brandy. Some is aged in toasted French oak (in barrels intended for Calvados) and some in Michigan oak barrels, also toasted. The Michigan oak barrels were sourced by St. Julien’s to be distributed to wineries across the state. Mike prefers the French oak barrels but again credits St. Julien’s with doing a good thing for wineries in the state by facilitating the use of home grown wood in wine and spirits production. It’s a cool thing for a Michigan producer to be able to say that [its] product has been aged in Michigan oak.”
Uncle John’s Apple Brandy was fine mixed, but it’s really a back porch neat sipping brandy. I don’t remember the price but I don’t remember it being unreasonable for a half sized bottle. It’s made in very limited quantities (currently sold out) so get some if you’re ever in the Lansing area. Uncle John’s Apple Brandy is recommended.
Palate: Medium sweet. Maple sugar, partially fermented apple cider.
Finish: Herbal and slightly oaky.
Mixed: Performed well in cocktails with lemon like the Deauville cocktail (brandy, apple brandy, triple sec, lemon juice) named for the seaside resort town down the road from Coudray-Rabut. It did poorly in cocktails containing Vermouth, clashing with the other ingredients.
Parting words: Like most distillers in Calvados, Christian Drouin’s Coeur de Lion distillery makes a range of apple brandies as well as producing cider and perry (poire). The Drouin brandy range includes (in ascending order of age) an unaged apple/pear eau de vie (Blanche de Normandie), Sélection, Réserve, VSOP, XO, Hors d’Age, 25 y/o, and a range of vintage Calvados (dates from 1939 to 1983 are listed on the outdated website).
The Sélection is fine for what it is, a bottom end casual drinking or mixing Calvados. I didn’t know it was made with pears in the mix along with apples. The source material represents itself well, as it should in a young whiskey or brandy. $40 is more than I would pay for a bourbon of this quality but given the inflation of non Cognac French brandy prices, that’s probably fair. I tasted from a 375 ml bottle. If you’re on the fence on this, that might be a good way to dip your toe in the proverbial water. Christian Drouin Sélection is recommended.
My home state of Michigan, like sixteen other states, is what is called a “control state”. This means that the state government is directly involved with the sale of liquor in some way. Many of those states operate state-owned liquor stores but others, like Michigan, merely act as the wholesaler for the state. As a wholesaler, the state of Michigan maintains a list of all the spirits available for purchase from itself called the price book. The price book is issued by the state a few times each year. Supplemental lists (now called new items lists) are issued periodically listing items to be added to or deleted from the price book. These lists contain a variety of information but the most important to consumers is the minimum price at which the spirit must be sold at retail.
This post is a look at the new items for February 28, 2016. The LARA website with links to lists in the recent past is here. Caps retained out of laziness but with full names given where the state has abbreviated them. Proof (Michigan lists everything in terms of US proof which= 2 x %ABV), bottle size in ml and retail price are given for each one. I have added notes at the end of each if I think it necessary. Some items are not actually new, but fell off the list for some reason and have been added back or are new bottle sizes for items already on the list. Sometimes an item will be added and removed at the same time. I think this is a way to make corrections, but it’s still puzzling. For the sake of brevity, I have excluded apparent corrections from this post. Some new items are also gift pack versions of existing items. These are always the same price as the bottle alone.
HOTEL TANGO MIKE MOONSHINE 90, 750, $23.12 Listed under alcohol for some reason. See Hotel Tango Golf Gin below.
EZRA BROOKS BBN 90, 1000, $14.96
REBEL YELL BBN 80, 1000, $21.96 Two of the crummiest bourbons available in the state are now available in liter bottles. What a time to be alive. Both Rebel Yell and Ezra Brooks are from Luxco.
JEFFERSON’S OCEAN AGED CASK STRENGTH 112.0, 750, $99.99 “I’M ON A BOAT”. Jeff’s famous boat bourbon is now available in cask strength, although I would have called it naval strength. Seems like a missed opportunity. From Castle brands (Gosling’s, Knappogue).
