By S.D. Peters
From Cognac, France, by way of an inspired collaboration between whiskey importer and blogger Allison Patel and “a 3rd generation Cognac distiller,” comes this unique single malt. Brenne French Single Malt is a new venture – Allison’s first expression, Estate Cask, was released in late 2012 – and, being French whiskey (read: a rarity in the world of the Distiller’s Art) suggests an air of adventure.
Let’s see where the adventure takes us.
What Brenne French Single Malt Whisky shares with the single malt tradition is, of course, its malted barely base. What it shares with the world of craft distillers is an experimental boldness. What makes it unique among other whiskeys is its distillation process, which is modeled on the cold fermentation technique common to cognac distillation.
Brenne “is twice distilled in a copper alembic” before ageing begins “in new Limousin barrels.” Its aging is finished in used Cognac casks, which lends Brenne much of its distinct quality. Although Brenne carries no age statement, it’s aged for an average of 7 years before it’s bottled individually by barrel. (My tasting came from Barrel #26.)
Brenne arrives in a bottle that shares the simple elegance of a classic wine. In the the glass, it has the warm, light glimmer of dawn over a wheat field – think the airy, shimmering fields in Terrence Malik’s Days Of Heaven, then imagine yourself about to enjoy a nice dram on the porch of The farmer’s mansion.
I typically prefer spice to sweet, so my first sniff of Brenne worried me a bit. This single malt is heady with fruit, so much so that you’d be excused for wondering if Brenne really is whiskey.
First impressions often breed unfair presumptions, however, and the variety of fruit and assorted delicacies that greet you out of the glass reward those who are patient and discerning – not unlike the music of the Austrian Modernist Anton Webern.
A selection of market-fresh berries, Gala apples, dark chocolate, vanilla wafers, and banana-walnut muffin compose themselves like Webern’s Bagatelles, and comparisons to Webern’s precision continue from the first sip through a chromatic finish. A pinch of spice, redolent of malted barley, conducts singular notes of Lindt Orange Chocolate, red raspberries and whipped cream. A few pointillist dashes of clove in confectioner’s sugar near the very end brings the work to a well-defined close.
A Rye drinker like me might prejudge the underplayed spice the way a Classicist might criticize Webern’s use of silence – which would be to misunderstand the whiskey just as many have missed the point of Webern’s technique. The flavors, like the notes of, say Webern’s Variations for Piano, Op. 27, are so well balanced, so refined in their interplay, that they music they create finds fullness of form in what the composer has chosen to underplay.
Brenne French Single Malt Whisky is sourced, distilled, aged, and bottled in Cognac France. It is produced under Allison’s supervision, and distributed through her Local Infusions company in New York City. It has limited availability, and can currently be found in Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee, for about $52-$62.