Cognac D’Usse VSOP

Maker: Chateau de Cognac, Cognac, Charente, France. (Bacardi)20160929_162624.jpg

Region: Blend.

Age category: VSOP (at least 4 y/o).

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $51

Appearance: Brownish copper with long, elegant legs.

Nose: Alcohol, felt, old oak, prune juice.

Palate: Full bodied. Juicy and a little chewy with a bold burn throughout.

Finish: Raisins, oak, heat. Long.

Parting words: Cognac d’Ussé is best known for being developed (endorsed?) by Jay-Z. Don’t confuse it with other celebrity spirits like Conjure Cognac or Ciroc vodka. Those are garbage, this is not. D’Usse is a product of Chateau de Cognac, appropriately located   in a castle in central Cognac. Baron Otard is Chateau de Cognac’s primary product line with all the usual suspects. Unlike those, D’Usse (this and the $200+ XO) is made by blending brandies from all over CdC’s estates. It was intended to rope in a young, hip audience. How young and/or hip I am is up for debate, but I have been roped in.

There are no flavors or aromas here that are too far outside the norm for Cognacs, but they’re all amped up while remaining balanced. As a newcomer to good Cognac, I really enjoyed it. The price is in the same ballpark as other VSOPs from Cognac houses of comparable size. Not that it matters but the bottle is really cool looking too. D’Usse VSOP is recommended.

 

Craigellachie 13

Maker: Craigellachie (Aberlour), Craigellachie, Moray, Scotland, UK (Bacardi)wpid-2015-10-30-20.16.53.jpg.jpeg

Region: Speyside (BenRinnes cluster)

Notes: Not chill filtered. The Last Great Malts series.

ABV: 46%

Michigan State Minimum: $55

Appearance: Dark straw with clingy evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Leather, apricot jam, alcohol, lavender, dried date.

Palate: Full-bodied and medium sweet. Ripe red peaches, oak, butterscotch, ground coriander seed.

Finish: Sweet malt, oak, then a light burn.

Parting words: Craigellachie named for a bluff overlooking the River Spey and there is a Craigellachie bridge (built in the early 19th century) and a Hotel Craigellachie that is often recommended as a good place to stay while exploring the Speyside area. The distillery itself has a remarkably boring history which I will not recount. It’s currently owned by Bacardi’s Dewars & Sons division and forms the heart of Dewar’s blends. It has been only rarely seen in independent or distillery bottlings over the years, but that may be changing with its two entries in Dewar’s The Last Great Malts series.

Craigellachie’s neighbors are more famous than it, like Macallan, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Aberlour. Unlike most of those, this is not a light and flowery malt. It’s got heft to it, like Balvenie and Mortlach. It’s often described as sulphury and waxy but I have trouble detecting either one here, though I have trouble detecting them anywhere, frankly. The heft and alleged sulphur come from the large stills (allowing for reflux), use of cast iron worm tubs to cool the spirit, and the relative dearth of copper in the worms, so I’m told.

Unlike Balvenie and Mortlach, there is no beef here. This is all thick custard, fruit and oak. Ex-bourbon casks take the lead here, but there may be a few sherry butts in the mix as well. If so, they are used judiciously. This is an exquisitely balanced, but flavorful and well-craft whisky. It pairs great with homemade shortbread too.

Considering all the garbage that is out there at twice the price, Craigellachie 13 is a steal. Considering how good this is has made me loose even more respect for Bacardi/Dewar’s. How can your blend taste so bad when your malt is so good? I don’t know, but I do know that Craigellachie 13 is great. Highly recommended.

Head to head: Dewar’s White Label vs. Dewar’s 12 y/o Special Reserve

A: White Label

Dewars head to head

B: 12 y/o

Maker: Dewar & Sons, Perthshire, Scotland, UK (Bacardi)

Age

A: NAS

B: 12 y/o

ABV: 40%

Appearance (coloring likely added)

A: Pale gold.

B: Pale copper.

Nose

A: Young. Malt, varnish, and a bit of brown butter.

B: Richer. Woodruff, malt, hints of sherry and oak.

On the palate

A: Full bodied and immature. New make, alcohol, malt, not much else.

B: Full bodied and more rounded. Malt, butterscotch, honey, oak.

Finish

A: Hot and brash with a bit of candy sweetness on the back end.

B: Creamy and sweet with a little bite. Fades slowly.

Mixed

A: Adequate in a hot toddy, but doesn’t contribute  much. Same with a butterscotch, Rob Roy and

Rusty Nail. Pleasantly malty with soda.

B: Does well in all the above drinks, adding a nice buttery note and more depth. In other words, one can actually taste the whisky in the drink.

Parting words: Both of these were perfectly adequate whiskies with the 12 y/o being the richer and more rounded of the two. Surprisingly, given the price difference, I would rank Dewar’s White label above Johnny Walker Red, but it’s still no more than a mixer. To confuse things further, I would rank the 12 y/o version below Johnny Walker Black, even though the two are the same age. The 12 does really well in cocktails but falls flat as a sipper. JW Black isn’t the most complex blend on the market but it has enough smoke and oak to keep me from dozing off mid sip.

In conclusion, Dewar’s White Label is mildly recommended for mixing but not for sipping and Dewar’s 12 y/o is recommended for mixing but only mildly recommended for sipping.

Bombay Sapphire East

Maker: G&J Greenall, Warrington, England, UK (Bacardi)

Style: London Dry (with added lemongrass and black pepper)

ABV: 42%

Appearance: Clear.

Nose: Dry. Juniper, pepper, citrus, alcohol.

On the palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Some spice does come through but not a lot. Tangerine, maybe.

Finish: Sweet at first, then shifting into a warm, dry spice. Still some tangerine in the background though.

Mixed: Very nice in a Tom Collins. The lemon juice really complements and enhances the Black Pepper and lemongrass. Performs well with tonic, too. Adds a slightly bitter, spicy bite. Does very well in a dry martini, as long as one goes easy on the vermouth (I tend to overdo it sometimes). The black pepper really comes out and adds an interesting element. Would probably work very well in a dirty martini.

Parting words: Not much else to say about Bombay Sapphire East. It delivers on its promises. It adds Southeast Asian tang to mixed drinks. I’ve only seen it in travel retail shops around here, but it may be available elsewhere. Pick one up the next time you make a run for the border. Recommended.