Calvados Week – Day 2: Château du Breuil VSOP Calvados (40%, AOC Pays d’Auge)

Logo Calvados WeekThis is the second day of the Master Quill Calvados Week. Again we’ll have a look at a product from Château du Breuil, but this time a slightly older example: the VSOP, a four-year minimum Calvados. Calvados is made from apples and/or pears. Every AOC has its specific rules of used varieties.

Château du Breuil was built in the 16th and 17th centuries and was the home of many nobilities. The Château was completely restored by its current owners who have been distilling spirits there for three generations. Château du Breuil has a large portfolio of different Calvados’. A standard range of which the Fine and VSOP are the two entry-level examples, but also a 20yo and even single cask versions exist. Last but not least a double matured 12yo version with a second maturation of six years in casks that previously held Speyside Whisky.

Chateau du Breuil VSOPColor: Light gold, almost gold.

Nose: Obvious apple. Apple compote, apple skins and also the fleshy part of apples (that has turned brown), are in here. Even the heart of an apple is in here. Whiffs of Gewürztraminer fly by. Also other notes can be picked up. A hint of dry and elegant oak, but also the spiciness of oak. A hint of red wax seal. Pancakes with syrup. When given some time, the in-your-face fruitiness takes the back seat and lets the more woody and austere parts shine. Dusty. Yes, it’s getting better now, more balanced and perfumy. A grown up version, well maybe not completely grown up, but a more adolescent version compared to yesterday’s Fine from the same Château.

Taste: Candied apple and toffee. Less sweet than expected. A real distillate all right. Overall quite light and appetizing. Young. Warming. Warm toffee and candied fruits with a backbone of soft apple skin, without most of its bitterness. Warm sugar-water. White grapes. The faint bitterness that is always present in this VSOP, gets more pronounced towards the finish, up to a point it overpowers the fruitiness. Maybe it doesn’t overpower, but is most definitely has more staying power of all the aroma’s.

If you like your Calvados fruity and very much oozing of apple, get Chateau du Breuil. But don’t think you are getting a simple carton of apple-juice you give your kids to school each day. Already this VSOP is giving a lot more, compared to yesterday’s Fine, but it also is more bitter. Calvados turns out to be a decent distillate, which has a lot to offer. I really look forward to the rest of this week.

Points: 71

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Calvados Week – Day 1: Château du Breuil Fine Calvados (40%, AOC Pays d’Auge)

Logo Calvados WeekSummer’s ready and it’s time for yet another Master Quill Week! This time we’ll look into something I have ignored for a long time: Calvados. Distillates from grains, yes, distillates from grapes, why not, but distillates from apples and pears, well, let’s say I didn’t have time to come to that yet. Apples and pears, really? This is my first review of Calvados on these pages, and as I said, I haven’t tried a lot of Calvados yet, so I don’t have much experience determining what is good and what is not-so-good in the world of Calvados. This week will be as much a learning experience for me as it may be for you. If you are only into (Single Malt) Whisk(e)y or Rum and dont want to dilate your mind, you’ll probably want to skip this coming week, please feel free, but since you’ve already read this much of my introduction, why not stay around some more and see if even you can’t be surprised, with something completely different, and see for once and for all if Calvados is something worth your attention, or something you should forget about for all of eternity or maybe longer.

We’ll start off this week with a look at where Calvados is made. Calvados is an Apple Brandy from Normandy, France. If you have lost your bearings, the largest cities of Normandy are: Rouen, Caen, Le Havre and Cherbourg. Calvados is a department in Basse-Normandie (or Lower-Normandy).

There are three AOC’s of Calvados:

  1. AOC Calvados, in 1942 these regions were divided into regulated regions across Normandy and even from some neighboring departments. However, these regions were grouped together in 1984. Mostly only apples are used and single distillation in a column still is done, but that is not a requirement.
  2. AOC Pays d’Auge, established in 1942. Predominantly and often exclusively from apples. This Calvados is required to be distilled twice in an alembic pot still.
  3. AOC Domfrontais, established in 1997. At least 30% pears must be used in the distillate, but often this number is much higher. Single Distillation is done in a column still.