1792 SINGLE BARREL 98.6, 750, $41.99 The latest in the flurry of 1792 line extensions spit out since Sazerac bought the brand. Hopefully, I will able to find and buy one of these, since the Sweet Wheat and Port finish seem to have been vacuumed off shelves instantaneously. Distilled in Bardstown at Barton-1792, of course.
Blended American Whiskey (listed under miscellaneous whiskey)
TINCUP 84, 1750, $57.99 The sourced blend of straights from the former Stranahan’s guy is now available in handles in the Mitten State.
JACK DANIELS SINGLE BARREL RYE 94, 750, $54.99 At long last, JD has released a mature (on paper anyway) rye whiskey. The unaged and “rested” versions got mixed reviews, but hopefully this is better.
Straight Rye Whiskey
WOODFORD RESERVE RYE 90, 750, $42.96 WRR is finally making it to Michigan. The consensus was that Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection ryes were bad, but I liked them, despite the dumb price. Unlike those, WR Rye is made both at the historic Woodford Reserve distillery on the big copper pot stills and at the distillery in Louisville. [corrected]
KNOB CREEK RYE 100, 1750, $74.99 One of my favorite Kentucky style ryes is now available in a family size bottle. Whoot!
CROWN ROYAL W/BEANIE 80, 750, $27.99 Let the world know your questionable taste in whisky all winter with this gift pack that features a one-size-fits-all black CR beanie. Or make your own.
HUNTER RYE PLASTIC 90, 100, $1.89 Imported by Sazerac, this line extension to the old Seagram’s Canadian Hunter brand is now available in small 100 ml bottles. 50 ml bottles are also available hanging off the necks of bottles of Canadian Hunter blended. Canadian Hunter is sometimes called “the poor man’s Crown Royal” which makes me sad.
BRUICHLADDICH OCTOMORE EDITION: 07.1 119, 750, $164.99 This is the latest release from Bruichladdich’s super duper peated Octomore series.
BRUICHLADDICH OCTOMORE EDITION: 07.3 126, 750, $174.99 7.3 is the 100% Islay barley version of Octomore 7. Owned by Rémy Cointreau.
KIRKLAND BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY 80, 1750, $25.99 Sourced through Alexander Murray & Co. It’s good the state has finally allowed Kirkland/Costco brands in.
Irish Whiskey (listed under miscellaneous whiskey)
KNAPPOGUE CASTLE-12 YR 92, 750 $47.99 One of my favorite Irish Whiskeys is back, although it never really left the shelves. From Castle brands (Gosling’s, Jefferson’s).
TULLAMORE DEW (IRISH)-15 YR 80, 750, $79.99 The knock on Tullamore has always been that it’s boring. I doubt this 40% ABV expression is going to help that perception. If tiny Castle Brands can release the 12 y/o Knappogue at 46% ABV for $48, then why can’t big boys like Wm. Grant release Tullamore 15 y/o at a higher ABV when asking $80? The mismanagement of this brand continues.
ST.GEORGE APPLE BRANDY 86, 750, $50.28 This is the (formerly?) limited release apple
brandy from Alameda California’s St. George microdistillery. Their fruit brandies were originally released under the Aqua Perfecta label, but have now thankfully been reissued as St. George fruit brandies. I’m always excited when a new apple brandy comes to Michigan, but a 3-4 y/o apple brandy selling for $50 does give me pause.
HOTEL TANGO ROMEO RUM 90, 750, $27.72 See Hotel Tango Victor Vodka below.
BAYOU RUM SILVER 80, 750, $19.99
BAYOU RUM SPICED 80, 750, $19.99 Bayou rum is a product of Louisiana Spirits, located about twenty miles east of Lake Charles. According to their website, they use all Louisiana sugar cane and a proprietary cane yeast strain for their line of rums. In addition to the silver, spiced (see above) and the Satsuma orange liqueur(see below), they also make Bayou Select, an aged, pot still rum. How long is it aged? They don’t say. Anyway, I’m glad to see a microdistiller focus on rum instead of hopping on the bourbon bandwagon. We need more rum.
PELICAN HARBOR RUM 80, 750, $18.99 See XIII Kings below.
