...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Florin's Mystery Spirit

The mystery man (Florin (a prince)), strikes again!  Last October, he made me go WTF (Whisky to Find!) about Speyburn 10 year and Balvenie 15 Single Barrel.  Then this past February he handed me the above Mystery Spirit sample.  It could be any distilled spirit.  Two ounces of the unknown.  Soon after, he gave a sample of the Mystery Spirit to MAO of Minnesota's Accurate Observations.

Today, MAO and I are posting our educated guesses about the identity of what was handed to us.  Please note, I will be revealing what the spirit is, as my buffoonery was made obvious first.  This is only because I was very thirsty this week.  (Here's MAO's post!.)

My method was to split the bottle into two halves.  Two nights, two levels of oxidation.  I also had various other beverages on hand to cross check.

First half of the sample...
From my email to Florin:

NOSE At first, it's like a very pretty Glenfiddich.  But then some heavy candy esters(?) bubble up never to fade away.  It's very sugary with some floral foundation powder.  After a half hour it's all caramel, rock candy, and Twinkies.
PALATE Lots of candy here too.  I like it a lot but I can't see through it.  It's rich but soft; sweet but it doesn't hurt my teeth.

So what is it?  It's not scotch whisky, unless there's been a massive rum barrel finish to it.  But at the same time it's not like any rum I've had -- and I did try three rums along side it.  I don't think it's bourbon but there's definitely some oak involved.  If there was such a thing, I'd say it was an armangnac liqueur finished in bourbon barrels.  Heresy!  But it's softer and sweeter than the armangnac's [sic] I've tried, so I'm going to say that my first guess would be cognac.

I can't believe I threw in that stupid apostrophe.  Blame parent brain on that.  Anyway, my guess was wrong.  He told me I wasn't even on the right continent.  A hint could have been read into that statement, but I missed it.

Second half of my sample...
...which I drank the next day, seemed much different than the first half.  Was it oxidation from sitting in a less-than-half full bottle or was it my imagination?  From my next email to Florin:

Maraschino cherries, marshmallow, musky melons, something malty (too many Ms)

I get some cherry stuff and... Rye, there's something like rye in here.  But it's light on the rye element, and it's kind of fruity.  

Honestly, due the dual personalities of the nose and palate, I can't say for certain what this is.  Unless it's some extra light 40% ABV Canadian rye, I don't think it's all rye, due to the nose.  I'm going to go with a bourbon.

And I'll double down on this delusion.  I'll say it may be one of Four Roses's.  A blend of their recipes.  It's very light in texture and heat, so maybe their Yellow Label.  40% ABV.

First, the good news.  I was correct about the ABV.  I was right about the continent, and the country.  And I was wrong about everything else.

Okay, MAO, don't read further for fear of spoilers...

Unless you got this one right on the first try...

Damn it...

The Mystery Spirit was Laird's 7 1/2 year old apple brandy.

Yup, apple brandy.

Here's what hurts.  I love Calvados.  It's my favorite brandy.  And, behind only Whisk(e)y and The Mistress, it's my third favorite spirit.  The young stuff (less than 10 years) is often full of rich apple and pear notes, and I mean baskets of the eau de vie from which it came.  After that (up to 18 years), the oak and spice moves in but the fruit still lingers on.  Then at some point in the much older stuff, the fruit returns in a more baked or cooked fashion.

But I found not a hint of apple in this American apple brandy.  There were a couple of other fruits in there and a lot of sugar.  The spicy rye and other whiskey notes must have been from the oak.

The differences between Calvados and this version of apple brandy are in the apples themselves and the oak.  The Norman farmers use the varieties that grow in the Calvados region.  Meanwhile, Laird's uses American apple varieties, and probably those grown in the Northeast.  Calvados is aged in very large (often refill) casks made of lightly toasted French oak.  Laird's uses American white oak and, from what I can tell, it's charred, not toasted.  So, perhaps, the maturation and wood integration happens quicker with their brandy than its relative in France.  And those American oak characteristics have a large presence which may be more familiar to bourbon and rye fans than French brandy fans.

Or, I'm just searching for excuses for my swing-and-a-miss.

I'm actually working on a half bottle of Clear Creek's 8 year old apple brandy, but they aged theirs in French Limousin oak.  Their brandy has actual apple notes in the nose, and faint hint in the finish.  Similar to Laird's brandy, I like the nose better than the palate.  The Clear Creek version is twice the price of Laird's, and though it's better I don't think it's that much better.  All of that being said, the Laird's 7.5 year old brandy is very enjoyable and has more life to it than most blended whiskies and single malts at its price range ($25-$30 for a 750mL).