Chateau du Breuil Fine CalvadosColor: Full gold.

Nose: Apples and yeast. Very nice fruity acidity. Fresh and fruity. Nice ripe yellow, red apples. Very obviously a distillate from apples. All the fruity apple aroma are upfront, and the distillate needs a lot of air to show us more. Alcohol does the trick here. It acts like a mode of transport. Sour beer, like Rodenbach, although that one isn’t made with apples. Hints of (old) wood, and some new oak as well.

Taste: Very light. Seems much lower in alcohol, than it actually is. Apples and vanilla. Altogether soft. Apples, waxy apple skins, warm apple compote and sugar. Toffee. Not very complex. I almost want to add some cinnamon to this. There is some acidity in the finish, but not the fruity acidity that was so upfront, but more the sourness you sometimes get from (new) oak.

I have to say I didn’t expect much from Calvados. How can you make a decent distillate from apples? By thinking that, I never bothered to try even one. Untill now.

So this was my first review of a Calvados on these pages and there is no better way than to start with this entry-level Calvados Fine, by Château de Breuil from the AOC Pays d’Auge. At 2 years old, it is a very young and un-complex distillate. In part nicely fruity and almost summery, but it also seriously lacks the depth I love in more aged distillates. The score is how I feel about it, but keep in mind I haven’t tried a lot of Calvados just yet.

Points: 65

Paul John “Bold” (46%, OB, Batch 1, 2016)

To finish off the trilogy of entry-level Paul John’s, here is Bold. Bold was the last addition to the standard range, bottled at 46% ABV. Earlier I already reviewed the other two, “Brilliance” is the base-model so to speak. Just well made Indian Whisky, no peat used. “Edited” is like the base model, only this time tweaked with a little peat, achieved by blending in up to 30% casks of peated Whisky. Today we’ll have a look at “Bold”, introduced in 2015 and made from peated Whisky alone (35 ppm). For this edition, all peat was sourced from Islay.

Color: Pale gold.

Nose: Lots of butter and vanilla, youth, and I’m guessing quite some first fill casks. Nice clean peat upfront, smoke second. Enticing stuff. The peat might be recognizable, and it definitely comes across as a young smelling Whisky, but add to that an uncommon floral bit, which sets it apart from Scottish or even Islay peated Whiskies. Slightly waxy. Lacking a bit in the balance department. Sometimes there are whiffs that are too close to new make, but the next breath can be excellent. After a while, still creamy, the peat dumbed down a bit, and the smoke has almost gone. Some green notes, mainly (almost new) oak. If you smell this very calmly, it’s all about the butter, the vanilla, the cream, the toffee, but when you “smell hard”, yeah, that’s where it all comes together. More spicy, dusty and better balanced. Nice peat, latex paint, mocha and nutty as well. The nose lures you in. It’s seductive.

Taste: Sweeter than expected and initially not very peaty, let alone smoky. Lots of warming notes going down though, with nice development in my mouth. All nice aroma’s, but initially not very bold. A wee bit too young again, moving into the direction of new make. Not a lot, but enough to notice. Hints of orange skins and bread, that must be the influence of indian six-row barley. Terroir is happening! Hey, now apart from the floral bit, I also get a slightly soapy note. Fruity and friendly notes appear next. Very easily drinkable. Please do not expect a heavy hitter, it’s not a heavily peated malt in appearance. Its fruity and floral. Sunny with a slight peaty bite.

I would package it in pink and yellow with some black mixed in for the peat used, but it is more a happy Whisky than a brooding one. It’s not gloomy, misty and Scottish, it’s bright, colorful and Indian. So for me not so bold, and the anthracite packaging is way to dark. It’s like your dog, its your best friend and its happy when you get home, wagging its tail trying to lick your face. It’s not a bad-tempered pit bull with a spiky collar, that growls at you when you get home, disturbing its sleep, passing gas, chewing on your beloved furniture.

