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  1. #1
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    Study group 3-18-2006 - The Apple Jack Report

    I believe Doug's about to post a synopsis of Saturday's D-Day, so I'll concentrate on something I brought to the table. Following are my impressions, but hopefully Doug and Greg will offer theirs. I'll be really happy if Tim will try the sampler package I left with Doug for him and offer his thoughts.

    My family on my wife's side has an apple orchard in Sonoma County. Apples don't really pay as an income crop, so the family is always looking for interesting ways to use them. About five years back, one of these ideas was to do a joint venture with a (not to be named at this time) bay area distillery to make some apple brandy - we supplied apples and transport, the distillery ran it and stored the distillate in barrels.

    About five years of barrel aging have taken place, and it's time now to assess this apple brandy ("Calvados") we have on our hands. Saturday's tasting was all about getting some enthusiast opinions. There hadn't been much thought prior to my involvement with Bourbon enthusiasts to do other than a chill-filtered, vatted, 80 proof bottling of the four barrels, but I've been lobbying hard with many concepts I've learned from the whiskey industry such as: barrel proofs, no chill-filtering, different bottling sizes/proofs, and yearly releases ("vintage") that bring new flavors with each version.

    We have four barrels, each with an alcohol percentage in the mid-50%'s, but through different barrels, there are three distinct flavors out of the four. The general character is in the tradition of oak-influenced spirits, brandies and whiskies, not the clear and more ethereal quality of eaus-de-vie, grappas, and aquavits. The flavors are also within a range of dry/sweet, fruity/spicy, and earthy/floral with which Bourbon and Scotch drinkers could find common ground.

    Compared with any other spirits I've tasted, this apple brandy had some of the least alcohol harshness in both nose and palette- which made one of the barrel samples (which was a comparison sample from other apple brandy distillations by the distillery) the stealth ninja in several people's throats. I kept forgetting to warn my good friends to treat the bold-faced text that said 86% with caution, but with such a friendly and non-alcoholic nose it often found its way into people's mouths uncut. The first time...

    The first is very pale, light straw color (probably from a very spent barrel) and exhibited a very simple ripe apple aroma. The taste of was fairly dry, with a definite apple-y sweetness around the edges of the tongue. The finish was a long smooth taper which remained centered on that ripe apple. Compared to samples to come, number one is simply ripe apple, which to me is quite beautiful.

    Number two through four generally have an amber color familiar to Bourbon enthusiasts. I'll have to check, but I believe these barrels were first refill ex-wine casks. Number two takes on a delightful pink hue in the glass. This is the one that to me smelled of apple pie ready to come out of the oven. The flavor didn't follow directly from the aroma, and of the group was the only that had a strong alcohol spike. We found some dilution with water helped bring out the delicate clove and nutmeg notes, and allowed the sweet apple pie to come to the front over the alcohol. This was the only sample we felt benefitted from water.

    Samples three and four both were very complex and exhibited characteristics that changed in the glass from pie spices to oaky vanilla/caramel to chewy fruits. I thought of these two as mincemeat pie. In both of these, there was a good follow through of character between the aroma, flavor, and finish. Number four had an especially pleasing finish with the mincemeat pie thing lingering.

    Of the group, the only one we felt was improved with dilution was #2 (apple pie). Doug and Greg were jazzed about a vatting of #1 (simple, ripe apple) with #4 (mincemeat monster), but I was too enamored of the simplicity of #1 as a foil to the others that I'll recommend if we vat some, we still single barrel bottle most of #1.

    Apple brandy, Apple Jack, Calvados or whatever name you choose has a very small market, but I really think that if made like a brown spirit not a white spirit that it has a lot to offer whiskey and whisky enthusiasts. We're not talking Boone's Farm here (unless you think of the high quality it would be if it were fortunate enough to be Bettye Jo Boone's Farm), but a grown-up, real American spirit.

    Roger

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rughi
    eaus-de-vie
    That would be "eaux-de-vie."

    Quote Originally Posted by Rughi
    We have four barrels, each with an alcohol percentage in the mid-50%'s ... I kept forgetting to warn my good friends to treat the bold-faced text that said 86% with caution
    I'm confused - what were the alcohol levels? What proof were they distilled at? Were they pot stilled? (I imagine so.) How many passes?

    Great report. They all sound wonderful. I have been tempted to order some of Clear Creek's products (I have a friend in Toledo who can take delivery). I gather that they don't have much barrel character.

    Jeff
    "One never knows, do one?" Fats Waller, American Musician, 1904-1943

  3. #3
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Very interesting report and follow-up questions. At one time hard cider and cider distillate had a large sale in America, you are bringing it all back home, Roger. I am sure in the old days the spirit was sold both young (akin to a modern eau-de-vie from apples or other fruits as made in, say Alsace-Lorraine) and aged and when aged would have been marketed as apple whiskey or old applejack. The equivalent in France today is Calvados, which can be very good. In my native Province of Quebec, hard cider enjoys a modest sale and there is some distilling as well. The cider there traditionally was made from the McIntosh variety which was (and is still to a degree) grown widely in southern Quebec especially in the Rougemont area not far from Montreal. I recall when cider was first made legal in the 1970's buying it for picnics at an estate McGill University owned not far from Rougemont. It was good but not very refined and probably around 7% abv. We used to drink it with curd cheese and fresh bread bought from farmstands in the area. The distilled version never appeared (that I knew) until many years after legalisation and in fact I have never tried it. I will be in Montreal soon and may pick up some local cider to see if the taste has improved in 30 years, and I'll pick up some Quebec applejack too. After years of experience I imagine they are better now than when first put on the market.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 03-25-2006 at 14:10.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffRenner
    I'm confused - what were the alcohol levels? What proof were they distilled at? Were they pot stilled? (I imagine so.) How many passes?
    Jeff
    I knew I had written poorly, but it was either post and get ready for work or not post at all. Our four barrels were 54, 53, 57, and 56%. The whopping 86% was from one of the comparison samples brought by the distillery. I'm told that Everclear can't even be sold above 75% now, and Hazmat Stagg hasn't ventured above the low 70s%, so 86% is a serious proof.

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffRenner
    I have been tempted to order some of Clear Creek's products (I have a friend in Toledo who can take delivery). I gather that they don't have much barrel character.
    Jeff
    This is a product I've been tasting lately, and you won't catch me saying a bad word about it. The bottle I have is pot distilled from golden delicious apples, aged for 2 years in Limousin oak (I would guess toasted barrels, as in the winemaking tradition, not charred) and has a delightfully appley aroma. I really wish I could taste it after a few more years in the barrel and bottled closer to barrel proof than its 80 proof.

    Roger
    Last edited by Rughi; 03-26-2006 at 00:46.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rughi
    I'm told that Everclear can't even be sold above 75% now, and Hazmat Stagg hasn't ventured above the low 70s%, so 86% is a serious proof.
    151-proof Everclear is what you'll find in California, Washington, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida. The 190-proof version is readily available in Illinois, at least. I've also seen Stroh 80 (a 160-proof Austrian rum) on the shelf in the Chicago area.

    That being said, Fall '05 Stagg is the strongest pour I have on hand.
    Oh no! You have walked into the slavering fangs of a lurking grue!

 

 

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