Black Star Farms 10 year old Apple Brandy

Age: 10 y/o

ABV: 42.7%

Appearance: Copper with thick clingy legs

Nose: alcohol, mulled cider, apple pie, cardamom, lemon juice, apple sauce with sweet cinnamon, brown butter

On the palate: full-bodied. Sweet brown sugar, a good amount of burn, cinnamon, coriander, cardamom and tart apples.

Finish: warm, dry, that sweet cinnamon again, reminding me of my grandmother’s homemade apple sauce.

Parting Words: This a fantastic spirit. The standard Black Star Farms Apple Brandy is a pleasant sipper that performs nicely in cocktails and in mulled cider. But this 10 y/o apple brandy reaches sublime hights. Black Star Farms’ 10 y/o apple brandy was aged in a new toasted oak barrel, like those used for wine. This results in a spirit that, even at 10 y/o, still has a lot of crisp apple character. It is on par with a fine cognac or Armagnac and is best sipped neat or with a little water in a snifter or Glencairn glass.

There are few micro-distilling outfits that have been in business long enough to offer a 10 y/o product that they made themselves. Even some that are approaching that number have not been putting any back for longer aging. Black Star Farms had the foresight to let this brandy lay. It’s not cheap, I paid $75 at the tasting room for my bottle, but unlike most $75 whiskeys, this stuff is worth every penny. Highly Recommended.

A Visit to Black Star Farms

I’m feeling like crap  today but I’m going to get this written up, dammit.

On Saturday, Jun 19, 2011 Frind of the Blog Amy and I and our spouses and my baby visited Black Star Farms Old Mission tasting room in Traverse City, Michigan. Black Star Farms is one of the best (if not the best) wineries in Michigan. They are well known for their exceptional late-harvest Rieslings, sur lie Chards and many other excellent wines and even cider. Their website is Look for a review of the 2008 Late Harvest Riesling in the near future!

Anyway we had been there before but, what we were most interested in this time was their spirits program. They produce a number of them.

Red Grape Grappa
White Grape Grappa (I had this and it was excellent)

Spirit of…(eaux de vie)
Plum (also very good)
Pear (also a version with the pear inside the bottle)

Apple Brandies
Spirit of Apple (NAS but about 12 mos. old)
10 y/o Apple Brandy (spectacular)

For the sake of full discosure, I had been communicating with their Twitterer Coryn and she waived the tasting fees for my party and me, a $25 value.

She also showed Amy and I around behind the scenes. Here are some photos Amy took:

Their press

Their Still

According to Coryn:

The still is run 3-4 times a week

–          The clear fruit eau de vie brandies come off the still at approx. 75-80% (150-160 proof). They rest in the glass carboys and are then blended in the stainless steel tanks where they sit for approx. a month. They cut the brandy to be 40% (80 proof) and then bottle it.
–          The apple brandy comes off the still at 75% (150 proof) and goes into the barrel at 65% (130 proof) where it ages for approx 12 months. When it is bottled it is cut down to 40% (80 proof).

The carboys

Their Barrels with aging Apple Brandy

Again, from Coryn:

The barrels are a combination of French and American Oak. They were new when we purchased them and they are used for one rotation of aging for the apple brandy and then they get used to age the Sirius Maple Dessert wine. They are relatively low toasted oak barrels – this style was chosen b/c the idea is to accentuate the fruit of the apple.

Finally, their bottler:

The apple brandy is a very different beast from Laird’s which has so many fans among my fellow bourbon-fanciers. It is a much more delicate spirit than that or even Tom’s Foolery. Spirit of Apple was reviewed few months ago on this blog. When I first opened it I got a weird celery aroma in the nose, but that has calmed down now.

The 10 y/o is just great, great stuff. So complex and elegant, I’m having trouble wrapping my head around it. You all know what a cheap bastard I am, but I have not regreted paying $75 for it yet. A review of that will be forthcoming, hopefully a video review.

Anyway, it’s definately worth the trip if you ever make it “Up North” to Traverse City!

How ya like them apple (brandies)? Head to Head: Tom’s Foolery vs. Black Star Farms

1)      Tom’s Foolery Applejack

2)      Black Star Farms Spirit of Apple


1)      Tom’s Foolery (Chagrin Falls, Ohio)

2)      Black Star Farms (Sutton’s Bay, Michigan)


1)      80 (40% ABV)

2)      80 (40% ABV)


1)      2 y/o

2)      NAS

Other Info:

1)      Batch 1, bottle 3.  Aged in used bourbon barrels.

2)      Produced at Black Star Farms Old Mission Peninsula facility, Traverse City, Michigan.


1)      Pale gold

2)      Slightly darker, edging closer to copper


1)      Young, raw, buttery, sweet, but with a dry, slightly sour apple note

2)      Rich, spicy, baked apple stuffed with nothing but celery

On the palate

1)      Light mouthfeel, still a bit raw, but creamy and sweet with a bit of cinnamon

2)      Light, maybe a little too light.  The celery flavor is still there, but it is not unpleasant.


1)      Low, slow and voluptuous.  Rich toffee and brown sugar.   Apple crisp comes to mind immediately

2)      The celery gives way to a huge wallop of cassia.  The big hot finish lingers in the cheeks for a long time.

Parting Words

These are pretty different spirits, despite them both being apple brandies (“applejack” is a traditional American name for apple brandy).  The Spirit of Apple is obviously older than Tom’s Foolery, I would guess about twice as old.  The celery scent and flavor in the Spirit of Apple was pretty shocking at first, but it wasn’t really a deal-breaker in the end.  If you can find it, Black Star Farms put out a 10 y/o Apple Brandy last year.  Binny’s had it for $100 a bottle last time I was there.  Hopefully, it’s cheaper at the tasting room in Traverse City.  UPDATE: According to the official Black Star Farms twitterer the 10 y/o Apple Brandy sells for $75 at the tasting room.

Tom’s Foolery, while definitely very young and equally hard to fine, has loads of potential.  Even young, it had a sophistication the Spirit of Apple lacked.  In ten years or less, Tom’s Foolery is going to be an incredible, world-class spirit.  It’s already very close to that.

Review: Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy, bottled-in-bond

Maker: Laird’s (Scobeyville, New Jersey/North Garden, Virginia)

Age:  NAS (4 y/o)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV, all spirits labeled “Bottled in Bond” are 100 proof, among other requirements, see b3 here)

Color: Bright copper

Nose: caramel, a bit of spice, sour apple, alcohol

Palate:  Sweet, creamy caramel apple on entry, then hot.  With a splash of filtered water, sweet apple pie and sour apple Now-n-Laters come to the fore, with a surprising hit of wood at the end.

Finish: hot, dry, finishing up with a big, dry tingle.  With the water, the heat abates.  There is some wood carryover, but, as on the palate, the sweetness predominates, with sweet apple (gala or honeycrisp) lingering on the tongue for a long time.

Parting words: When it comes to American Apple Brandies, for me, Laird’s BiB (Bottled-in-Bond) is the benchmark.   In addition to being delicious, it’s a classic American spirit.  In Henry J. Crowgey’s Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking, almost half the pages in the book contain references to the distillation of fruit brandies, especially peach and apple.  In a world filled with syrupy, fruity nonsense (and not just on the liquor shelves) or overpriced, overwrought “collector’s bottlings”, Laird’s bottled-in-bond is a charming sip of Americana.  And really, really yummy too.