ESPOLON EXTRA ANEJO 82, 750, $99.99 Elderly line extension for Campari’s Espolon comes in a little on the rich side.
HERRADURA ULTRA ANEJO 80, 750, $54.99 Brown-Forman jumps into the weird trend of crystal clear añejo tequilas with this item. At least it’s not $100.
PURA VIDA ANEJO 80, 750, $43.46
PURA VIDA REPOSADO 80, 750, $38.94
PURA VIDA SILVER 80, 750, $33.66 The line of tequilas jointed owned by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and a man named Stewart Skloss has come to Michigan with the three standard variations. Distilled by Feliciano Vivanco & Associates who also make the Siembra Azul tequila line and the ArteNOM 1414 selection, among others.
ANDREW JOHN’S 80, 750, $19.99 There’s no information about this product online at all. It’s distributed by General Wine & Liquor. I’m guessing it’s either a gin named for the rugby player Andrew Johns or it’s something the BuzzBallz people are responsible for. Either way, the total lack of information doesn’t bode well.
SIPSMITH LONDON DRY GIN 83.2, 750, $39.99
SIPSMITH V.J.O.P. 115.4, 750, $59.99 Sipsmith is a gin microdistillery in Chiswick in western Greater London. Three new products from them are on the list, two gins and a sloe gin. The London Dry is their entry level offering. This is their higher end, higher proof gin, which the website describes as a “symphony in J major” (oof). V.J.O.P.= Very Junipery Over Proof Gin. The sloe gin (see below) is made by infusing their London Dry with sloe (blackthorn) berries. Most commercial sloe gin is made with GNS, so good on them for using the traditional method. The website is cheesy but the products sound intriguing.
GRAY SKIES BARREL FINISHED GIN 80, 750, $29.99 Hopped and barrel-finished gin from the Grand Rapids microdistiller of the same chipper name. They also make Gray Skies Utility Vodka below. Coming soon: Rum. Not coming soon (they want to age it): Bourbon & Rye.
HOTEL TANGO GOLF GIN 90, 750, $27.72
HOTEL TANGO VICTOR VODKA 90, 750, $23.12 Hotel Tango is a newish microdistillery in Indianapolis in the historic Fletcher Place neighborhood. Their whiskey is aging (of what type the website doesn’t say), but they also offer gin, rum (above) and limoncello (below). Their focus seems to be cocktails. I’ve never been there or tried any of their stuff but it’s nice to have more craft spirits (especially rum) available in Michigan, assuming they’re not awful of course.
XIII KINGS VODKA 80, 750, $19.99 The BuzzBallz (actual name) unspillable/unbreakable premade cocktail people are releasing their own vodka and rum (see Pelican Bay rum above). I imagine that it’s the same liquor they use in their cocktails so it’s bound to be top quality stuff.
HOTEL TANGO LIMA CHARLIE LIMONCELLO 70, 750, $27.72 See Hotel Tango Victor Vodka above.
BAYOU SATSUMA ORANGE RUM LIQUEUR 60, 750, $19.99 Erroneously listed under rum. See Bayou Spiced rum above.
SIPSMITH SPECIAL EDITION 2013 SLOE GIN 58, 750, $49.96 See Sipsmith VJOP above.
Palate: Medium bodied. Medium dry. Heavily spiced apple pie, dry cider.
Finish: Baked apple, brown sugar, ginger, oak, fades with a little burn carrying through.
Parting words: Founded in 1780 by a Scottish immigrant, Laird’s is one of the US’s oldest commercial distillers, if not the oldest. They are the big dogs of American apple brandy, producing 90% of it, according to their website. Their bottled-in-bond apple brandy was a favorite of mine for a long time. I’ve been actively hoarding it since it was changed to a 3 y/o.
Laird’s Rare is probably the oldest American apple brandy available. If there’s one older, I haven’t had it. It’s good, but the age seems to have stripped it of most of its apple character. Oak is there, but just in the background. I wanted to love this grand old brandy, but it’s too mild on the palate and lacks the complexity of 8-10 y/o apple brandies I’ve had. At $70, I need more. Laird’s Rare Old Apple Brandy is mildly recommended.