Review: Marie Duffau Napoleon Armagnac

Since I’ve started this blog, which must be at least a year ago now, one article has surged to the peak of popularity.  To date my review of E&J XO Brandy has somehow managed 3,043 views, which is significantly (stunningly) more than the blog homepage.  My review of that product is the 4th result that shows up when you search for it on google.  Seriously, go try it.  Freakin’ crazy.  Particularly freakin’ crazy as it may be the cheapest booze I’ve reviewed.  The funny thing of it all is that I have only bought E&J XO Brandy once, the bottle I reviewed.  That review may well be the farthest my voice has reached in this world, hell the first edition printing of Moby Dick was 3,000 copies.  They ended up burning the ones they couldn’t sell.  My article on a $14 bottle of booze has gained popularity quicker than Herman “the harpoon” Melville—probably because he didn’t have that badass nickname until now.  Anyways, to get to the point, I’ve made my impact on Google based on a product I don’t even really drink.  I do, however, drink brandy somewhat regularly, and tonight I come to review the brandy I actually do drink, Marie Duffau Napoleon Armagnac.

While I’m going to avoid going over the grading system generally applied to brandies, seeing as you already read it on my E&J post, I will give a little backing on what exactly Armagnac is.  See, brandy is basically a distilled wine hooch.  In France they like to name their brandy after the region in which it was made, the most famous of which is Cognac.  You likely know Cognac from rap music videos or rich old men in smoking jackets with oversized snifters.  Well, like Cognac, Armagnac is a brandy which is made in a specific region—what the French call an appellation.  There’s a vocab word for you, kids. Also, stop reading about booze you goddamn 4th grade lush.  Anyways, Armagnac is from the Southwest of France and is known for being a bit more robust, partly the result of being double or single distilled rather than the more commonly triple distilled Cognac, and partly because it is, quite frankly, a less refined product.  I mean that in the best of ways though.  You see, Armagnac is made almost entirely by smaller producers, some of which are essentially long running family farm businesses, and therefore they create a product that is less industrialized, less homogenized, more…passionate. To put it in terms more familiar to the average drinker, your Remy Martin and Courvoisier are like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada: big producers that make a well liked and high quality product.  Armagnac is more like one of the thousands of startup breweries that have exploded over this country, there’s more character, more drive, less money—I come back to it, more passion.  In some cases, centuries of passion, with the same family still on the same farm that has always just kept afloat.

Marie

Marie Duffau, according to my thorough research on the back of the bottle, was started somewhere about 1925 and is now run by the great grandson of Prosper Delord and Marie Duffau.  Granted, this is a bigger brand in their genre, given their US distribution, however you still get the feeling they aren’t that big a company.  Hell, the label looks like it was cut out with those craft zig-zag scissors you use for scrap-booking.  Now, what you want to know is why I keep coming back to this brandy, why I drink $45 Armagnac when I could drink $14 E&J or $23 Courvoisier?  One, because my dad likes it to, which means he buys it and I get to drink it.  Sharing is caring, I’m told.  The main reason though is a bit simpler.  It’s sublime.  So lush, complex, and warming you’ll think you’re suckling the teat of Aphrodite.  I admit, I may have gone too far, so I’ll shut up.  Notes:

Appearance: Beautiful, like a Grade A Medium Amber maple syrup and with long even legs that hang to the edge of the glass. Yes, I used Maple syrup as my reference point, I’m from New Hampshire.

Nose: Full of rich fruit, spiced apple, apricot and even a bit of citrus, backed with a dash more spice, maybe nutmeg, and a hint of vanilla from the oak with just a light wisp of alcohol.  My mouth is watering.

Taste:  Enter orgasm joke here.  Warm and sweet, fine and mellow with the baked apple and lush fruit the nose hinted at, backed by caramel or even honey, and finishing with a very light spice and vanilla that lingers effervescently on the tongue.  Liquid divinity—like my above asinine metaphor warned you.

I think you see now why, when I do drink brandy, I go for the Armagnac, and why I dearly love Ms. Marie Duffau.  Brandy is one of those beautiful luxuries of life that are worth more than $14, worth savoring when you can.  So while yes, you can get a fine cognac for the same price, there is something revelatory to drinking the single distilled family craft that is Marie Duffau Armagnac.