I preferred the second batch of “Brilliance” over the first, and I’m sure the second batch of “Bold” will be better than the first as well. It’s coming along nicely and I guess all the initial casks at Paul John were rather new. So, a great effort for a first batch, it’s pretty good, but I’m eagerly awaiting the second batch. With more experience and more time, I’m guessing that one will be at least as good as the second batch of “Brilliance”. Paul John is definitely on the way up!

Points: 85

Rum Nation Peruano 8yo (42%, Single Domaine Rum, 2011, Peru)

For one reason or another, many Rums that were on my lectern were emptied around the same time. No, not down the sink, just finished them the proper way, enjoying them. Meaning, lots of new Rums got their corks pulled out lately! This Rum Nation Peruano 8yo is the indirect replacement of the Rum Nation Martinique Hors d’Âge I reviewed earlier. An indirect replacement in the sense that it is just a bottle from the same bottler. The true direct replacement is obviously another Rum from the island of Martinique. Which one? Well, we’ll get into that in due course.

Here we have a Rum from the-not-so-caribbean-island of Peru, yes I mean the South American country. Just goes to show that Rum is made all over the world, and why not, there are more South-American countries known for having a sugar-industry and subsequently making Rum, or Ron as they call it. You must have heard of Guyana, Brazil and Surinam? The Rum I’m about to review, was made at the Cartavio plant in La Libertad, where mainly sugar is made as well as ethanol. The facility is built and guarded like a fortress. Looking at the plant, I have never seen so much barbed wire since WW II. So, don’t climb over the wall, because you will be shot! I’m not kidding people, this message is painted on their wall. I guess they don’t like corporate espionage at Cartavio. I’m amazed Fabio got out of there alive, especially since they make their own brand of Rum called Cartavio. Soleras yes, but also with a minimum, yes, a minimum age statement. Not only did Fabio get out of there alive, he got out of there with enough Ron to produce his own brand of Ron Millionario, with the Solera 15 (no age statement intended) and the XO. Since both are quite the success, in 2008 Fabio issued a true 8yo fully matured in Bourbon barrels. So let’s have a look at the 2011 model, shall we?

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: This one starts out with a mix of fruit, paper, wood, leather and loads of fresh air. Underneath already a deeper, warmer more brooding note. Hot rainforest with some florality to it as well. Will it be sweet? I say this because the nose presents itself as a whole, rather than (many) distinct aroma’s. Usually this happens when a Rum has sugar added somewhere in the production process. Syrup and it even smells a bit sticky. Corn syrup with a refreshing vegetal note and some more fresh oak and an unexpected peppery note. More spices show themselves as well as wood and even some slightly scorched wood. Well integrated red fruit notes, like children’s lemonade. So again, I fear the sweetness this might have. Not very complex yet well-balanced.

Taste: Initially, and luckily, not as sweet as I feared, although it does taste sugary. It has some sweetness, and that may very well be (in part) added. Is it a problem? No, not really. Right after the sweeter more smooth part, there is a slightly bitter, oaky backbone, which stays around for a while. Some sugared yellow fruits. I struggle a bit to pick up the aroma’s in this, since, like the nose, this Rum presents itself as one whole. So added sugar, it must have. It’s friendly and nice. Simple, but definitely a sipper. I did use this recently to make my first brownies ever, which says more about the other Rums on my lectern than this particular one.

This is considered to be yet another entry-level Rum from Rum Nation and that is what it is. It’s might be rather simple, lacking a bit of complexity if you are a true aficionado. On my lectern this is the Rum I start with. It’s the easiest sipper, it’s good but it is also a bit unadventurous, smooth (usually spells sugar) and actually at times a bit boring as well. Due to a lack of complexity I like to follow this up with the El Dorado 15yo, which has more complexity (and definitely more sugar), but both go together remarkably well. Enough said.

Points: 83

Plantation St. Lucia 2003 (43%, Old Reserve, 2014, St. Lucia)

Last year I reviewed two other Plantation Old Reserves. One from Guyana, and one from Jamaica. Both were quite good, and very well priced. Both were quite sweet as well, since both have some sugar added. Plantation calls it dosage, enhancing Rum with sugar, in the same way you use salt for your food. Cane sugar (syrup) is added to the Rum before ageing. They do it because they really believe it makes for a better Rum.

