Dessert in a Glass
A Sweet Journey into French Single Malts
Last week we reviewed The Jane Walker, a special edition bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label which is perhaps the most well known blended whisky in the world. This week, we are doing almost the complete opposite—reviewing a French single malt whisky that is relatively new. With the increased success of the whisky industry in the last decade, distillers have become more and more inventive, and ideas and production have become more global in scope. Brenne, founded by an an American former ballerina from New York, embodies both concepts, producing single malt whisky in the Cognac region of France.
A few posts ago we reviewed two single malt whiskies from Bruichladdich that focused on terroir by completing the entire process, from the production of barley to the ageing of the spirit all on the island of Islay. Over the next few months we will be reviewing whiskies from different countries to provide some contrast to our mainstay single malt Scotch. As we explore whiskies from traditional and unexpected places, we will continually revisit this concept and how it can influence the ultimate flavor of a dram. With Brenne, we will examine the influence of terroir through the lens of French soil and techniques.
Brenne currently produces two expressions, the Estate Cask and Ten. According to the company’s website, the Estate Cask is produced in former Cognac stills and aged in a combination of French oak casks. While the production process is a departure from single malt Scotch whisky, the connections remain strong in that Brenne is produced using malted barley and aged at least three years in oak casks. We found Brenne at one of the WhiskyAdvocate events we’ve attended. Not recognizing the brand, we were enticed by both the elegant branding and the knowledgeable representatives who encouraged us to try this “Bananas Foster in a glass”. A bit skeptical that the tasting notes would fully evoke bananas foster, we gave it a try and were completely surprised by the flavor of the Estate Cask. Shortly after the event, we picked up a bottle of the Estate Cask and have found success using it as an introductory dram for friends who are newer to whisky. Many of our friends are predominately wine drinkers, and this whisky has proven to be a fantastic transition for them. The sweeter flavors influenced by the French soil and techniques evoke similar, familiar notes to that of French wines and, of course, Cognac.
Brenne Estate Cask
The Estate Cask expression from Brenne provides a total Congac terroir experience. From the production of the barley used to the machinery and the casks, Estate Cask has 100% Cognac DNA. The resulting product is almost a hybrid spirit.
On the Eyes: The packaging conveys a sense of french chic, with a sleek columnesque bottle, simple & bright blue label, and french-style flourishes printed on the back side of the bottle, magnified by the liquid within. Inside our glasses, the dram is the color of pale goldenrod with long, but thinner legs.
On the Nose: The nose signals instantly that this single malt is a departure from the realm of classic single malts. We picked up a bouquet heavy with notes of ripe bananas, syrup and fresh flowers.
To the Taste: The first sips were almost uniform in evoking the flavor of caramelized bananas and vanilla. The palette is light, sweet, and brings to mind the feeling of having dessert at a table outside in summertime.
And the Finish: Towards the end Brenne reveals some quick, contrasting notes—slight, almost medicinal, alcohol burn, and a hint of oak that disappears quickly.
Rarely can a whisky be described so succinctly and accurately to multiple people. When the brand representative called the Estate Cask, “bananas foster in a glass,” they were describing a flavor profile that has seen the most agreement among our friends. No matter if we give them a taste first, or tell them what to expect, Brenne has a distinct appeal. The mixing of single malt recipes with Cognac distillation processes have created a dram that is sweet, approachable, and complex enough to warrant a second pour. We have had success pairing Brenne Estate Cask with dessert or some cheese & charcuterie. In addition, experience from our whisky parties has shown that Brenne is also a great single malt to try for someone who is new to the category.