Brandy

Review: Tiffon Tres Vieille Reserve Grande Champagne Cognac by Jason Hambrey

Pierre+Ferrand+Renegade+Barrel+2.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
80 yrs
Recipe
Grande Champagne Grapes
Distiller Tiffon (Jarnac, France)

Now here is a rather impressive one. 95% of all cognac is produced by 5 massive companies, but there are a handful of small, family owned cognac producers who give out some excellent product often for a very reasonable price. Here is one.

Ages for this product on the internet are different – some say 70 to 80 years, some say 90 – but Tiffon’s website says the cognacs in this blend are all more than 80 years old. Wow! There is some very old cognac in here and all the grapes are from the best region of cognac, Grande Champagne from Tiffon’s old vineyards (many cognac houses just buy grapes, they don’t own vineyards).

There are different versions of this “Tres Vieille” bottling from different regions – for example the more available ones from Fins Bois and Borderies.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2016 (purchased 2016, not sure when bottled)

The nose has a beautiful fruity sharpness to it, with notes of fresh cherries, plums, but more intense – in the way that the flavour intensifies as the fruit dries. Lots here: French oak, vanilla, caramel, dark maple syrup, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, cherry pits, rancio, toasted almonds, red currant jam, strawberry jam, and elderberry. Honey really grows with time – strong honey like manuka. Some really nice ethereal aged-spirit notes, too. The palate is oaky (especially with water) and a bit tart but balanced with a heavy dose of rich dried fruit, spice, and French oak characteristics. Nuttiness really comes out on the palate. It’s not too oaky or unbalanced on the palate. The sharpness of the dried fruit remains, and the spiciness is rich. Too bad it’s only 40%, a bit higher ABV would balance the richness of the palate and the finish better.  The finish is lightly tart and oaky, with lots of old wood notes and rancio. The tannins really pick up on the finish, and the oak is a bit too central at the finish – the other notes are there, but they are a bit too masked by the oak. Oddly enough, if you move your tongue in your mouth it seems to release more flavour on the finish.

I really like the nose, I can smell this for a long time and be quite entertained. The palate and finish, while very good, falls a bit short of the nose but are still good.

How about some reference points: St-Remy XO is reminiscent of a light unaged fruit spirit compared to this (age really does show up in side-by-side tastings); it is very rich compared to many of the spicy, fruity, and somewhat clean mass market cognacs; it is richer even than some of the old Armagnacs (40+) in my cabinet – but I find Armagnacs tend to lighten favourably with age. Though it has a better nose, this isn’t quite as nicely balanced as Dartigalongue’s 1975 39-year-old Armagnac, which I rate slightly higher. It has perhaps the best nose I’ve ever encountered on a Brandy, Cognac, or Armagnac.

This has been a stunner for every guest I’ve shared it with.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended.

Value: Low, based on $260.


Review: Pierre Ferrand Renegade Barrel 2 Eau De Vie De Vin Chestnut Wood Finish by Jason Hambrey

Pierre+Ferrand+Renegade+Barrel+2.jpg
ABV
47.1%
Aging
6-26 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Maison Ferrand (Cognac, France)

Despite coming from a cognac house, this is not a cognac because of its rather unique aging regimen - a chestnut barrel! Apparently, this was a practice before the second world war but it has fallen out of fashion (and regulation – this is called a grade eau de vie because it cannot be called cognac due to the cask type). This is made with a Pierre Ferrand cognac from Ugni Blanc grapes, matured for 5-7 years in 350 litre new and used oak barrels. There is a small amount of 25 year old cognac included as well. Then, the blend is finished in a 225 litre chestnut cask for a year which apparently gives notes of candied fruits, floral, and honey notes. 18 casks went into this release.

Although we don’t see many chestnut casks for whisky or other spirits, they are still used in the production of certain items, like balsamic vinegar.

Currently available at the SAQ in Quebec.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Renegade Barrel #2, cask 1/18.

  • Bottling Code: 1P020518

  • Bottling Date: 2017

A spicy, oaky nose with charred oak, wood spices, raisins, dried cranberries, black tea, and deep woody notes. It’s quite torn between rich dark fruit, rich oak, and spice. Caramel, fig, berry jams, star anise, pineapple, stewed plums, wet wicker baskets, brazil nuts, and even some woodworking shop notes like leather and maybe furniture polish. I really like that this is bottled at 47.1% since it brings out the wood notes really well.

The palate has lots of wood notes, and, indeed – some chestnut notes. Vanilla, dark chocolate, dried currants, dried cranberries, dried papaya, dried pineapple, chesnut spread, and sweet fresh sawdust. It has some nice, unique roasted notes – like roasted wood, but not oak. It’s richly creamy, but more like a cacao butter than vanilla. The finish is slightly tannic, with dried hibiscus flower, dried cranberries, golden raisins, and buttery wood notes. The finish is deep and complex.

Well, this is quite unique – especially in the unique creaminess and woodiness – it’s one of the rare spirits which is pushing me to increase my tasting vocabulary.

Assessment: Highly recommended. There are some incredibly complex threads woven into this one.

Value: Low, at $136.


Review: St. Remy Authentic XO French Brandy by Jason Hambrey

St+Remy+XO.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
French Oak, >10 years
Recipe
Blend of different red and white grapes
Distiller St. Remy (Nantes, France)

This brandy, from the largest French brandy brand in the world, is made from red and white grapes sourced from throughout France (Burgundy, Champagne, Rhone, Loire, etc.). It is distilled in a column still and aged in French oak barrels.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

The nose is quite rich, with lots of dried fruit and spice. It’s much oakier and richer than the VSOP, at the same time, it is a bit less vibrant. Raisins (Thompson and golden), dried currants, gooseberries, black currant jam, marmelade, candied orange peel, white pepper, vanilla, clove, and a bit of dry-ness on the nose. There’s almost a bit of fruity burnt-caramel on the nose, like jam that has been boiling to the point of just beginning to burn. The palate is sweet, with orange blossom honey, green tea, dried apricot, lots of dried fruit, and lots of baking spice – it follows much from the nose, but is surprisingly lighter than the aromas on the nose. It has a nice bit of tannin to it as well, which gives it some nice grip, but also wouldn’t lead me to having three of these in a row. The finish is slightly nutty, with almond and lots of raisin and a touch of apple. Honey and cinnamon, too. Medium bodied: it’s not a light brandy, nor a really heavy one.

This is a great launching pad for starting to explore Armagnac and cognac. With all the interest in heavily sherried scotch, I’m a bit surprised that more aren’t exploring good brandy.

This is a common pick for me for cocktails or to put on my Christmas cake.

Assessment: Recommended.

Value: Great value for $30.


Review: Pemberton Apple Brandy by Jason Hambrey

Pemberton+Apple+Brandy+2.jpg
ABV
44%
Aging
Depends on Cask
Recipe
100% Whole BC Apples
Distillery Pemberton Distillery (Pemberton, BC)

Apples have been used to make spirits since at least the 16th century in France. In Europe, Apple Brandy is still commonly made, in both aged and aged forms - most notably in the region of Calvados which is famous for its aged apple brandies. Pemberton Distillery uses whole BC apples, distilling them and aging them in oak casks.

This is made in a very similar process to a Calvados, distilling the apples whole rather than just using part. As a part of the Calvados regulations, up to 30% of the base can be pears - in Pemberton’s case, they use 10% pears. Where possible, Pemberton tries to get as much diversity as possible from the apples and pears, using 8 varieties of apples and 3 types of pears. The cask type is different between the batches, from French oak, new American oak, ex-bourbon, and Canadian oak but the distillery is settling on using Canadian oak for the initial aging and ex-bourbon casks to finish. This batch is made completely from Canadian oak.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2017 Harvest, Aged 14 Months

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

This reminds me quite heavily of Pemberton’s single malt, interestingly enough (not very surprising, though - most distilleries have a style between the stills, barrels, and yeasts). However, it is very different from Pemberton’s whisky.

The nose is rich in apple aromas, with applesauce, apple seeds, apple skins – but also hazlenuts, green pear, white pepper, vanilla, and even light over-ripe berry notes. I quite like the combination of the nuttiness with the apples. The palate is dry, full of apple sauce and light tannin, a touch of acidity, and more nuttiness but on the softer side like macadamias and almonds. There is a light bitterness which I quite like on the palate. The finish is slightly sweet, with vanilla, light oak, and more apple sauce. The hazlenuts are back on the finish. Baking spices come through on the finish, which is very complex especially as the spices make their way in. There’s even a nice herbaceous character subtly present throughout - but especially in the finish.