Two Bulleits in the Chamber…

Tonight a have a double shot for you, or perhaps a double barrel…double action? Double tap?  Either firearm based pun? Reason for the pun, tonight I’m going at two Bulleits, their bourbon and rye.  I suspect these products need no introduction, based equal parts on their stand out branding, their mid-range price, and their quality Bulleit has—over just 15 years—become a behind the bar staple.  You probably recognize it, the bold molded glass stating alternately “Bulleit Bourbon: Frontier Whiskey,” or “Bulleit Rye: American Whiskey.”  That bold, old west bottle, striped with a simple striped label stands out to even a whiskey novice.  The story behind the Bulleit brand, so it comes from founder Tom Bulleit begins in about 1830 with his grandfather Augustus Bulleit, who brewed for about 30 years, until his death.  On reviving the Bulleit whiskey tradition Tom switched over to a bourbon style whiskey going from Augustus’ 2/3rd rye, 1/3rd corn formula to about 2/3rd corn, 1/3rd rye.  The final product is bottled at 90 proof.  In its short 15 years Bulleit had been bought up twice, first by Seagram’s, second by liquor giant Diageo, with whom they’ve grown into a massive success and expanded their line to include tonight’s rye and the sadly out of my range Bulleit 10 year bourbon.  The rye, by the way is a 95% rye, 5% barley mash produced alongside many other rye brands in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.  That’s enough background, I’m thirsty.

Bulleit

 First off I’m going to go to the bourbon, knowing from experience that the rye would heavily influence my palate.  First entry into the nose is a rather powerful experience, full of vanilla, cinnamon and oak—with something in the back that reminds me of apple cider that you left in the fridge too long in the hope it would get a little hard.  The first taste is rich and chewy with caramel, vanilla, smooth oak, with just a bit of smoke—leaving with that lovely rye cinnamon that carries through on the finish with just the right amount of 90 proof burn. 

And now that my palate and my brain are fully lubricated, let’s get to the rye!  First off, the smell—glory be, I love the smell of rye whiskey…not in the morning, I want to keep my job.  But damn this smells fine the rye spice coming across full of cinnamon, brown sugar, cloves…quite frankly it smells like pie.  Delicious, boozy pie.  Certainly the nose on this doesn’t lie, with that rye cinnamon heavily in the forefront, but balanced off with a lovely sweetness that seems to be coming from a heath bar like combination of toffee and soft cocoa.  The finish rounds out with something almost reminiscent of honeyed spearmint and a bit of dry oak.  Overall this rye is very pleasing, and my favorite of the two.  Also worth noting is that in a face-off between these contenders and last week’s Cleveland whiskey the Rye came out the clear winner—and Ian, Ben and I came out rather drunk.

 While there are certainly many factors that have played into the rapid success of Bulleit bourbon in recent years, particularly given the explosion in the popularity of whiskey in general, it’s certain that it’s not hype making Bulleit popular.  The reasonable price and consistent quality ensure that while you may come for the looks, you stay for the whole package—just like any love in life.

Review: Cleveland Whiskey

Science, it proved the earth goes around the sun, it eradicated polio (in the first world), and put man on the moon (depending who you ask)—now, it will make whiskey age faster.  Could this be perhaps its greatest achievement yet?  Well, that is the question a young man from Philadelphia names Ben Winston asked himself as I introduced my college comrades to the wonders of the New Hampshire State Liquor Outlet.  Being ever the (computer) scientist himself, Ben reached for Cleveland bourbon whiskey.  Ian and I went Bulleit bourbon and rye, respectively.  The science behind Cleveland and that “make whiskey age faster” thing I mentioned before goes something like this:  Cleveland makes white whiskey, Cleveland throws this and some charred oak in a pressure cooker type thing, changes in heat and pressure merge the oakiness to the booziness faster, then it gets 6 months in a barrel and boom whiskey.  There’s a lot more to it than that I’m sure, but the guy Tom Lix who makes the stuff is all about industry secrets and stuff.  Skeptical?  So was I.  So am I, for that matter.  So before I go one, I’m gunna drink it.