Most of the Rum-world lacks regulations, although efforts are being made, but on the other hand, Rum also has a history based on the production of sugar. Rum in a way is a by-product of sugar, so why shouldn’t a little bit of sugar be allowed to use?. In my early days, getting to know Rum, I somehow assumed Rum should be sweet, must be sweet, at least half-sweet. Only when I encountered high quality Rums, and single casks Rums, preferably bottled at cask strength, which obviously aren’t laced with added sugar, that I really came to know about Rum! So some believe Rum has a particular sugar-history, and some believe Rum gets better with adding some sugar in the early stages of production. Others are more militant and will kill you if you add sugar anywhere in the production of Rum. Rum should be pure. No mention though of Rums being to dry or to woody.

Looking back on its history, and its use in cocktails, I’m not against adding sugar to Rums in general, as long as it enhances the final product, making it really better. There is a market for it, just like there is a market for Spiced Rums. There is a market for mixers and there is a market for sippers. Nothing wrong with Spiced Rums, it is a subdivision of Rum. As an aficionado though, a Rum sipper, I would like to know upfront, from the label on the bottle, not by searching the internet that a particular Rum contains added sugar, and especially how much was added. I have experience enough to know how much sugar I can “handle”. Because, dear reader, too much added sugar in Rum can taste really bad! (It reminds me of the discussion around caramel coloring in Whisky, which I found makes the final product not only darker, but also taste rounder, more mono, more flat. Too much sugar will flatten your Rum). I won’t kill you, but for me, many Rums are too damn sweet. On the other hand if used sparsely and with taste, why not?

Since the intro is already quite lengthy, I never got around to say much about this bottle. So in a nutshell, if you want to know more about Plantation, I invite you to read my other reviews of Plantation Rums. It is no secret this Rum comes from the St. Lucia Distillery located on the St. Lucia island. It is a distillery with a few different stills. For this Plantation expression, 80% John Dore Pot Still, 15% Vendome Pot Still and finally 5% Column Still rum was blended together. Initial ageing took place in American oak casks on St. Lucia, shipped to France where the Rum was transferred into Ex-Cognac casks made from French oak for a secondary maturation for, I believe, 18 months.

Color: Full gold.

Nose: An explosion of aroma, almost like a Jamaican high ester Rum, but with many differences as well. Rummy and very fruity. Rum-raisins. A lot of sugared yellow fruits as well as some ripe banana skins, aided by some wood, paper and a fantastic burnt note. Vegetal oak mixed with sweet black tea. Creamy dried apricots with powdered coffee creamer and a slightly acidic note on top. Toffee with something extra. Chocolate with caramel. Nutty. Unripe red berries, old ginger and ripe plums. Grape seeds with some wood and rubber. Hints of smoke. Herbal and grassy. Next, a nice floral part emerges, sweet perfume with hints of rose and juniper. Cold black tea with a slightly smoky edge. Bonfire combined with burning cables. Almonds and butter. Fresh air after rain. Wonderfully complex, it never ends. I adore this one, a wonderful (tamed) beast. Perfect nose.

Taste: The slightly burnt note comes first. Big Rum. Fruity and floral, almost Gin-like. Sweetish but in no way cloying and hardly disturbing due to the humongous body this has, however this might very well be a bit too sweet. Luckily a minor problem this time, but a problem nevertheless. Next, an aroma of sugar-water. Big. big Rum. Nutty and leafy. Burning newspapers with hints of sweet peppermint and sweet chlorine. Medium bitter wax. I know this sounds weird, but it works. Medium, slightly bitter, finish, but with a long aftertaste. Very nice. Not as complex as the nose, but still top-notch. This may very well have some added sugar, but I don’t care, I love this one to death. Easily the best of the Old Reserves. I wonder how a good cask strength St. Lucia tastes like…

This Rum is a labour of love. In 2003 the master distiller of St. Lucia Laurie Bernard, who sadly passed away in 2012, challenged Alexandre Gabriel to blend a St. Lucia Rum choosing from the many Rums produced with the many stills on site, making it the best of the Old Reserve range. The result of that challenge is this very bottle, and I have to say. Job well done! This Rum is great in many ways. When placed in a Rum line-up, it doesn’t matter where you fit it in, it can cope with anything put before it, even heavy hitting Jamaican or Demerara Rums. Amazing. Second, it is really good, it is delicious and smells fantastic. Where the aforementioned Plantation Guyana and Jamaica were ok, or even good, this one is wow!

Points: 89

Worthy Park 8yo 2006/2015 (50%, Rum Nation, Pot Still, Oloroso Sherry Finish, Release 2015, L-15-020, Jamaica)

I just finished both bottles from Foursquare, Doorly’s 12yo and Foursquare 9yo Port Finish. Both close connected and although the latter is an exceptional cask selection, I did not really prefer it over the 12yo. Both were (too) easy drinkers @ 40% ABV. After trying whole bottles of both, I have to admit, I also got a bit bored with them, lacking in strength and development in the glass. For me it was clear, both suffered from too much reduction, since the potential was there. Sure, hot, cask strength Rums aren’t for everyone, but for a (sipping) Rum to carry its aroma’s well and excite, I would say 46% (to 50%) ABV is better, if you want to reduce it. Forget about 43%, just skip it and go straight for 46%. Both were enjoyable nevertheless because the Foursquare spirit is a good one, with lots of potential, so I will definitely seek out other expressions of Foursquare in the near future. Preferably cask strength ones, like the official 2004 vintage or one from an independent bottler, because Foursquare is hot these days.

Well, empty bottles call for replacements, so one of the new ones I picked from my stash is this Rum Nation Jamaica Pot Still Rum 8yo, which has already been replaced by a 5yo expression, again with a Oloroso Sherry finish. Look, here we have a reduced Rum bottled at 50% ABV. I expect a better aroma transport system. since this seems to me to be the ideal drinking strength for a sipping Rum. With Jamaican Rum being a favourite (style) of mine and this one is seemingly not reduced to death, I expect quite a lot actually. Not sure about the Oloroso finish just yet. It works for Whisky, but we’ll see if that works for this Rum as well.

Color: Copper orange.

Nose: Big Jamaican funk shooting out of my glass, bold and eager. Nice dry woody notes and overall it doesn’t come across as very sweet and creamy. Dark chocolate and sandal wood. Images of sand and pan flute music. That’s a good start. Medium cream then and also a bit dusty and yes, a bit alcoholic as well, but that’s what we wanted, right? Hints of a well-integrated acidic wine-note on top. Nutty. It seems to me the Oloroso was matured in European oak. Licorice, toasted cask, black coal and hot asphalt. Wow, I love that! Lots of toffee combined with hidden vegetal notes. Dry leaves and even some burning leaves. Indian spices. Love how this smells. There is and indescribable and extremely appetizing note I recognize from a Cadenheads bottling of Enmore I have. This strikes a chord with me, because that was the first real Rum I bought based on its nose alone. Amazing nose on this Jamaican, where many different aroma’s just switch on and off, all the time.

Taste: Initially quite hot and funky, but that is only a short burst. Vegetal right from the start. Nice beginning with vanilla, toffee, honey and caramel, with the leafy bit in here as well. Cigarette ashes and cinnamon. Not as funky and big as the nose promised though, which is a bit of a shame really, especially after a few seconds. Turns quite dry with a paper-like quality. Less balanced as well. Medium sweet, or even less than that, since the dryness (wood) starts to dominate. Definitely less boring than both Foursquare bottlings mentioned above. Hints of wood sap, soap and blue ink with an additional bitter edge. The body dries out, and the finish is quite short, with hardly anything staying behind in the aftertaste, amazingly. If anything, I would say a small sour note from the Sherry. Character building stuff though. 50% ABV really helps this Rum forward. A shame though, the Jamaican funk got lost in the body and finish of this Rum. Take small sips in short succession to deal with this “problem”.

