Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Brandy Barrel Aged Bois -- Part 3 of 5 of Our Anniversary Beers
By now you may have read about (and tasted?) our 2013 anniversary beer, Bois (pronounced "bwah"). This ale was brewed in the English-style Old Ale tradition using our house Belgian yeast strain and to celebrate our fifth year of creating exciting craft beers, we're aging Bois in five different kinds of barrels: bourbon, rye, brandy, new American oak, and French oak barrels. 100% bourbon barrel aged Bois is available nationwide, while rye, brandy, and new American oak are for Reserve Society members only. French oak barrel aged Bois is a Hoarders Society exclusive only which will be available later in the year.
Last week we discussed rye barrels, and before that, bourbon barrels. Today we look into the world of brandy and brandy barrels. And no, not that kind.
Brandy has a broader definition than you might think. Any fruit-based spirit can be called brandy, but the name is most commonly used when referring to the grape-based brandies. Grape-based brandies come in a couple forms and from many regions, including France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and even the US, but the most well-known versions are of French origin. Cognac (which is twice distilled) and armagnac (which is distilled once and between 150-200 years older than cognac) both come from France. In fact, they have to come from France!
The kind and quality of this final product can vary greatly depending on the region where the grapes were grown. Much like the naming conventions for "Champagne" versus "sparkling wine," cognac can only truly be called cognac if it is made from grapes sourced from the Cognac region of France. Armagnac follows the same kind of rule, as it is a type of brandy made from grapes sourced from the Gascony region of France.
Cognacs, armagnac, even grappa and calvados are all types of brandy, but not all brandies are cognacs and armagnacs. Similar to the bourbon and rye laws that define those kinds of whiskeys, there are regulations on the production, naming, and aging of different kinds of brandies. The Congac AOC, or "controlled appellation of origin", defines the region where cognac can be made, the areas within this region, and regulates the naming of the spirit. There are even more rules that apply to the production of these brandies, including the types of grapes used, appropriate ABV, and blending rules. Both spirits have a Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l'Armagnac and Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac devoted to upholding their authenticity. If you want to get super geeky on this, you can even read the whole Cognac AOC décrète in French! Depending on these aforementioned factors, cognacs and armagnacs of different grades can be found and enjoyed.
Being new to brandy and its nuances, we (being Director of Marketing Ben Weiss and Social Media Manager Cambria Griffith) took it upon ourselves to taste some options and see what the hoopla is all about (tough job!) After picking up a bottle of Delord 25 year old Bas Armagnac and Courvoisier Connoisuer Collection 12 year old cognac, we can't exactly say we initially preferred this spirit over rye and bourbon -- which, trust us, we've done a good amount of research on, off the clock.
Our biggest surprise was that these brandies were not cloyingly sweet, and that each kind had it's own truly distinct flavor. Grape skin & seed tannins, nutty notes and even some bitterness popped out at us, but nothing syrupy like we'd anticipated.
When it comes to the brandy barrels affecting Bois, we noticed those grapey tannic notes, marshmallow, and raisin all combined to provide a nice unexpected contrast to the oak, rye, or bourbon barrel flavors to which some of us are more accustomed. (Check out Jonas getting a whiff.)
And while we're on the subject of surprises, we should give a little shout out to our packaging and warehouse teams who got to play with these sticky brandy barrels. Rather than having just one bunghole on the staves, there's a second bung in the barrel head, making it really interesting when they are transferred from the with Co2 pressure. Our brewing team solved the problem by making custom bunghole covers and securing them to the lids as you can see below ... just another example of the painstaking detail that our team deals with, by hand, everyday.
Brandy barrel aged Bois is a Reserve Society exclusive, available for RS members to order up until Friday night via The Bruery Store.
Read more about brandy, its history, and its unique process: