Brandy

Collabor&tion Review

Photo credit Bardstown Bourbon Company

The Bardstown Bourbon Company joined forces with Copper & Kings for Collabor&tion, a limited release of two different whiskies.  Started in 2015, Collabor&tion is a project two years in the making.  Both products start with a 10-year-old bourbon from MGP.  One spends more than 18 months being finished in ex-American brandy casks from Copper & Kings and bottled at a cask strength of 113 proof.  The other release sees a similarly extended secondary maturation period in Muscat mistelle barrels bottled at a lower 94 proof.  Both whiskies are non-chill filtered.  

I’m a big fan of Copper & Kings, and MGP can produce some wonderful whiskey.  Bardstown Bourbon Company selected the barrels used for this release, and both companies worked together on the blend.

So, how are they?  In a word – fruity.  I should elaborate.

Let’s start with the whiskey finished in Muscat mistelle casks.  First, what’s mistelle?  It is unfermented grape juice fortified with unaged brandy.  The nose is full of caramelized fruit, plums, and a slightly musty quality.  On the palate, Muscat grapes permeate the bourbon’s DNA.  The whiskey’s dark caramel gives way to the dark fruits, citrus zest, and some oak.  The long finish leaves some spice, fruit and slight floral notes.

The other release, finished in ex-American brandy casks, starts with a more robust nose showcasing hints of mulled wine, brown sugar, lemon oil, and oak.  Tastewise, spice and citrus are layered on top of velvety caramel and fruit jam.  Some oak tannins make their appearance going into the finish, which brings to the forefont the whiskey’s concentrated spiced fruit character, soon becoming dry.

Here’s the thing: I don’t smell or taste anything that resembles bourbon.  The spirit’s character is completely overtaken by the barrel finishing, thus my aforementioned use of the adjective ‘fruity’.  In other words, these releases are more brandy/mistelle and less bourbon.  As they stand, however, Collabor&tion is quite delicious.  I would happily buy a bottle of the brandy cask-finished whiskey, but I would struggle to call it bourbon.  

Muscat mistelle cask-finished bourbon – 8/10

American brandy cask-finished bourbon – 8.5/10

Thanks to the Bardstown Bourbon Company for the samples.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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From Grain to Glass: A Visit to Frey Ranch Distillery

Distillery owner Colby Frey in his rye field. Frey Ranch grows several grains on the estate.


About an hour east of Reno, a most exciting craft distillery lies in the sleepy farming town of Fallon, NV:  Frey Ranch Distillery.  Run by husband and wife team Colby & Ashley Frey, the distillery is smack dab in the middle of their large farm estate.  

The Freys have called Nevada home since before it became a state.  In fact, Colby’s great-great-grandfather filed one of the first land claims in the area.  Farming is the family trade.  It’s in their blood.  Multi-generational business history is one of the big pushes for some Kentucky distillers, and it is the same for the Freys when it comes to farming.

The Freys do everything on their estate, from growing grains to bottling.


“It helps, through generations and  through trial and error, to learn the best way to grow grain and other products in the desert of the driest state in the nation,” said Colby Frey.  “Now we have this unique ability to grow the grain in this atmosphere which is totally different than anywhere else in the world.”

Back in 2001, Colby and his father, Charles Frey, Jr., started growing vines and making wine.  He enrolled in several fermentation and wine-making classes, and took the time to practice and experiment.  “What’s neat about being a farmer is you have to know a little bit about a lot of things,” Colby said.  A jack of all trades, so to speak.  

Frey Ranch Distillery is about a hour’s drive from Reno.


Distilling soon followed.  Grappa and brandy were the first spirits distilled at the estate, which makes sense given their wine-making proclivities.  The 50-gallon still used at the time was handmade by Colby, but that would change when they decided to expand their distilling capabilities.  Now, they are rocking custom-made Vendome stills.  Located in Louisville, Vendome Copper & Brassworks is the go-to still maker for a lot of American distillers.  With the new equipment in place, the Freys have the capacity to produce 10,000 cases of distilled spirit a month.


Years later, the first whiskey the Freys distilled and put to rest was bourbon.  That bourbon comes from a four grain mash bill – corn, rye, wheat and barley.  At the moment it’s about two and a half years old, but the Freys made one thing clear:  they will not sell a whiskey younger than four years old.

“Right now it shows extreme potential.  When we try it at four years, if we think it needs more time, we’ll let it age,” Frey explained as we tasted their bourbon.  I have to say, it’s pretty enjoyable at the moment.  Being such a young age, the bourbon is grain forward, but not sharp.  Instead, like the majority of the other whiskies I sampled at the distillery that day, I found it rich and flavorful with lots of vanilla and light caramel.

Colby and Ashley Frey say their bourbon shows “extreme potential.” I’d have to agree.

Only grains grown on Frey Ranch Estate are used in production of their spirits.  Grain-wise, the Freys are growing corn, wheat, rye, barley, and oat on their farm.  That, and the fact that Colby likes to tinker and experiment, allows for the production of other whiskies.  In addition to bourbon, the Freys have distilled a rye whiskey, wheat whiskey, oat whiskey, malted corn whiskey, and malt whiskey.  That last one has a light peating level.  What’s interesting is the peat is made on the estate from decomposed corn stocks.  

In addition to their more traditional bourbon, a unique bourbon is also aging in the warehouse.  For this particular whiskey, the four grains used in their standard bourbon – corn, rye, wheat, and barley – are all malted on-site and used in the mash bill.  A malted bourbon?  I wasn’t sure what to call this whiskey, but it’s just bourbon (thanks for the insight, Chuck).  Compared to their more traditional bourbon, this whiskey is still fairly young and has a long maturation ahead of it.  The whiskey itself was rather interesting.  I mean that in a good way.  It had an earthy quality their standard bourbon didn’t have.

Having sampled their range of whiskies, I found that none had that “green” taste.  You know, that young, brutish, sharp character found in a lot of craft distillery whiskies.  Even though most were still very young, the whiskies had backbone.  That can be attributed to the attention and care in not only in the fermentation and distillation of the spirits, but also to the generations of know-how the Freys have instilled in their farming techniques.


Everything comes from and is done at the estate.  Everything.  Growing grains, malting, fermenting, distilling, maturing, and bottling – everything.  I’ve never seen anything like it, and I can’t help but appreciate the conviction with which the Frey family are approaching the distillation of spirits.

“There’s a saying in the wine industry that you gotta like what you make because you might end up drinking it all yourself.  So we want to make sure we like it before we bottle it.  We don’t want to do anything to even remotely sacrifice our reputation for having quality products.”

The distillery trip was entirely paid for by Frey Ranch Distillery.  Thanks to the Freys and Argentum for the wonderfully educational weekend in Reno.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Martell VS Single Distillery Cognac Review

Most of the cognacs on the market are blends of different eaux de vie from several distilleries.  That’s especially true of the large producers.  One of those cognac producers, Martell, is doing something differently with its latest release.  Martell VS Single Distillery is just that: a blend of eaux de vie from only one of its distilleries.  Think of it as the cognac equivalent to the single malt scotch whisky.  

The label states that sourcing from only one distillery producs a richer, more intense expression of the Martell house style.  The nose starts with layers of caramel that give way to rich fruit and a touch of lemon zest and vanilla.  The palate offers more concentrated flavors than other VS cognacs I’ve tasted.  Grapes, candied berries, and figs are present alongside hints of cinnamon and oak spice.  That spice ramps up into the medium length finish, which also features dark fruit notes.

Though a young VS blend, Martell’s Single Distillery release provides a wonderfully plesant drinking experience.  It comes across with more exuberance than a standard VS cognac, but lacks the refined complexities found in older blends.  Press materials make mention of using VS Single Distillery in cocktails or long drinks.  I’d agree it’s what this cognac is best suited for.   When it comes to choosing an inexpensive young sipping cognac, I would reach for this one over other VS blends.  Nicely done.  $34.99  8/10

Thanks to Martell for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.