I understand this got replaced with a similar 5yo. Worthy Park again, as well as the Oloroso finish. It is said that the younger Rum is even more funky, which should be able to deal with the Oloroso finish better. It should also be more typically Jamaican on the palate. I guess this will help the taste reach a better balance, but we’ll have to see how the nose worked out. For me the Oloroso finish on this 8yo worked wonders on the nose, but was maybe a step too far on the taste. Probably the reason to repeat the experiment with a younger, bolder, Rum from the same distillery. Maybe they also tweaked the amount of time of finishing.

Points: 85

Batavia Arrack (48%, By The Dutch, Batch Nr: 001, Indonesia)

Here we have a bottle of Batavia Arrack. Batavia tells us this Arrack is Indonesian made. On the island of Java to be precise. However, the label classifies this as Indonesian Rum, and although I understand the claim, it is not entirely true. (Batavia) Arrack is similar to (Indonesian) Rum in the same way Tennessee Whiskey is similar to Bourbon. So not identical twins.

Arrack is made in Southeast Asia and is something entirely different from Arak (Anis flavoured drink from the Middle East). Arrack, as it is made in Indonesia, is made from sugar cane molasses and distilled twice in Pot Stills. Fermentation of the wash is started with yeasts found on local red rice. This particular Arrack is aged in Indonesia as well as in Amsterdam (The Netherlands), where it was also blended. Indonesia being a former Dutch colony, most of the Arrack produced there is exported to the Netherlands and passes through the hands of E. & A. Scheer, Dutch importers of large amounts of many different Rums. (For those of you who don’t know about E. & A. Scheer, but do have an interest in Rum, please have a look at Matt’s excellent piece when he got a chance to visit the company).

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Initially sugary (from a distance), but when you put your nose in, you know you don’t have a typical Rum in your hands. Funky Worcestershire sauce on paper. Dry, dusty and nutty. Influence of oak. Grain Whisky and Old Genever. It also reminds me of Rhum Agricole. Amazing how this changes in the glass with some breathing. Short ozone attack with warm caramel (as in creamy without the sweetness). Fresh air after the rain. It’s the closest to Whisky of any Rum I tried, apart from some initial alien notes, that is. The ozone turns into a breath of fresh air. Warm food, and the metallic part of blood. Sounds strange but it works well. With enough air, this reaches a nicely balanced state and all the ‘strange’ notes somehow dissipate. Mild spicy oak and a mere floral hint. Peach yoghurt. Soft with something herbal I can’t put my finger on just yet. Cold tea and cold gravy comes to mind. Dry, creamy and quite complex.

Taste: Wood comes first, quickly succeeded by a more creamier feel. Toffee and latex paint. Honey without the intense sweetness. Definitely sweeter than I’ve come to expect from the nose though. Throughout the body there is this backbone of medium bitterness. Bitter oak and chalk. Wood driven. The bitterness even grows towards the finish. More hints reminiscent of Rhum Agricole (even though this is made from molasses). Still creamy and without any hint of acidity whatsoever. So, no sweet yoghurt in here, but there are some oriental spices. The sweetness turns out to be something from the first part of the taste, because soon, under the leadership of wood, the dryness takes over. Late to the party (again) is a floral note, which seems to turn into a more soapy note towards the end (and is gone when its time for the aftertaste). Another note comes up reminding me of the ozone from the nose. However I have never tasted ozone before, so again something hard to put a finger on.

Definitely of sipping quality and definitely a (Batavia) Arrack and not a Rum, by how we know them. Sure, it’s related to Rum, but also a class of its own, just like Rhum Agricole and Cachaça are. It’s not an easy sweet sipping Rum, but it did grow on me, just like I had to adjust to Rhum Agricole. This Arrack is good stuff and worth your money, if you are willing to work with it a bit. It gains a lot from some extensive breathing. If you are still reading this, you must be an aficionado, so you might want to have a go at this. It is still around and I’m sure there will be more batches available in the near future. It’s well made, elegant, but also a bit bitter at times, so expect something with a backbone and character. For a molasses based product it is amazing how this has a lot in common with Rhum Agricole.

Points: 85