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By the way, this is batch 6

 

First think you’ll notice about this is the color, a rich dark molasses that makes this six-month old the Benjamin Button of bourbon.  The nose is rather unusual, woody must, citrus and some kind of thick caramel chew, with a light whiff of alcohol.  Rather pleasant, actually.  The nose doesn’t belie the taste, wurther’s chews and heavy oak with a bite that stings the tongue a bit, though doesn’t hit the throat too heavily.  The finish is warm and oaky.  Kind of like a smoldering campfire.  The funny thing about this bourbon is that in spite of its youth it has the kind of oak that people complain about in some older whiskies, which seems to overpower the whiskey leaving it a bit one dimensional.  At just above $30 this perhaps isn’t quite the bang for your buck that you’d desire, though the 100 proof does slake my thirst.

Overall I do appreciate what Cleveland has done.  In the face of a menacing global whiskey crisis—caused specifically by the time it takes to age whiskey—they have found a way to make whiskey quick, and with science!  The upside of this is fast whiskey and consistency.  With Cleveland there’s none of that crazy alchemy of 7 years of moving around barrels and tasting them, blending them and well, magic mostly.  The science means consistency, advancement, progress!  I must say though, if you couldn’t figure it out, I’m a bit anachronistic.  I like listening to 70 year old music on vinyl, or even acetate, and I like my whiskey with a little bit of magic and mystery too.  Though, for the record I’ll let science explain the mysteries of the universe for me.

P.S. Special thanks to Ben and Ian for forgetting all their booze at my house

Quick Shot: Blanton’s Single Barrel

This one is a solid gold bullet from the hip.  I’m a tad anxious almost, to think that I’ve got one shot at a big one.  Could be a head shot, could be a miss.  Anyways, Blanton’s is one of the big boys, one of those usually out of my price range.  Luckily for me a compadre bought me a nice drinks by the dram set, which held as it’s crown jewel dum-dum-dum Blanton’s.  This is a gunslinger with a big reputation. In the words of Breaker Morant, “Shoot straight, you bastards–and don’t make a mess of it.”

 

Nose: Goddamn phenomenal.  It’s lushly warm, sweet vanilla, spice, reminiscent of baked apple.  Delicious. 

Taste: Do I dare? Pow! Shit, he got me.  Miles of spice upfront, cinnamon rye goodness and, what’s that?  Cherry that borders on the safe side of medicinal and citrus.  This isn’t bourbon, this is an old fashioned.  No wait, it’s wonder-bourbon…

Finish:  …and it fades into smooth, sweet molasses with some oak, vanilla, and something reminiscent of an old tawny port. 

Blanton's

You’ve heard the legends of this bourbon, you’ve seen it’s horse sculptured cap.  Well, it’s the potential triple crown winner the underground claims it to be.  A gunslinger who could hold his own with Doc Holliday. You want a good bourbon tonight? Here’s your huckleberry. 

 

Jefferson’s Very Small Batch Bourbon

I intended for this story to be about America, Manifest Destiny, the agrarian ideal and Deism.  I intended it for the Fourth of July, with rockets’ red glare and screaming eagles and shit.  I’m a little late for all that nationalism stuff though, and not one for blind patriotism, so sorry, it’s the Fourteenth of July and I’ve finally gotten enough motivation and encouragement to write.  You’ll live, unlike the man for whom I write this, Thomas Jefferson. T. Jeffs. Tommy J. Teej.  He died on the Fourth, 1826, which you probably would have learned in history class if you were awake and not stoned.  You probably would have also learned that a document called the Declaration of Independency was signed that day, 1776.  They made a musical about it.  Anyways, Mr. J happens to be the namesake of the bourbon I bought for the holiday weekend, coincidentally.  It was on sale, ‘Murica.  I could go on and on about Mr. Thomas Jefferson because of the whole “I used to get made fun of for being a history geek” thing (just kidding I still do.)  I could talk about how Jefferson was a true Renaissance man:  Statesman, educator, gentleman farmer, distiller, author, architect, inventor, musician.  You probably know him for his affair with his slave / wife’s half-sister Sally Hemings.   I rather like Jefferson.  He hated banks and loved rebellion.  He made whiskey and played music.  You see where this is going?  It’s going to the bottle…

jeffersons ghost

 

