Brenne Estate Cask French Single Malt Whisky, 40%
I wasn't impressed; I found it very sweet, almost gaggy sweet, but Allison was clearly very excited to be there and I didn't want to be the poop at the table. So I had a beer and kept my opinion to myself. I haven't had Brenne since, and when I was offered a sample of the two whiskeys, I thought it was time to do it properly.
The aroma is rich: fully ripe banana and root beer, but a really, really good root beer made with cane sugar, with a light but trenchant backing of soberly dry oak. Tasting it reminds me of that day at St. Andrews. Sweet tastes in a fairly heavy-bodied whiskey, with banana taffy and King syrup. There's malt there in the middle, but the banana engulfs it.. The finish is oddly hot for 40%, but the banana finally goes away, thank God.
I was right three years ago. This is really, really sweet. Too damned sweet.
Brenne Ten, 48%
The Brenne website says about the Estate Cask bottling: "NO AGE STATEMENT -- Because Brenne Estate Cask is bottled individually by barrel, the aging for each cask differs as it depends on how long the Cognac was in the barrel before. On average, the whisky ages for a total of about 7 years." This, on the other hand, goes to 10. And this is what I came for. These two little sample bottles have been sitting on my desk for over a month (sorry...), and now's the time. Pour the Ten.
Still banana, but nowhere near as sticky ripe, and there are other fruits -- cantaloupe, stewed apple -- and some oak. Nosed side-by-side, the difference is striking; the Estate Cask is sticky-sweet, young, almost silly, and the Ten is getting there, building a wooden framework. Wow, yeah, quite a bit more wood there, some quite pleasant floral notes, doughy malt, and the banana's much more in check on the palate. Quite hot, still, but the finish isn't burning, in fact there's a good roll of malt there with the oak.
Age helps, what a shocker! It's getting there, but I can think of better whiskies for $100.
Elijah Craig Single Barrel 18 Year Old (Barrel 4090), 45%
Here's the thing: if you've read my writing, my reviews, and heard what I've said on a number of occasions, you know that this is a bit past my "best-by" date. I'm really a fan of younger bourbons, 12 years and under, and while I love Heaven Hill's whiskeys, generally it's the ones between 6 and 12 years old. That said, I know what you woody guys are looking for, so let's see if this baby's got it.
Oh, it's woody all right. The nose is oaky, like walking into a wall made of barrel. There's hair oil, cinnamon, maple, caramel, graham cracker, and, er, oak. The sweetness of the maple and graham makes me hopeful, so let's take a sip. That's pretty tasty, actually, with the sweet stuff all curling around: maple candy, caramel candy, cinnamon and dried mint, without the burning hot oak I was concerned about. The oak's there, but it provides structure, and balance, not palate death. The finish is civilized and pulls everything together. Nicely done.
But God above: $300? I can get two and a half cases of Heaven Hill Bonded 6 Year Old for that, and me, I'll probably like it more. This is rare, I get it. So if you really like older bourbon, you might pay that. I won't.
Verdict: Good...but pricey