This is quite different than any other Apple Brandies I’ve had (which isn’t many). It is much heavier-bodied and nuttier and spicier, with more bitterness. If you read much of my reviews, I favour the unique and interesting – this is like that, for the spirits enthusiast. At first I didn’t know what I thought of the bitterness in the middle, but as I drink more of it and it combines with the spices and tannins, I love it.

Assessment: Recommended.


Review: Grosperrin 1970 Grande Champagne Cognac by Jason Hambrey

ABV
51.5%
Aging
~46 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Grosperrin (Cognac, France)

Here is something special - not only an old Grande Champagne cognac, but one bottled at 51.5%. As far as I know, it was bottled in 2016 - hence 46 years of age, but I haven't confirmed it to my satisfaction hence "~46" years.

I was put onto Grosperrin thanks to the most excellent Serge Valentin at whisky fun. Having had some nice old cognacs already, I was eager to try an old one at a respectable ABV.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2016

An oaky, oaky nose - very spicy. Clove, dried blueberry, fennel, black pepper, earth, currants, cinnamon, and candle wax on the nose. The taste is full of oak - wow. Puckering tannins, orange, lots more wood spices. Finish continues with baking spices, mint, dried fruits - retaining a creamy texture. Way bigger than most cognacs!

Really enjoyable, but some things lost in all the oak.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended.

Value: Low. Unique and excellent, but not cheap (~400$)


Review: Baron Otard VSOP Cognac by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
>4 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Otard (Cognac, France)

Otard was founded in 1795 by Jean-Baptiste Antoine Otard - in Cognac. The products are named after Jean-Baptiste's grandfather, who fought alongside Louis XIV and was consequently made a baron. Jean-Baptiste bought the beautiful Chateau de Cognac, which still has cognac aging in its cellars. Essentially, it is a castle which has cognac sleeping in its depth - the thick walls provide a relatively constant temperature and humidity.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

This is some nice spirit here – nice and viscous, incredibly evident as you pour it out of the bottle. Vanilla, rancio, light spices – cinnamon, clove, and light complexity. Quite nice. The palate is viscous, and clean, with raisin holding the fore and baking spices holding the back. Doesn’t develop much but the flavours are well integrated. Slightly bitter on the finish. Slightly elegant too – clean, viscous, light and yet subtle – I enjoy that.

Assessment: Recommended.

Value: Average. Good, and not very expensive in terms of cognac, but not a necessarily high value spirit bottling.


Review: Hine Rare VSOP Fine Champagne Cognac by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
>4 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Hine (Jarnac, France)

Hine has been making cognacs since 1763 - it's a very different spirit than the Armagnacs I've recently been producing. It is distilled twice, and has more regulations - what sort of wine presses can be used, how long after harvest you are legally allowed to distill the wines, and distilled to a much higher ABV. The oak is from local forests, and the resulting product is quite a bit lighter than Armagnac and tends to be quite spicy - naturally, probably, a bit less elegant (though I really do generally like the rustic-ness of Armagnac more). Moreover, 95% of Cognac is controlled by 5 brands - unlike the hundreds of family owned businesses in Armagnac. Interestingly, additions are prohibited in cognac - except -  sugar, caramel, and oak infusion.

This is from the region of "Fine Champagne" a legal designation composed of at least 50% of Grand Champage cognac (the most prestigious region of cognac), and the rest composed of cognac from the region of Petit Champage.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

The nose has raisins, nuts, and lots of spices – menthol, cedar, green cardamom, dried cranberry , dried blueberries, dried orange peel– fairly perfumed too. And all nicely integrated. The palate does not disappoint, and has terrific feel – raisins, vanilla, oak, dried berries, and lots of those spices just listed. Great dryness. Not creamy, but has some custard-like richness. Oak takes over on the finish, while being still quite spicy. Warm and developing on the finish – and continuing to be dry – brilliant.

Assessment: Recommended.

Value: Average. Not bad, for a cognac, but there are generally better value spirits available.