Right, the whiskey.  This isn’t exactly old teej’s whiskey for quite a few reasons, but one stands above the rest—they don’t distill it.  “What the hell do you mean?!” you ask, “it doesn’t just condense in nature!”  No, it doesn’t, if it did I would be a religious man and Jefferson owner Trey Zoeller would be my prophet.  Instead what Zoeller does is buy whiskey, pre-made and partially aged, and blend it.  This bourbon can be sourced from multiple distilleries, blended, and sometimes adventurously aged, like their recent “Ocean” outing that was aged onboard a research vessel at sea to give it a strong briny character.  Regardless, this is an interesting business model, particularly for a company vying in around the premium spirits market.  What I drink tonight is Jefferson’s base-line—the small batch.  Ridiculously small batch they claim.  At $25 on sale this is competitively priced bourbon, competing with a lot of big hitters in the $20-30 game.  How does Mr. Jefferson fare in this marketplace? Well, like the man himself the bourbon has a unique and distinct character. The entry on this is one of soft sweet corn, light vanilla, heavy oak with a twinge of must and an airy middle note that I could almost discern until I whiffed a little too much and burned the hair from my nostrils.  That’s surprising from something that’s only 82.3 proof.  Let me also say, that .3 is probably bullshit.  Anyways, the first sip hits quite smoothly, rolling across the tongue with a light sweetness that has a distinct caramel apple character, and leaves with slick, oily coating.  Near the back it seems the sweet has run off and there’s a healthy bit of spice that adds a bit of complexity this whiskey deserves, with such a enigmatic namesake.  So, is this the best bourbon in that $20-30 slug-fest?  That’s a matter of choice, and while this may not be the first one I reach for at that price point myself, I appreciate what it does, how it tastes and a good sale price.  As every history geek has their favorite founding father (mine likely the namesake), every whiskey geek will likely have their favorite reasonably priced bourbon—and those two groups have quite a bit of overlap.  

Jim Beam Single Barrel

I’ve been sitting on this article for a while–or laying off the last of this whiskey, at the least.  I’ve had a mental block, a loss of flow.  Shit, I haven’t got an angle on it.  I like to come at these pieces with a direction, a back story, something that brings me to a point on the whiskey.  It gives me the illusion of creativity.  Anyways, I haven’t really got an angle for this article, that’s my goddamn angle.  Pretty lame.  But you see, I’ve been working my ass off, draining myself, ever since I got back from Mississippi (which probably should be the source of some future angle).  Working 7 days a week does not seem to be the ideal creative fodder, for me at least.  Anyways, enough rambling to elongate your suffering.  To the point, whiskey. The good thing about working non-stop is that I can afford a decent bottle every once in a while to take the sting out of life.  This long delayed bottle?  Jim Beam Single Barrel. 

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Bottled at 95 proof, in this case from barrel 9/139 on February 18, 2014.  I think this bottle ran me just short of $30, which is right around the range of quite a few other f upper mid / sub-premium bourbons, yet twice the price of regular Beam and an Evan Williams more than Beam Black.  First off, nose: very soft, subtle orange and a light sweetness, but really very…ethereal?  I’m not sure I’ve ever found a lighter nose; I basically snorted this stuff to smell it.  The initial taste finds that citrus note fully expressed, with a tinge of acidity, and some dark sweetness that fades into a tad bit of oak, almost no vanilla and a lovely warming baking spice finish.  Overall, this is very tame at 95 proof, and very subtle and well rounded.  It’s as easy drinking as the other Beam labels tend to be, but it certainly is clear that they’ve gone to lengths in selecting their barrels.  My take away, my angle, if you will?  This is the perfect bourbon for an overwrought, overworked mind.  Easy drinking, subtle, so smooth you don’t have to think about it—just take a sip and it does the work for you. 

For those of you who may think I’m a little too booze and need more blues, here is Bukka White, moaning and droning the “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues.” This post has a side point–I’m going to Mississippi, down the delta, putting on my walkin’ shoes and hopping a passenger plane and ride. I’ll be stopping off in Memphis and drinking my way from grave to grave, playing music, certainly, and yes–there will be plenty of booze.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage (2004)

