One look at this bottle of Classic Club and you instantly think you know what you are getting — a French brandy. But then you look closer… is this Calvados? Cognac? Armangac? And then you realize this isn’t French at all — it came from Kentucky. So, why is it labeled “V.S.O.P.”? Today, we’re on a mission to find out.
Classic Club is a brand of generic spirits that are produced and distributed by Sazerac.
The early 1900s was the height of popularity for the “gentleman’s club” — a drinking establishment for high class individuals in the United States — and many whiskey companies capitalized on this trend and named blends of whiskey after various clubs (or even just designated some as a “club whiskey”), and typically reserved that distinction for their better varieties. Over the years, the “Club” distinction remained but has gradually shifted to become primarily used by spirits of lower quality trying to elevate their prestige with a classy-sounding name.
The Sazerac Company was founded in 1869, named after a bar they acquired in New Orleans, the Sazerac Coffee House. Following the establishment of the company, they started marketing and distributing brands of liquor under their name.
Sazerac maintains its headquarters in New Orleans, but has distilleries in other locations (including Kentucky). They produce liquor under various brand names, despite the lack of the Sazerac name anywhere on the bottle.
As with other Classic Club bottlings, we have zero information whatsoever about how the contents of this bottle came to be. The lack of provenance is especially odd in this case, since the label is trying very hard to give you the impression that this is a V.S.O.P. brandy — a very specific type of spirit made in a very specific process in a very specific region and aged for a very specific period of time. But we can’t verify that any of this bottle followed any of the ‘very specific’ requirements of a V.S.O.P.
All we know is that this is a brandy, which means the raw materials that went into this spirit came from fruit. For French Cognac and Armagnac, the base fruit is grapes, and for Calvados it is typically pears and apples. We have no idea what fruit went into this bottle, or which specific style of brandy this is trying to imitate — but my best guess is that this is trying to be a Cognac, as that’s the most common of the three.
Once the mystery fruit is crushed or pressed, the sugary liquid is fermented and distilled somehow to create raw alcohol. Again, with each of the three French brandy categories this process is highly regulated and well defined, but since none of those requirements apply in the US, this is the wild west. I’d like to think they at least batch distilled this in a pot still, but let’s be honest — this was probably ripped through a column still fast and cheap.
Once distilled, the brandy seems to have spent some time in oak barrels. How much time? What kind of barrels? None of this information is disclosed. Oddly enough, while French liquors can have a multitude of aging requirements based on the type of spirit, V.S.O.P. is the one designation they all agree on, putting the age at four years in a barrel regardless of whether it is a Cognac, Armagnac, or Calavados. But since this was made in the United States instead of France… there really isn’t an aging requirement for it to be faux-labeled as a V.S.O.P. spirit. So maybe this was aged for four years, but maybe not.
In the French tradition, once the spirit has been aged, there’s a careful blending and maturation process that takes place. But here, again, there are no rules, so likely the spirit was simply decanted and bottled. And, according to the label, flavoring and coloring was added to this spirit to get it to look and behave the way it does.
You know, at this point, I really wish they had gone super minimalist on the labeling. If you’re going to produce something this boring, why waste the ink on superfluous designs?
The bottle is the same glass bottle we’ve seen time and again: a traditional style of spirits bottle that seems strangely similar to Ancient Age. It resembles a wine bottle with some ridges at the top and bottom of the body, a gently rounding shoulder, and a long neck that is capped off with a plastic screw-on cap.
The label is a big white sheet of paper with some blue accents and golden metallic inked lettering. The brand name is in big block letters up top, and there’s a band at the bottom with some designation of the spirit. Interestingly, the actual classification of the spirit (brandy) is hidden on the label, with a common age statement seen in French Cognac (V.S.O.P.) most prominently highlighted. The inclusion of this label seems especially misleading since the term has practically no relevance or definition outside of France. In the middle is an odd shield-based crest with two curly Cs in it.
It’s not aggressively terrible, but it feels like something that would be barely displayed on the back shelf of a dive bar.
Surprisingly enough, this does in fact smell like a French Cognac. There are the telltale aromas of fruitcake and dried fruits up front (apricot, fig, raisin, and apple), which are then followed with some brown sugar, caramel, vanilla, and baking spices all contributed from the supposed barrel aging process. It isn’t the most complex Cognac I’ve ever sniffed, but so far the math checks out.
Taking a sip, you realize that the flavors aren’t quite as well-balanced and saturated as you’d hope. The fruitcake impression isn’t quite as close in the taste as it was in the aroma — you get some dried apricots, raisins, and fig, but there’s none of the depth and complexity added by the long French maturation process. As the flavor develops, there’s some brown sugar sweetness, a bit of caramel, and some baking spices, but there’s also a touch of bitterness on the end that is somewhat disappointing.
Ice, in my opinion, is a good test of the flavors in the spirit. Flavor components that are lovingly crafted into the spirit through careful fermentation and maturation typically hold up better — while anything that was added in artificially seems to drop out easily. In this case, most of the flavor has bolted for the exits and I’m taking this as a good indication of how much flavor and coloring was artificially added (i.e., probably a lot).
The spirit is significantly less saturated in terms of flavor, with more of a watery impression of brandy left behind. I do get some raisins and apple in the flavor profile, mixed with some brown sugar… but that’s all that remains. It certainly doesn’t taste like the delicious fruitcake I hoped it might be at first whiff.
The sidecar is a tough test for a brandy (but makes for a great test for that exact reason). The lemon juice and Cointreau have a lot of flavor, and the goal of the brandy is to not only balance out those citrus notes but also add something interesting and complex to the flavor profile. Unfortunately, in this case, none of that is happening.
What we have here is pretty much a sour. There’s no sweetness in the brandy to balance out the citrus components, which leaves us with a sour tasting cocktail, almost reminiscent of a bad margarita. I can’t even detect any of the flavors of the brandy trying to peek through — this is just all orange and lemon citrus flavors having a party.
This bottle is trying very hard to be look like it’s part of a club that won’t let it in. It wants to be a French brandy of some sort — but that’s a world that demands a modicum of transparency and tradition in the manner the spirits are manufactured, and there’s none of that here. All we have is deceptive branding, zero transparency about the contents, and likely a bunch of post-manufacture additives to try and mimic what the French create through hard work and discipline.
All that said, this isn’t terrible. It is literally the cheapest bottle of brandy in my local liquor store, and at this price point I think you realize what you are getting. It won’t knock anyone’s socks off… but the aroma is spot on, and when taken neat it turns out to be a mediocre imitation of a French brandy. I just wouldn’t try it in a cocktail.
|Classic Club Brandy V.S.O.P.|
Produced By: Classic ClubProduction Location: Kentucky, United States
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $6.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
Made in Kentucky, this smells like a French Cognac but (sadly) barely tastes like it.