Have you tried this version of Laird's apple brandy?  Or have you had their younger BIB version?  Or the 12 year old?  Let me know what you think below.


  1. Thanks for playing Michael! As I wrote to you, it was an unfair trial, since what intrigued me (as per my notes below) was precisely that it was different from what I expected from an apple brandy. You confirmed that. The other strange thing is that you rarely see Laird's reviewed by whisky bloggers - with rare exceptions. People do recognize them for being the oldest distillers in the US (although the current distillation facilities have only been in the family for the last 70 years).

    Having now tasted both the BiB and the 7 1/2yo version, I would say that, not surprisingly, the 7 1/2yo is richer and more elegant. The higher ABV in the Bottled-in-bond version helps it a lot, and it has a dual personality, nosing at times like a bourbon (or maybe Canadian whisky) and like an apple brandy. I prefer the 7 1/2yo, but would love to see it at higher strength.

    Here are my original notes for the 7 1/2yo:
    Delicious and intriguing, with vanilla and fresh fruits. Hard to tell it's apple brandy, nothing like Calvados - perhaps due to new oak casks? No details as to how it's been aged. Need to find out more! The finish is a little short. On the sweet side, but pleasantly so. 3.5*

    1. Thanks for the opportunity! The first time I tried it I thought there was something brandy-ish going on. The second time, I found the American oak stuff. Would have never guessed apple brandy. I almost guessed añejo tequila since they sometimes have brandy + oak characteristics, but that would have been a shot in the dark.

      It is an intriguing buy at $25ish. As you mentioned, a higher strength might do it some good. It really is nothing like Calvados, rather it's its own creature.

  2. I almost bought a bottle of the 12 year old. It's a bit pricier than an equally old bottle of whisky which might be why I went with a bottle of Scotch instead. Next time K&L gets a few bottles (they are sold out at the moment) I might just buy one.

    1. The 12yo isn't easy to find and that price would make me hesitant too. Drinkhacker seems to like it but I don't entirely understand their grading system.

  3. Man, I love Calvados too. Reading your descriptors makes me want to go out and get me some - Calvados, that is, not this mystery stuff Florin's pedalling.

    But, prey tell, what's The Mistress? Absinthe?

    1. He cannot publicly admit it, but Michael is distilling his own spirit out of old newspapers and junk mail. It's against the rental agreement - so hush-hush.

      And don't worry Diego, I don't think Laird's will bother you down there, just enjoy your 37% abv American imports.

      Michael, I just realized that the other major difference with Calvados is that most likely Laird's distills in column stills, which takes away a lot of the apple congeners (aka "flavor").

    2. Ha ha ha, yes, we (seemingly) love those sub-40% US imports down here!

      And I certainly didn't mean to slander you by implying you're a cyclist - "peddling" obviously.
      Like Michael, I blame my child.

    3. I'm making plenty of those typos myself so I let that insult pass. Bah, cyclist! And during the World Cup, too! (Ooops, did I touch a raw nerve? Go Cahill!)

      But I do share with you a love for Calvados - I singlehandedly dealt with the better part of one such bottle today, Michael knows which. Any typos would be attributable to it: My children are blameless what with being 6,000 miles away, with mom.

    4. @Diego, yeah my cabinet is very short on Calvados right now. I even sorta like the cheap crappy stuff. I hope that Calvados doesn't cost a fortune down your direction. As for The Mistress, she never tells me her name, so I can neither confirm nor deny your speculation.

      @Florin, one can get some perfectly alcoholic methyl out of old newspapers and junk mail. It hasn't rendered me sterile. Yet.

    5. @Florin, luckily, due to my own and my better half's roots/nationality, I also have two other vastly superior teams to support in the World Cup - Italy and England.

      @Michael, yeah, I've been guilty of stealing the occasional nip from the bottle of "cooking" Calvados while stumbling around in the kitchen.

  4. (try again) Serge has heard you guys! However, the only useful info here seems to be to avoid the standard offerings from Chateau du Breuil - which is available in CA. I liked his point that the Calvados ABV corresponds taste-wise to higher whisky ABV.

    1. I'll admit, I smiled at the coincidence when I saw his post today. It's interesting that he's more familiar with spirits from all around the world than this spirit from his home country. Not sure he really sold me on the 20yo Chateau du Breuil ($130+).

    2. Yes, that was nice timing indeed :)