Evan Williams.  I suspect that quite a lot of people have mixed feelings about this name.  These feelings probably stem from some point in your youth, perhaps as you were first making your way into truly enjoying bourbon.  Likely the first time you had Evan Williams you thought you had stumbled into something good.  No, it isn’t top shelf in taste, but damn it has good flavor for its bottom shelf price.  Aged 7 years it’s probably the oldest bourbon at its rot gut price point.  It tastes a bit more mature too, and it goes down damned smooth.  At some point you may have dispensed with the glass.  In my case that was out of necessity, huddled around a campfire down in the bayou just off Lake Ponchartrain in March—booze and blues, raining down.  Likely your night got kind of fuzzy.  Parts may be forever erased.  I bet you woke up feeling like hell, your head throbbing, your guts tied up like a bowline and shivering with a near hypothermia you can’t shake in spite of the climbing southern temps.  Oh wait, that’s me again.  Anyways, that’s what Evan Williams conjures to me.   Bourbon that’s better than its price would suggest, and world class at shaking college kids from drinking whiskey. Ever. Again.  Lucky for me I was already out of college, and already too fond of whiskey to be chased off.  Besides, I’ve had worse hangovers.  That one is definitely top 5 though.  Come to think of it, Evan may have caused more than one of the top 5…

Tonight I am not here to talk about (or drink) some standard Evan Williams.  No sir, I have moved slightly up in the world, and this evening I tipple Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage.  After 9 years in the barrel this juice is bottled at 86.6.  I can even tell you this bourbon entered barrel 184 on April 2, 2004 and was put in glass on December 2, 2013 and sealed in wax.  Then I came along.  To be perfectly honest, I went into this purchase a skeptic.  This bourbon has garnered an excellent reputation, which didn’t jive in my mind with that day I woke up covered in spatter from the hatcheting open of a can of campfire ravioli.  Well, one sip, skeptic no more. 

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 On the nose this is remarkably warm, rich sugar dominates with vanilla and a bit of toasty oak, like sweet molasses cookies baked in a wood fired oven.  On the palate the impression only grows, with a nice slick body that spreads notes of spice, caramel, pear and honey.  The afterglow basks on the tongue with a warm baked cinnamon apple flavor and a light tinge at that back of the throat that turns my stomach into a warm furnace as it finally hits home. 

It’s quite evident that this 9 year old version of Evan, despite being only 2 years older is miles ahead of its kin, and in competition with some of the heavy hitters of the bourbon world.  The killer?  This bottle is only $25. Okay, admittedly that’s about twice its 7 year blended little brother, but this hasn’t caused a voodoo hangover yet and it’s quite simply luxurious to drink.   Summary?  Buy, buy, buy—at $25 a bottle I’m only a raise or two away from this being a daily drinker. 

Review: Templeton Small Batch Rye Whiskey

Dateline:  Chicago, 1928.  Eight years ago the manufacture and sale of alcohol were banned by Constitutional Amendment.  People are so desperate for a buzz they’re drinking rub alcohol.  Goddammit, they’re so high and dry they thnk Canadian whisky is good, poor bastards.  The man making his fortune off this prohibition? Scarface Al Capone, former New York street bulldog, part time psychopath, full-time gangster.  When you run the most notorious liquor operation in the country like Al does, you have your pick of the litter.  Mr. Capone, he drinks the high class domestic product.  Not some hillbilly heat moonshine full of wood alcohol and kerosene, but Iowa’s finest, Templeton Rye.

Flash forward to today and the Rye that Templeton once only cooked up illegally is now paying its dues to the revenues and has gone legal.  This new incarnation of the speakeasy legend is steaming off a prohibition era recipe, and playing big on its underground heritage.  Beyond their reminiscences of Prohibition legends and all that jazz age hokum this new Templeton is earning a new reputation in its modern incarnation, winning numerous spirits awards, including consecutive Gold medals at the renown San Francisco Spirits Tastings in 2009 and 2010.  But what do I care about gold medals?  When it comes down to it, bathtub gin or Templeton, what ot comes down to is hooch in the glass.

What comes in a glass of Templeton?  Whiskey fit for a bootlegging magnate, Capone had taste if this is what the old boy was drinking.  A wonderful and tantalizing nose of cinnamon, peppercorn and hefty brown sugar wafts draws you into a deep and complex first sip, with rye that goes beyond just that young cinnamon burn and almost widens across the palate to reveal a hearty dose of oak that can only have come from years of patience.  This rye is clearly well crafted, which is a stunning feat for such a young brand but the secret, I suspect, is that the folks at Templeton had a stroke of genius—they used a proven recipe.  Clearly they did everything else right, but to me the greatest genius of this product is that they took a recipe for a superior product that was unused, and made a superior product.  Also, I must say, the buzz is probably better than rub alcohol too.

Photo: Review in process