Review: St. Remy Authentic VSOP French Brandy by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
French Oak, >4 years
Recipe
Blend of 10 grapes (see below)
Distiller St. Remy (Nantes, France)

St. Remy is quite available, good, and cheap - it is a French Brandy, so, although it isn't from the region of Cognac or Armagnac, it is still in the same category - but cheaper because it doesn't have the prestigious regional designation. It's also easy to drink and fairly approachable - when I was first getting into brandy I did a side by side of this and Courvoisier VSOP cognac side by side and came out liking this one more, so if you're interested in exploring other spirits I recommend it. The XO is also worth a try too - it is even better and very similarly priced.

St. Remy sources wines from all over France to distill into their products, and they use a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Gamay, Ugni Blanc, Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon's. They distill twice in a column still (though they use copper pots sometimes too), and mature in small french oak barrels. And they've been doing it for a while - since 1886.

I often make Christmas Cake (i.e. traditional fruitcake), and it is doused with this stuff usually - it does the trick nicely, and I usually have a brandy alexander every other week when I am re-dousing the cake. Also highly recommended...


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2016

Fresh, fruity, and lightly spicy. Very vibrant. White grape, nutmeg, clove, cardamom – and sweet smelling, too. The palate is very bright and fruity, with some underlying tannin from the oak. Slight spices and nuts emerge on the finish. Very clean – really it’s quite nice, though not overly complex.

Value: This is decent stuff, and not expensive, so it fits in the average-high range.


Review: Janneau 1983 Grand Armagnac by Jason Hambrey

ABV
43%
Aging
30 Years
Recipe
Distilled from 40% Baco Blanc, 20% Folle Blanche, and 40% Ugni blanc
Distiller Janneau (Condom, France)

Janneau is a bit different than many Armagnac producers - rather than the typical traditional single column distillation to about 52%, Janneau has copper pot stills and distills its spirit twice. It is presented similarly to a whisky (and at a decent strength of 43%) - the website might even be mistaken for a scotch whisky website. The distillery itself is in the region of Teneraze, typically known for more robust and less elegant and light armagnacs - but Janneau blends distilled wines from all regions of Armagnac to craft their spirit. Janneau was founded in 1851, and is still in the family, run now by the fourth generation.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 1983, bottled 2013

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

On the nose, one of the most elegant Armagnacs I have tasted. Dry, with sultana raisins, dried elderflower, dried berries, potpourri, cumin, and light oak. Rancio and hazlenuts are present in the background, alongside dates, nuts, figs, walnut oil, pralines…another winner! The palate continues with dried berries and lots of nut notes – it isn’t overly heavy or earthy – not suprising given the double distillation. The finish is complex, with roasted spice, oak, light tannins, and preserved lemon.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended.

Value: Low. There is better out there for this price.


Review: Dartigalongue 1975 Bas Armagnac by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
38 Years
Recipe
Distilled from wine from Baco, Colombard, Folle Blanche, and Ugni blanc
Distiller Dartilagongue (Nogaro, France)

Dartigalongue was founded in 1838 when Pascal Dartigalongue moved to Nogaro and founded his Armagnac house. Armagnac became established in large part because of the Dutch merchants, who would export large quantities of Armagnac and typically dilute them before drinking them as a wine - because Armagnac didn't spoil and is more concentrated than wine, you get more for less. When Dartigalongue started, the market was still controlled in large part by export - and he sent casks off to Holland and England. The business is still in the family, now in the 5th generation, and they own surrounding vineyards from which they are able to make their component wines to be distilled.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Bottled 2013, distilled 1975

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Lots of oak! Interestingly, a good tinge of pomegranate here. Fresh berries, oak, oak, oak…rancio, raisins, currants – all woven together terrifically. Brilliant. A good leap from the 25 year old in terms of complexity. Still dry, too…potpourri, dried flowers, and even some starfruit. The palate is subtle, elegant, and exceedingly complex. The dried floral notes continue, alongside dried fruit and nuts, orange peel, with the rancio taking over and combining with rich dates and prunes and oak to take the finish. Lots of oak, but not too much rancio. On top, you have citrus and caramel, in the middle your spices, and underneath – tangy rancio. Terrific.

Dry, fruity, style- not overly caramel laden. Really comes together with age.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended.

Value: Low, on an absolute scale. But $165 for a 40 year old product? That isn’t bad…